Multicultural engineering students confront deans
Students in the Multicultural Engineering Program confronted the deans of the college last night, claiming future renovation proposals would limit the space they require.
In a 30-minute forum, students from MEP voiced their displeasure about recent discussion of the program's future - in what the deans considered a threatening and accusatory action.
German Fuentes, an electrical engineering and communication senior, said the College of Engineering and Mines renovation plans would potentially limit the MEP office space and meeting rooms.
Fuentes said the renovations, which would move the MEP into the office space of other engineering clubs, would cause membership in the program to decrease.
"The minority engineering program and the clubs are not the same," he said. "The space is used. Sometimes I don't even go in there because there are too many people."
Other students at the meeting agreed with Fuentes, saying that the facilities are no longer suitable for the program.
"In a lot of ways, it was never enough space for us," said Davien Burnette, an electrical engineering senior. "We normally spill all over the floor."
Thomas Peterson, dean of the College of Engineering and Mines, said the students did not properly understand the events that have led to the negative reaction.
"I feel that you are saying that Dean Peterson is focused totally on MEP to reduce space," he said. "It is quite the opposite though."
Vern Johnson, associate dean of the College of Engineering, agreed there was a misunderstanding.
"We were just conversing and getting an architect's point of view," he said. "This is a design process - there are just ideas flowing back and forth."
Peterson also said he was displeased by the MEP students' reactions, especially when program officials sent a letter to the financial supporters of College of Engineering and Mines.
"It doesn't help when the students imply to our industry partners that we are not doing our job to help the program," Peterson said. "I don't respond well to what I believe are threats."
Peterson said he sympathizes with the students' situation.
"Believe me, we have a lot of need for renovation," he said. "I was personally hurt by it because I felt we were moving in the right direction."
Johnson agreed with Peterson, saying financial constraints have made it very difficult for the entire college.
"We don't have any money to renovate with," he said. "Zero decisions have been made."
Johnson and Peterson said they and other college officials must first develop a plan to present to the architect. Once that is finalized, they will look at the funding situation.
"To be able to present something, we needed a picture of what we wanted to do," Johnson said.
One audience member said the discrepancies between the two groups were a result of the communication breakdowns concerning deadlines and missed appointments.
"I kept hearing that we needed to talk to the architect and the deans before a specific date," she said. "Meetings were canceled and we couldn't talk."
Johnson said the MEP and the other clubs were invited to the prior meetings with the architect.
"We did meet with the clubs," he said. "One came, and six said they'd be there. We had a meeting around the table with basically one student."
Later, Fuentes said that the school officials did not present the renovation accurately for the students.
"I think the deans were being dishonest with the students," he said. "What I was hearing was that the students were not being listened to."
Peterson said that while the deans will evaluate the situation and the presented information, there will be no decision made until MEP decides what it desires.
"This should not be a confrontational situation," he said. "We have two options. We can all work together and make sacrifices on both ends. Or, we will just leave things the way they are."
Local attorney Stephen Portell, who helped MEP officials write the letter to the financial supporters of the college, said that the deans were acting dishonestly.
"We're concerned that they are saying, 'We've (the deans) got a plan, and if you (students) don't like it, well, we're going to do it anyway.'"
Peterson promptly stood up and told the audience, "If any of you feel this way, please raise your hands."
Only one audience member raised a hand.
"You need to trust us, and judge us by our actions. We are trying to find ways to improve the situation," Peterson said.