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Murray State Board of Regents discusses public-private partnership for housing and dining, expands parental leave at quarterly meeting

The Murray State Board of Regents met on Dec. 3.
Dustin Wilcox
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The Murray State Board of Regents met on Dec. 3.

This story has been updated due to a factual error in our reporting on the swearing in of a new regent.

The Murray State University Board of Regents detailed its impending public-private partnership for housing and dining, expanded its parental leave policy and swore in a new member at its quarterly meeting on Friday.

David Looney, executive director for auxiliary services for the university, and Jeff Turner, executive vice president for the Brailsford & Dunlavey architecture planning firm, shed further light on the public-private partnership for the construction and management of new on-campus housing and a dining hall that has been in development since early 2020.

Turner, who has worked on public-private partnerships with approximately 500 campuses, said the university has been considering proposals from three firms and assessing how much of the operating risk it will assume.

“We need to make sure that we’ll protect Murray’s interest for the long term,” Turner said. “Student housing is a huge part of public-private partnerships because there are companies out there that do this every day, that build those partnerships. Students that live on campus have higher graduation rates, higher GPAs, and that’s really what this is all about.”

The university plans to replace some of the existing dormitories and Winslow Dining Hall. The new dormitories will be built in the current residential complex near the dining hall and aimed primarily at undergraduate students. An apartment-style building near the existing R.H. White and Regents dormitories aimed at graduate students is under consideration.

The final contract will be brought to the board for approval on June 3, 2022, after which construction will begin with a target completion date sometime in fall 2024. The university will eventually assume full responsibility for these buildings after paying its debt to the private partner.

Parental leave expansion

The board unanimously voted to extend parental leave for eligible Murray State employees to up to six weeks of paid leave within 12 weeks of the eligible birth or adoption of a child to be used in lieu of accrued sick leave, vacation leave or family and medical leave.

To be eligible, an employee must have worked in a regular position at the university for at least six consecutive months prior to the start of the requested leave. Any adopted child under the age of 18 is eligible, barring the adoption of a spouse’s child.

Previously, university employees who had worked at least 1,250 hours in the past year were entitled to up to 26 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave during a 12-month period for the birth and care of a child under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Regent Jessica Evans voiced her support for the decision to offer the amended paid parental leave to both male and female employees.

Facilities changes

Jason Youngblood, director of facilities management, announced plans to tear down a building on Waldrop Drive and the Springer II dormitory. He noted removing Springer — an expense of $600,000 in one-time housing funds for deferred maintenance — ultimately proved more cost-effective than renovating it.

Lovett Auditorium recently completed “Phase I” of its renovation — mostly focused on heating, cooling and ventilation (HVAC) improvements — with Phase II set to start in February. Nine of 400 new windows have been installed in Wells Hall, and the remainder will likely be installed by February. Window replacement in Wilson Hall will start on Dec. 13.

Various renovations were recently made to the Collins Industry and Technology Center, Alexander Hall, Wrather Hall, Pogue Library, Stewart Stadium, a Mason Hall auditorium, a Blackburn lecture hall, Business Building lab, the CFSB Center and Heritage Hall storm drain and campus signage.

Some CARES funding has been allocated to HVAC work. Youngblood said the university will have a tentative bid on this work in February.

Latest enrollment data

Don Robertson and other representatives from the student affairs office shared the final enrollment synopsis for fall 2021. Total enrollment for this semester was 9,427 — 29 students fewer than last year and 142 fewer than in 2019. Conversely, total graduate student enrollment has increased by 25% since 2019 to 1,692 students, the largest class since 2016.

First-time transfer students increased 11.8%, first-time graduate students 30%, and international students 48% compared to last year. Nationally, first-time graduate enrollment is on an upward trend despite dips in undergraduate and international enrollment partly attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Robertson attributes many upward trends in specific areas observed since last year — first-time freshman campus visits increasing 90%, first-time freshman applications 10.6%, and first-time freshman admissions 8.7% compared — to active in-person recruitment efforts, though digital methods are still in use.

“We’ve still got a lot of work to do,” Robertson said. “The first step is getting the application. The campus visits are critical. We have more buses coming into campus.”

Dr. Evans joins board as staff regent

Dr. Jessica Evans was sworn in as the newest regent on the board. Evans is the Director of Assessment and Accreditation for the College of Education and Human Services at MSU. She received her EdD in Educational Psychology and Technology with a concentration in Higher Education Learning from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. The Memphis native did her undergraduate studies at the University of Phoenix before attending Murray, where she received both a Master of Science degree in Organizational Communication and a Master of Science degree in Human Development and Leadership.

Dr. Evans was elected by her peers to fill the unexpired term of the late Phil Schooley. Her term on the Murray State Board of Regents expires in June 2024.

Other board happenings

  • The university received $9.7 million total in state and federal funding for the 2020-21 fiscal year, up 31% over the previous year.
  • The university received a $554,750 grant for first-generation students.
  • The university has launched various scholarship programs for its rodeo program and added part-time assistant coaches
  • The board voted to rename the Center for Computer and Information Technology to the Cyber Education and Research Center.
  • W. Earl Brown, a Murray State alum with more than 100 acting credits, will speak at a presidential lecture on Feb. 23, 2022.

The next quarterly meeting will be held on Mar. 11.

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