Acting President and Interim Vice President for Student Services answer students questions

Marc Ramirez, News editor

Tuesday’s Student Government Assocation’s meeting opened up with guest speakers John Smith and Interim President Martin Abraham. Smith currently serves as the Interim Vice President of Student Services at Western Illinois University.

Smith, previous director of Beu Health Center at Western, was named VPSS on July 15 following the departure of Ron Williams. Smith started his speech by reassuring the room that their voices do matter and he will do what he needs to in order to make sure that they are heard.

“We want students to have a voice in the direction that the University is going,” Smith said. “Without hearing from you, we are doing our best with the feedback that we are getting.”

He continued that by saying through Higher Education we are highly encouraged to take leadership roles and use the voices that we have in the positions that we hold. Next to the podium, was Abraham, who spoke on how his three months at Western have been filled with going out and meeting with students and members of the community.

“We are here as a University for our students,” Abraham said. “If it weren’t for you there would be no reason for us and you need to keep that in mind when you’re thinking about what’s important to you. We need to know, we need to hear from you, so we can be responsive for whatever those needs are.”

Abraham stated that he is working perpetually to try and get student’s voices heard throughout various meeting groups across campus. In efforts to do this, Abraham is attempting to set up a Student’s Roundtable, which would serve as an opportunity for students to air their comments, questions and concerns.

“I find that every time I talk with students I get some great information and some great ideas,” he said.

“Given that, I just know that the more I get out and the more that I talk to you, and the more I hear from you, the better I will be able to serve you and the institution.”

Following his speech, Abraham opened the floor to address questions or rumors that students might have and want answers for. He added that Smith would also be able to answer questions that would pertain more to student services. Abraham informed the group that if they had any questions to come up after the meeting and they could email and himself, his administrative assistant and the University Public Relations Director will get back to you as soon as possible.

Abraham was asked what he plans on doing to prioritize graduate admissions and he responded with a question of what would she like to see from the University in this situation. She answered that she would like if they received higher monetary compensation for the hours worked and the effort put into work compared to the financial compensation received through an assistantship. Abraham acknowledged that this is an issue and that he realizes they don’t receive as much compensation as students at other institutions; however, he believes that at the place the institution is now, it is something we’d have to look forward to in the future.

Another student was concerned about anti-semetic graffiti that was found in the bathroom last year and took four days to get corrected. The student credits previous President Jack Thomas for ensuring the job was seen through and asked what policies and procedures Abraham has in mind to alleviate such a long correction wait time.

“That is something that should be handled very quickly,” Abraham responded. “Ultimately you did the same thing I would tell you to do. If you’re not getting a response in a timely manner, eventually you need to elevate it to the next person.”

He added that if and when it is brought to his attention, he will do his best to make sure the situation is corrected as soon as possible. Another question asked was why the incident involving aggravated battery with a BB gun wasn’t properly handled through University policies and procedures.

“From my understanding there is a plan but it wasn’t followed properly,” Abraham said. “We have an educational component that we have to do to make sure that everyone who should have known what that was is better informed.”

Smith spoke on the incident more extensively. He added that things didn’t go well from an OPS perspective. When the University has what is considered an isolated incident, to focus on one specific individual, it typically works out better. However, the individual who was being threatened left their floor to find help of another. A resident assistant then sent out a text message labeling the incident as an active shooter. Because OPS was not aware of this, when they apprehended the suspect, that was the end of their protocol. If they had known that that text message was sent, they would have published the Notice to Campus Community the night of the incident rather than the following day.

“What we are working on now is figuring out how to keep that from happening again,” Smith said. “We met with the floor leaders on Sunday evening. What became evident is that we need clearer protocols and policies on how to handle that situation.”

Therefore, University officials are working on writing policies and procedures for each instance or as close as they can get to each incident so that students and leaders know how to handle every possible situation that can come up.

“We all have an opportunity to get better and learn from what we’ve done,” Abraham added.

There was a meeting that was held Wednesday morning at 8 a.m. to address what was done correctly and incorrectly and how to do better in the future.

SGA President Colton Markey added that no matter what position Abraham ends up in the near future, whether that be Interim President, President or Provost and Academic Vice President, he will have a say over academic affairs at the University. Therefore, he asked what kinds of programs he’s looking to grow or new programs he hopes to bring to Western.

“The areas that we are looking to expand would cover a variety of things,” Abraham said. “There are programs that were cut that probably shouldn’t have been cut, there are programs that were originally on a list to cut that we’ve agreed we are not going to such as Hospitality Management.”

He added that he believes that there are growth opportunities and that we can possibly do so by finding better marketing strategies. This is similar to finding better ways to market the undergraduate health professions program compared to the successful graduate program.

Another question asked was in relation to the big hit the Counseling Center took last year. From a student success, retention and persistence standpoint, having access to adequate mental health services is a really big component to that; therefore, it was asked how University officials plan to reprioritize that for its students.

Smith responded that one of the first things done when cuts were made is that they took the two counselors from the Alcohol and Other Drug Resource Center and moved them to the Counseling Center since they have the same certifications. He added that during the fall semester, AOD Counselors are not used in the same capacity that they are in the spring, adding explanation to why this decision was made for the time being. Smith said that ideally, they would like to have the current part time counselor become full time, then look at hiring another full time counselor.

“My goal is to try and get this moved forward by the end of this semester,” Smith said. “We do understand that we need those resources.”

It is hoped that the limitation on visits would be removed. It was commented on that students who do need services more seriously would not have to abide by these limitations; however, they were added as a safety net guideline in order to accommodate to all students.

Questions pertaining to students services can be emailed to Smith at