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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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University president answers student questions at town hall

GPSC+Presidential+Town+Hall
Photo by Photo by Luke Henkhaus
GPSC Presidential Town Hall

From campus facilitates to diversity and inclusion, University President Michael Young shared his thoughts on some of Texas A&M’s most widely discussed issues Tuesday night, fielding an array of questions from graduate students.
Texas A&M’s Graduate and Professional Student Council held their Presidential Town Hall, encouraging graduate students to submit their questions on specific topics and concerns in the days prior. The lineup of selected questions was broken into several distinct sections: General, ethics, diversity, funding and sustainability. 
Joined by GPSC President Matthew Etchells and GPSC Executive Vice President Chris Nygren, Young explored causes and potential solutions to challenges A&M currently faces, and provided clarification on various decisions made by the university. 
Addressing student concerns over a new hotel and conference center currently being constructed across from Kyle Field where student services were previously housed, Young said the value of creating such a facility in the heart of campus – along with the significant revenue it is predicted to generate for the university – will make the structure a worthwhile addition.
“We have some capacity for conferences and conference rooms on this campus, but it’s fairly limited,” Young said. “The utility for having the capacity for a serious conference center on campus where people can stay and come, given the incredibly broad number and large number, seems like not a bad thing.” 
At the conclusion of their temporary relocation to White Creek, student services will find a new home in Bizzell Hall, once it has been fully reconstructed. The expanded building will provide a more effective space for student services than what was previously available at the now-demolished Cain Hall, Young said. 
The president also spoke on the potential impact of the GOP’s recently proposed tax plan on various aspects of higher education – particularly the significant tax hikes faced by graduate students whose tuition is waived by the university for their teaching and research services. Under the GOP’s current proposed plan, this tuition would be considered taxable income, meaning some students could face a serious increase in the amount they are expected to pay. 
“We are worried,” Young said. “Some of our government relations people are actually in Washington as we speak working this issue with Senator Cornyn and others who we think are going to be influential in this trying to make clear that if America intends to try and remain competitive, that if America intends to have the best educational system in the world, intends to continue to produce the quality of thinkers, of scientists, of people who really move the intellectual knowledge needle, graduate [education] is the absolute centerpiece of that.”
Throughout the portion of the program dedicated to topics of diversity, Young said creating opportunities for productive, educational discussions will be essential to creating a more inclusive environment.
“Make it a place where people feel comfortable having that debate and that dialogue,” Young said. “Know that everybody who is here belongs here and is going to be protected in their capacity to get the best education we can possibly give them. That doesn’t mean we’re going to keep everybody from difficult discussions, but it’s going to be important to help all of us, and I include myself in this by the way, to develop the tools and the capacity to really interact in a constructive way with each other.”
Examining topics involved with A&M’s record-high enrollment, Young said the university has been assessing growing pains and looking into solutions that would allow resources, facilities and infrastructure to catch up to the growth of the student body.
‘How big is too big?’ is a bit of an abstract question,” Young said. “The real question, I think, is for the size of the student body we have, do we have the resources to ensure a quality education? We’ve done an analysis, which we are pretty knee deep in right now. What is our student faculty ratio? What does our classroom majority look like right now, not only the amount, but the size of classrooms? What are student support services like? Everything from busses to food to counseling to mental health facilities and so forth.”
Touching on the educational value and practical application of graduate research, Young said A&M and other universities tend to benefit from programs in which students are free to pursue their interests and solve problems relevant to their personal perspectives. Drawing on his previous observation of a research program on folding proteins, Young said allowing each student to take their own unique approach yielded valuable, outside-the-box results.
 “In my experience, if you put students at the center of this idea it makes the research experience much more productive and much more interesting,” Young said. “The professor didn’t say work on this, this and only this, putting blinders on and keep driving. It was rather kind of turning them loose in context to what that lab was designed to foster. The more and more we can offer those sorts of experiences, I think it creates the opportunity to do very special things in a research space and special kind of educational experience.”

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