AI, Northwest Apartments and the cost of orientation: Board of Trustees committees meet

Five different committees of the CMU Board of Trustees came together Wednesday to discuss topics of interest


The Board of Trustees meet on Feb. 15 on the third floor of the Bovee University Center.

How much does orientation cost? What is Central Michigan University doing with artificial intelligence? What are the consequences of Northwest Apartments closing? 

These questions were all topics of discussion at Wednesday's Board of Trustees committee meetings. The board’s first full session of the academic year is planned for 11:30 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 28. 

Policy and Bylaws Committee

The Policy and Bylaws Committee had one action item to discuss, the new student orientation fee, which is slated to increase from $175 to $200 starting in 2024. 

“In 2007, when we increased it from $125 to $175, our total expenses for student wages, meeting expenses, lodging … and all the supplies was $250,000 plus,” said Jennifer DeHaemers, vice president of Student Recruitment and Retention. ”At that time we were enrolling 3,700 students, and it was about $66.42 per student based on that expense ratio. In 2023, our total expenses were … $229,282, but we were serving 2,031 students, so that came out to $112.89 per student. 

“So while our total number (of new students) served has gone down, the expenses have gone up. … The cost per student has increased significantly, so we feel it is appropriate to consider raising that fee.” 

The Board agreed with the increase in cost, and the proposal to Thursday’s consent agenda. If they approve it during the formal session then, the increase will be applied to next year’s New Student Orientation deposit. 

Academic and Student Affairs Committee

After a brief welcome and introduction from Denise Mallett, the Chair of the Academic and Student Affairs committee, the meeting opened with a presentation on the work of the Department of Student Affairs from Assistant Vice Presidents Erica Johnson and Stan Shingles. 

According to Johnson, the department continues to work on fostering a “sense of belonging” amongst students. 

“We know from research that building a sense of belonging increases student engagement and academic performance,” she said. 

A significant part of this effort involves CMU’s various mentoring opportunities, according to Shingles. 

“Our Mentor Collective Program reports that students who engage in highly engaged peer mentoring relationships are significantly more likely to persist in their education,” he said. 

Examples of mentoring programs on campus cited by the department included IMPACT and Leadership Safari, two of CMU’s pre-academic-year programs for incoming students.

Finance and Facilities Committee

During this committee meeting, trustees heard a presentation from Jonathan Webb, associate vice president of facilities management at CMU. 

Webb explained that facilities management completed 10 different projects over the summer in five different buildings, for a value of $854,000. 

Two other projects recently completed were the replacement of the sound and lighting system in Bush Theater and the multi-function patio installed outside the school of music’s building. 

“That patio has an architectural theme that matches our master plan,” Webb said. “We eventually hope to have an amphitheater out there.” 

Webb listed several other projects that are in progress, chief among them: 

  • Demolishing Northwest Apartments, starting in the summer of 2024, with an anticipated $5 million price tag.
  • Finishing renovations of  the four original residence halls in Towers Community. Carrey, Troutman and Cobb have already been completed, and Wheeler is in progress. 

As for the future, Webb said facilities management plans to update the design of Merrill Virtual Dining Hall and program improvements for residence halls in the South Community.

Trustees-Faculty Liaison Committee

Stefanie Lassitter, director of instructional development in the Office of Curriculum and Instructional Support presented on Artificial Intelligence. 

An emerging conversation on campus, Lassitter explained the next steps for faculty to learn about AI and keep up with the new technology. 

“I think we’re staying in stride,” she said. “The reason I say we stay in stride is because we really can’t predict what’s coming next.” 

Lassitter said that two workshops have been held so far for faculty, and there’s one left to complete. Recorded versions of these workshops are available on a website called AI 101. 

The AI 101 tool is available for CMU faculty to do self-paced learning about the technology. 

“It walks you through the basics of AI,” Lassitter said. “It’s perfect for faculty just getting to know AI.” 

The immediate next steps, planned for the beginning of October, are the creation of four Faculty Learning Communities:

  • Preparing students in the age of AI,
  • Exploring AI in teaching and research,
  • Promise and pitfalls of AI in society, and
  • Equity-centered exploration of AI.

The activities of these communities, Lassitter said, will come together for a symposium on March 15 of next year. 

Trustees-Student Liaison Committee

To hear from students, this committee met with several representatives from the student body. 

Tyler Zimmerman, president of the Student Government Association,  presented both some recent successes and challenges. 

As for the positives, Zimmerman brought up the implementation of door scanners on buildings, an increase in overall student engagement on campus and the creation of Merrill Virtual Food Hall. 

But there are some challenges, too. Zimmerman referenced Central Sustainability and the role it has had on campus in recent years. 

“Central Sustainability was instrumental in creating the compost system that currently exists,” Zimmerman said. 

He also said Central Sustainability put together a sustainability-focused student leadership council, including presidents from registered student organizations that promote sustainability in all aspects of campus. 

But because of the budget cuts earlier this year, Zimmerman said the budget for CS was cut by 75%, from $60,000 to $15,000. 

Zimmerman and Chirstian Toney, director of the Residence Housing Association, both referenced the closing of Northwest Apartments as a problem for international students who, Zimmerman said, don’t have many other options. Those concerns are not limited to international students. 

“Currently, Northwest is the only affordable housing on campus for low-income students,” Zimmerman said. “This is also an equity issue on top of everything else.”

He recommended making North Campus dorms available again for upperclassmen, or waving the meal plan requirement for upperclassmen living in dorms. 

“It could be the difference between a student being allowed to focus on their academic pursuits… and having to pick up an extra 15-20 hours a week in order to support themselves,” Zimmerman said. “At the end of the day, I think the most important thing is to try and reduce this financial burden in any way possible.” 

The board will convene its action meeting at 11:30 a.m. Thursday In the President’s Conference Room at the Bovee University Center. It is also available to watch via livestream here