University President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 discussed various issues, including plans to expand the undergraduate student body, the University’s recently modified sexual assault policy and the relocation of the University's Dinky station during his second annual meeting with town mayor Liz Lempert and other town council representatives on Monday night.
Eisgruber said the University is currently engaged in strategic planning and campus planning processes to possibly expand the University’s undergraduate student body due to its historically low acceptance rate and natural growth imperatives, such as the increasing popularity of computer science.
He added that expanding the student body would allow the University to improve opportunities for students from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds.
“We have to be engaged in conversation as we move forward,” Eisgruber said of the expansion’s impact on the town. “Our ecosystem will require attention to make sure everything remains in balance.”
The University hired the planning firm Urban Strategies Inc. to help enable this conversation and to consider the long-term impacts of expansion, including the need for additional facilities and the impact on traffic, Eisgruber said.
“Any time we have these kinds of questions about growth, lots of tensions come in,” Eisgruber said, noting that task forces assigned to this issue will be able to provide more specific information over the next year and beyond.
Once a set of preliminary recommendations is vetted by external review committees, the University's trustees may produce a flexible set of considerations that would be taken into account before a final decision is made, Eisgruber said.
Urban Strategies will launch a website and blog in the next couple of weeks to engage with the local community about the possible impacts of expansion, Vice President Robert Durkee ’69 said.
“They’re eager not just to hear but to engage with anyone who would like to participate in the conversation,” he said of Urban Strategies.
When asked about the University’s response to sexual assault on campus, Eisgruber said the University made the requested changes to its sexual assault policy earlier this year as one of several U.S. universities under investigation by the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights.
Eisgruber said he thinks the changes were an improvement, especially the professionalization of the adjudication process.
However, discussion should focus more on preventing sexual assault cases in the first place rather than focusing attention on procedures, he said.
“We need the students who are the leaders of the student community to do the right thing and to be willing to stand up and say the right thing,” he said, noting that bystander intervention is one of the most important factors in preventing sexual assault.
Eisgruber also discussed the newly relocated Dinky station set to open on Nov. 17. Lempert said that some residents are concerned that the Dinky's new location, 460 feet south of its original platform, will reduce ridership by extending the average commuter's walk to the station and asked Eisgruber how he thought the University and the town could repair the difficulties brought on by the move.
Eisgruber said he regretted the disruptions caused by the project and said the University was committed to making the Dinky commute as practical as possible in the interest of all parties involved.
“I think that there are going to be advantages to the new configuration for those of us who travel to the Dinky station on foot,” Eisgruber said, noting the close proximity of the Wawa convenience store and the negligible impact of the station’s relocation.
“I think it can be spun one way,“ Councilwoman Jenny Crumiller said in response to Eisgruber’s remarks. “How would it possibly help ridership to move [the Dinky] further away?”
Eisgruber said the Arts and Transit Neighborhood's overall effect is overwhelmingly favorable, and that the new station’s impact on transit could be more accurately determined in the coming years.
However, he said he hopes the University will be able to be more cognizant of various sensitivities related to projects of a similar nature in the future.
Council President Bernie Miller said the new station is an opportunity for the town and the University to work together and encourage people to make use of the new facilities.
Both Eisgruber and Lempert said they looked forward to further communication and collaboration between the town and the University.
“It doesn’t always have to be Kumbaya,” Lempert said in her closing remarks, prompting laughter from the crowd.