North Texas Daily

The Real Neal: Weather days, library funds and student organizations

The Real Neal: Weather days, library funds and student organizations

March 06
12:07 2015

Caitlyn Jones / Editor-in-Chief, Dalton LaFerney / Views & Digital Editor and Rhiannon Saegert / News Editor

We met with President Neal Smatresk for a monthly briefing to talk finances, the GSC-SGA split and the process to cancel school. 

Caitlyn Jones: What’s the process like to cancel school?

President Neal Smatresk: It’s really pretty straight forward. The chief of police interacts with the National Weather Service and any emergency teams around — that includes Texas Womens, the City of Denton and DISD. Everybody puts all their best information together, along with what the radar is telling them, and then, to the extent possible, we wait for some evidence; the new weather radar is pretty good, but, you know, if you listen to the weather report, you could get, let’s say, an exaggerated event, because that’s news, as opposed to what’s actually going on. Then we try to make our best judgement about what the conditions would be like for those driving back and forth, and we call it. It turns out these decisions are more complicated than what people think. You have to look at a whole bunch of things, whether its blanket closure, or it’s class closure. For example, Saturday we had 300 to 400 students from all over the world auditioning for music. Well, we’re not going to put them on a plane and send them back to China, or France, so we made special accommodations. You do the best you can in those circumstances; I feel like we made pretty much all the right calls.

The only one I might have pulled back a bit, was when we called it on the day it sleeted — Friday. We called it immediately — and of course, if you’re taking a test, I expect the weather alert looks highly attractive at the moment. So, there you go, I’ve refined my decision making.

Dalton LaFerney: Some of the reactions on social media were less than professional

NS: I’m not worried about that. I mean, if students think that I’m influenced by their appeals via social media, I’m not — I’m respectful of them, which isn’t always true of their’s.

CJ: Do you run your own Twitter?

NS: I run all the interesting stuff. You know, commentary, things about students, what’s going on. And then URCM will scan all the news feeds and all the hits. That’s what I discovered — how to get 2,000 followers in a week: declare snow days. I enjoy it, I think it’s more valuable than not. A handful of students, who want to express an opinion, or attempt to be manipulative isn’t going to bother me, one way or another.

DL: We ran a story today, talking about the library and how it’s going to be cutting some of its materials—

NS: For the fifteenth year in a row.

DL: Right. Where else in the budget do you think UNT could allocate the funds to make up for the losses?

CJ: Do you think that those materials shouldn’t be made up for?

NS: You’re asking a question that I’m getting asked a lot by the faculty. And, what I’ll say is, in pockets, faculty feels they’re cared for, and their students have the proper materials they need. In other areas, they don’t. Sometimes it comes down to individual faculty members who needs a thing that we don’t have that they don’t feel they can get conveniently, so there’s several layers to the answer to this question. The first is that when inflation for periodicals has been — on average — 15 percent a year for the last 15 years. I want you to add that up, ‘cause it’s compounded. It’s an extraordinary rate. So the first thing I’m going to tell you is that publishers are running a game that is going to end up wrecking publishing — and it’s a bitter game, and it’s poor, because core inflation seems almost nonexistent.

So when core inflation is not existent, they continue to crank because they’ve got guaranteed contracts. That’s happening nationwide, and every single university is cutting back. People used to buy giant monograph collections, and when they discovered that — I don’t know if you understand library utilization rates, but they’re basically: if I have to shelve a book, it’s been used, which doesn’t mean it’s been read. So it’s an optimistic measure of utilization. In many libraries, utilization of monographs, books, is 15 percent in its first year, and it drops from there. So 85 percent of your expenditure is not going towards something someone wants.

So the first thing that happened nationwide was people cut monographs. It’s reasonable easy to purchase monographs, so what I would like to see as a hard and fast rule — I think we attempted to abide by, but I’m in the middle now of asking these questions because it’s a part of my budgeting process next year…I don’t have an answer yet. I’m involved in an exercise called listening to the departments, where I go around to every department.

Journals and databases are whole different issue. They are the most current thing. Subscription rate for an individual for a journal might be like $100 a year, but for an institution, it might be $20,000 for a year, because it’s got multiusers. When you consider that for most journals that faculty write the articles for free — or actually have page charges that the pay to get them published, that the editors are partly volunteer, that they only pay for the printing costs, and they charge that much money. So with that said, I don’t know the answer is. the next trick used to be — the periodicals used to buddle. You had to buy the stuff no one used, along with the stuff you wanted. It’s kinda like subscription to cable TV channels…

Just so you know, libraries don’t only serve up books to people, they have special collections, which are very expensive, and they have archivla information; our library is famous for digitizing. It would be fair to say, how much time and effort is pet on that versus how much utilization, it’s wonderful — we have the 12th largest digital holdings in the world. In every single thing we do, we first have to ask: is it utilized? Is it convenient? Does it enhance scholarship and research activity here.

CJ: We’ve noticed that some other student organizations, like UPC, they’ve also had budget cuts and that’s why they’re doing the local festival versus a large concert this year. I was wondering if that was related to any of the financial problems that we’ve been having.

NS: Now if it’s student fee money, then that is really kind of in the hands of the students and insofar as there may have been enrollment declines or some other issue. Then, there’s going to be a modification of the fees and students will have different allocations. If it’s not due to enrollment declines then that was a decision someone made someone in one of the student government’s offices.

CJ: Are there any updates on UNT’s financial problems? The last we’d heard, UNT could owe the state up to $83.5 million.

NS: I think it would be imprudent for me to respond to where I think we are until the legislative session is wrapping up. I will say I believe that the chancellor has done a really good job of explaining our position, and it turns out we weren’t the only university that had that issue. Six universities in the state did, and some of them haven’t reported yet, and that makes you wonder why they haven’t reported yet. I suspect this is a wider-spread issue than we knew, and because we were the first, we self-reported and we did it with very rigorous methodologies. All we’ve said all along is, “We’ll do whatever’s fair, but make sure it’s the same for everybody.” I think that’s a strong message. Legislators believe in fairness so I’m hopeful that we’ll have a good outcome, and I’ll leave it at that for now. But I am quite pleased with how hard the chancellor’s worked on this with individuals in the Capitol.

Rhiannon Saegert: What about the SGA/GSC split?

NS: I think the graduate students had some issues and they wanted to have voice. In most places I’ve been, there’s been a split, in some places there hasn’t. What I’ll tell you is, I don’t think there’s any resolution to any of that. If I am a graduate student and I’m paying money into the pot and I don’t have a strong say in how it’s distributed, I certainly would find that to be an issue, but that doesn’t require a split to be dealt with in a proper fashion. It might, it might not. Sometimes things go one way, and they go a little too far, and I think this is one of those situations.

DL: Are there any recent conversations or news about the renovations to the Super Pit?

NS: It’s a future idea. It’s definitely been discussed, it’s definitely going to be added into the master planning cycle but it’s a money thing. Someone brought up an interesting idea of what we needed, [saying] we needed a mini-campaign just around that issue. I don’t say that’s a certainty, I say that’s an interesting concept, right? To have a focused campaign, as opposed to a broad capital campaign, on a target that can maintain enthusiasm amongst some sectors of our alums. Every time I go there I think about it more. I look at where we entertain the Mean Green Club and I’ll say, if you’ve been in the fancy donor clubs of arenas in other parts of the country, it’s a far cry from it. The space that’s there could definitely be made better, the lighting could be better, the seating could be better, some more electronics could be added, the front end could be prettified and it’s been done in other places with some very similar structures. New Mexico’s the one I mentioned before if you remember. They had a pretty similar configuration and they really did it up. It became a place, then, where NCAA playoffs were being held as opposed to a place that was not-affectionately called “The Pit.”

DL: Buddy Price just retired. Was his retirement abrupt?

NS: We’re going to miss the “Eagle Alert guy.” I like Buddy Price. He’s been around, doing this for a long time and I guess he’s ready to step down. He’s one of the first people I met when I came here. I remember my first day on the job, I had to show up at like 6 a.m. at the Reunion Arena area for Channel 8, Cynthia and Gary’s morning show, and Buddy hauled me along and said ‘Here’s the drill, here’s what we’re doing.’” He’s been a useful media liaison for a long, long time.

CJ: And now you have Margarita Venegas hauling you around.

NS: I’m content to haul myself around. I’ll simply say it makes sense to have press liaisons to tell you which camera or microphone to talk into next, or who’s trying to line you up for something. That’s actually a pretty busy job, especially when you have some kind of breaking news.

CJ: Dean Gloria Cox and Provost Warren Burggren have gone back to teaching. Do you think you will ever go back to teaching someday?

NS: Someday. I love it. It’s a great gig, getting up every morning and sharing what you love with a bunch of students, doing some research. The research was actually long ago, I actually miss the teaching more. I’m actually going to go lecture in a class in just a few minutes. I think teaching is wonderful. Being a professor is the greatest gig on earth.

CJ: Do you have any favorite movies or TV shows?

NS: I just finished binge-watching “Marco Polo.” It’s pretty addictive and I found myself at the end and I went “Wait, where’s the next season?” That’s the only sad part of binge-watching. Other than that, I’m addicted to the big food competitions like Top Chef. Those kinds of shows. I’m a foodie and I know a lot of those folks.

About Author

Dalton LaFerney

Dalton LaFerney

Dalton is the editor of the Daily.

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