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President and board members disclose future plans for Eastern’s campus at SPEAK forum

In a rather unusual fashion, the university revealed its foreseeable plans for the future to students in the Eagle Hall Great Room on April 9. A panel made up of President Black and Board Members Delores Brisbon and Ron Evans was on hand for the SPEAK sponsored event, titled “The Future of Eastern University.”

SPEAK opened the night by asking the panel how Eastern’s unique mission of caring for the environment could be reconciled with its mission of becoming a formidable presence in the world.

Black responded by admitting that expanding in size while remaining good stewards of the earth creates a challenge. He noted the university’s formula for planting a specific number of trees in replacement of every tree cut down for new buildings on campus.

Black went on to describe his three primary focuses for expansion in the near future. The plans he revealed are for a performing arts facility to be built between Sparrowk and Fowler Hall, an upgrade in the science department space and a building he described as a “field house” where everyone can congregate.

“Walk into the bottom of Andrews Hall, and you will see that we are not keeping our promises [to science majors],” Black said as an example of his overall opinion that the university’s facilities are lacking.

No specific timetable for these projects was mentioned except that Black would like to see all three completed within the next five years. Black mentioned that those three projects are the only significant expansion plans the university has left. Beyond those plans, Black would like to see the university focus on addressing the huge financial burden that the price of college has become for parents and students.

Several students voiced their opinions that the university is changing from a scenic, environmentally friendly campus into something less favorable. Senior Nick O’Ryon defended the preservation of the campus, saying its beauty was one of the key reasons he chose to attend Eastern.

“There is a reflective spirit about this school, where you’re not rushing through just to get your diploma,” O’Ryon said about the peacefulness of the campus. “The campus that we loved as freshmen is slipping out from under our feet.”

Ron Evans, a board member and founder of the Mustard Seed bookstore, gave his two cents about the idea of growth, as exemplified in the mustard seed parable.

“If we don’t grow, we die,” Evans said in regard to the university’s development and expansion. “I believe Eastern University is the very best place for preparing leaders for the 21st century. If more students want to come, I’m trying to make a way for them to come.”

Fellow Board Member and panelist Delores Brisbon agreed with Evans that the university must always be looking for ways to grow. She talked about strategic planning and the importance of remaining competitive with other universities.

“When you’re no longer here, we need a campus that will continue to attract students,” Brisbon said.

Black added that he feels it is important for the university to be an on-campus community, a priority that influenced the more recent dormitory additions. He specifically talked about the separation that was occurring between upperclassmen living off-campus and underclassmen living on.

“Eastern has ceased to be the community it was when more people lived here,” Black said. “We would like for the university to be a residential college and not what it has become.”

The panel apologized throughout the night for what they called failing to communicate with students about the university’s plans for the future. They promised to make better attempts in the future at keeping students informed of plans and were welcoming of more forums.

“There was genuine conversation that we will reap the benefits from in the future,” senior Brandon Hoover said.

Senior Peder Wiegner, a member of SPEAK, was happy with the challenging conversations that were raised.

“I was pleased with their willingness to have the conversation,” Wiegner said.

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