Faculty discuss MEGA Center, developments

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With the University of Indianapolis becoming more diverse and with more students wanting to experience study abroad, Dean of College of the Arts and Sciences Jennifer Drake, Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Bill Dynes and several other leaders on campus will be working on a campus-wide concept designed to promote international relations and connections. It also will ensure that certain programs across campus will be able to coordinate their efforts in these areas. This concept has been named the Multicultural Engagement and Global Awareness (MEGA) Center.

Dynes said that last spring, an international and multicultural task force was put together to help meet the needs of students and the campus in terms of cultural diversity. The task force was divided into three subcommittees as well: programming, entrepreneurship and student experience. Dynes said the three committees did their own individual research and found that while different and exciting things were happening on campus,  programs and diverse students were not connecting  and oftentimes did not know what was happening in other groups. So, after further research, the idea of the MEGA Center was developed last fall.

Dynes said the MEGA Center is not going to be a physical space, but more of a concept promoted on campus to enhance global and international relations among students and tie together programs that are related to global and international relations. According to Drake and Dynes, the programs that will be included in the MEGA Center are International Division, Service Learning and Civic Engagement, Interdisciplinary Programs, Department of Global Languages and Cross Cultural Studies and Global Partnerships.

“It’s an opportunity to tie those areas together,” Dynes said, “so that we’re supporting one another, finding new kinds of resources, and hopefully, developing fresh new opportunities for our students, both our domestic students who want to do cool things and for our international students who come here and really want to be a part of our community.”

The MEGA Center also will help connect students and faculty interested in traveling abroad, global studies and subjects dealing with diversity. While the plans for the MEGA Center are still open-ended according to Dynes and Drake, there is confidence in the benefits the center will bring to students in the long run. Director of the International Division Mimi Chase said she believes the MEGA Center will promote teamwork and create interesting things for the campus.

“I think it gives us an opportunity … to pull people together who have been doing really good work in different areas,” she said. “But now, already, I’m seeing outcomes from it where we talk in different areas, and we each have a different perspective on how these things might be accomplished. And then it turns out that by working together, we’re going to be able to move more things forward, I think.”

Associate Professor of International Relations and Chair of the Department of History and Political Science Milind Thakar is one of many faculty members who support the idea of the MEGA Center. However, he and other faculty members, including Associate Professor of Sociology Jim Pennell, became concerned when they were told two positions in the International Division would be eliminated. Chase said the two positions that were going to be eliminated were the Study Abroad Advisor and International Student Advisor.

Faculty were concerned because of  the work the International Division does. Chase said that within the International Division, the Office of International Students and Scholars’s work is immigration based. The International Student Advisor is in charge of monitoring the students for immigration purposes, that international students receive all of their immigration needs and benefits and help international students fill out all the necessary paperwork for Visas, health insurance and more. The office also works with visiting scholars and with hiring the faculty and staff at the university who are not U.S citizens or residents.

The second office within the International Division is the Office of Study Abroad. The office is in charge of making sure that destinations are safe, paperwork is completed and all parties are prepared for emergencies. The Study Abroad Advisor also helps students find programs that they would like to take part in at UIndy or helps them arrange to participate in a program through another college.

Chase said the positions are very specialized and when she learned that the positions were going to be eliminated, she worried about providing students with what they need.

“I would say that my greatest concern was to ensure that our students’ needs be met,” she said. “We have a lot of international students on our F1 Visa program, and we have the requirement to provide certain services.”

Thakar said that his concern was that by eliminating the two positions, the campus would suffer from the change because of the necessity and specialized nature of the work. Thakar, who was an international student and has taken students on a study abroad trip every year since 2011, said the International Division serves as a lifeline to those who are new to the country and that he knew firsthand how necessary such a service is  when trying to navigate through colloquialisms, taxes and other hurdles to which international students must become accustomed.

“I was familiar with the United States, being a person who studied international politics, and I knew a lot about America,” he said. “And even then, I required significant help.”

Chase said her biggest concern was that if the two positions were eliminated that when U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement came to campus to do routine checks and for whatever reason the person in the position that was left became sick or could not do the job, then international students would be required to leave at the end of the semester. Thakar said he was worried about this as well.

“This is an extreme case,”  he said. “But it might feasibly take place if there’s only one person, and that person says in the middle of the semester, ‘Look, I found a better job offer’ or ‘My mother’s sick; I’m going to take care of her.’ So if you have more than one, the kind of structure we have now with people, at least then it’s feasible.”

Pennell said he was moved to write a motion to be presented at the Faculty Senate Meeting.

“I think we, as faculty, have a moral responsibility to speak up in these kinds of situations,” Pennell said. “And we have just a practical responsibility as leaders in the university to point out when it looks like an administration might be making a mistake.  And so in my view, they were making a mistake, and my colleagues agreed.”   

Pennell put forth a motion at the Faculty Senate Meeting on Jan. 26. The motion called for the immediate reversal of the decision to eliminate the two positions in the International Division. Thakar seconded the motion, and  faculty members and senators spoke up about what they thought about the subject, while President Robert Manuel listened. Then Manuel said that he understood the concerns. Faculty Senate President Jodie Ferise called for a vote in an advisory capacity only. The motion was passed by the senate.  The two positions have been reinstated since the meeting.

“The International Division is intact,” Drake said. “It is what it has always been. The workload isn’t changing either. The work that the International Division has always done will continue to be done within its current structure.”

Drake said the faculty did a great job of sharing their concerns and was glad that International Division’s importance was shared.

“I think maybe part of what domestic students and maybe even some faculty and staff don’t know [is] that in terms of some of what the International Division does—they do a lot of different things—but just the process of managing Visas, it’s a lot of complicated paperwork involved with being an international student, and there are some pretty substantial repercussions if that paperwork isn’t done properly, like you have to leave,” Drake said. “So the International Division provides all of that support for our international students and faculty actually.… So we’re really pleased that all of that is in place.”

Thakar said he is very grateful that Manuel took everyone’s concerns into consideration and amended the decision.

“He’s [Manuel’s] been very good about it,” Thakar said. “He took our concerns as valid, and I was very grateful that he did not intervene but allowed people to speak up and heard everything and then illustrated what a conversation really is—one side listens and then the other side also listens. That’s the way it should be.”

Pennell also said he was pleased with the results of the meeting.

“I felt like he [Manuel] demonstrated good judgment and real leadership,” Pennell said. “I felt like he heard us, he listened to us. And I feel like he made a good decision as a result.”

Chase said that she believes the intentions of the change were good, and the goal is to help international students become integrated with student affairs.

“We’re not going to lose the positions,” Chase said, “so we can now build from what we have, and we hope to add on new and exciting areas of responsibility.”

Dynes said he encourages students and faculty to reach out to him and let him know what their needs are as planning for the MEGA Center continues.

Anyone who has a suggestion for the MEGA Center or would like to discuss ideas with Dynes can contact him at dynes@uindy.edu or by campus phone at 317-788-3512. More information about the International Division or study abroad is available in Schwitzer 211 or on the website at international.uindy.edu.

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