Student Government Association hosts annual Town Hall

The executives address AI in classrooms, Merrill dining improvements and budget challenges

A shot of the audience before the start of the SGA Town Hall. On stage in Calvin Seelye, director of auxillary services, who would be accompanied by his fellow panelists minutes later. (CM Life | Courtney Boyd)

Central Michigan University executives are making efforts to educate faculty on the possible benefits of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and introduce AI technology into the classroom, according to the university president and provost.

It was one of many topics that came up Monday night at a Student Government Association hosted town hall event in which various campus administrators were present to answer questions. The questions were submitted prior to the event through Engage and had been advertised to SGA members for the couple of weeks prior.

The event was moderated by Vincent Vargas, the historian of SGA. 

There were six members of the administration in attendance:

  • CMU President Bob Davies 
  • Provost Nancy Mathews 
  • Erica Johnson (Interim Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs)
  • Shawna Patterson-Stephens (Chief Diversity Officer for the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity and Inclusion)
  • Stan Shingles (Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs)
  • Cal Seelye (Executive Director of Auxiliary Services)

AI on CMU campus

Davies said that AI turned a year old this month, and he remembers the panic when it first surfaced.

"When it first came out, everyone was like 'Oh my god, people are going to cheat! How do you stop it from getting into the classroom?'" he said. "But now, they're asking 'How do we make this work?'"

Mathews said the administration tasked the Office of Curriculum and Instructional Support (CIS) with coming up with a year-long program to look at and understand how AI is being used.

"The AI conversation has taken off like wildfire," she said. "We have a bunch of things being rolled out. The very first thing is a general faculty support."

Mathews said that CIS has started two faculty learning communities who are looking at how AI is being used in teaching, research and equity-centered exploration. She said they are looking at how to use AI in different ways and capacities so that it may be used in a more generative way.

She also talked about courses, workshops and resources faculty can register for to learn more about AI incorporation in the classroom. These are all available on the CIS webpage.

"I personally would like to see AI work into every discipline, if not every class, because I think that's where we're getting (as a society)," Mathews said.

Concerns around Merrill Virtual Food Hall

While Seelye was at the town hall on behalf of all auxiliary services, a majority of his questions revolved around the dining halls, and specifically Merrill Virtual Food Hall. 

One of these questions was regarding food waste, as Merrill's take-out option and lack of a proper food waste drop off location have caused concern among students. 

Seelye said that Merrill Dining is working closely with Ozzi, they company that supplies the dinning halls with their green to-go containers and the equipment to clean said containers.

"We know that there's a lot of waste that goes out there," he said. "So we're trying to work with Ozzi to better understand what options exist."

He also talked about improving food waste across campus, such as developing a food recovery program. The program would take cooked food that wasn't served and deliver it to the food pantry, so that students could have hot "to-go" meals waiting for them.

"I've been here a long time," he said. "I know that we started out with a five gallon bucket in one kitchen. Now, we're winning national awards (on food waste initiatives)."

Another question asked whether Merrill Dining was planning to provided healthier meal options for students. Seelye said that while one of the restaurants at Merrill, Delicious Without, does offer healthy options, they are actively working on adding more salads and proteins in the rotation.

Budget Cuts for Student Services and Student Affairs

Many campus programs have received budget cuts this past year, including the Multicultural Services, LGBTQ services, the Department of Biology and Central Sustainability. 

"We did a comprehensive and thorough review where we looked at our programming and budgetary needs for programming for the 2022-23 academic year," Shingles said. "After the review, we were able to prioritize the programs that best meet our students' needs. Of course, we can't do everything, but we really wanted to focus programming and co-curricular learning."

Shingles said that this academic year there are over 200 events being offered to students under multiple departments and RSOs. He also said if students have feedback on the types of events they'd like to see, they can reach out to Student Affairs.

Other topics addressed:

  • Seelye told students about a Diwali celebration happening at 5:30 p.m on Dec. 2 at Finch Fieldhouse. He said there will be food, dancing and performances. Admission is free.
  • Mathews and Johnson talked about efforts to make international students feel more welcome on campus, such as: establishing an international student hub in Ronan Hall; holding monthly bus trips so students can grocery shop for spices and produce unique to their cultures; and planning a spring break trip. The latter is still in its early stages of development, and details will be released as it evolves.
  • For students concerned about faculty members not grading in a timely manner, Mathews referenced Section 2.1.13 of the Code of Conduct which reads, "Students have the right to request and receive a reasonable and timely review of their grades by the instructor." She reminded students they have the right to request for feedback on assignments and timely grades so they may keep up with their progress and course correct, if needed.
  • When it comes to future enrollment and recruitment efforts, Davies talked about the overall increase in enrollment in 2022 as well as 2023. He said their methods for the 2024-25 academic year include reaching out to high school students after they've taken the PSAT, scheduling visits to high schools and encouraging alumni and students on breaks to tell their friends about CMU.
  •  Questions also arose about campus security, specifically whether there were plans to expand Central Alerts, the university's emergency alert system, so off-campus students would also be alerted of situations. Davies explained that while the university may issue alerts for situations neighboring campus (such as at Wayside), usually it falls outside the CMU Police jurisdiction and instead goes to the Mount Pleasant Police Department or Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe Police Department. For matters on campus, Davies said students should "rest assured that we will have those notifications."
  • Some details on sustainability initiatives were brought up, such as the university's success with diminishing food waste, generating our own energy on campus and using the steam to power campus heaters, and reducing the campus's carbon footprint. Davies said the university is aiming to be carbon-free in 2027.
  • All six executives talked about a positive development they had seen on campus this year. Some of these developments included the Merrill Virtual Food Hall, CM Life receiving a Pinnacle Award, the food pantry extending its hours and an increase in programs and events for international and diverse students.