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A re-cap: Fall 2013 Conversation with the President

October 8, 2013

It began with a round of Beloit Jeopardy.

Answer: Today

Question: What is a great day to be a Beloiter?

Scott Bierman addressed a full crowd of Beloiters in Moore Lounge Tuesday, in his annual Fall Conversation with the President.

The most pressing topics at hand were the decisions the college’s board of trustees made this past weekend.

“It was a momentous board meeting in lots of ways,” Bierman said.

Namely, the board voted to approve a plan outlining steps towards the transferring ownership of the Blackhawk Generating Station—more commonly known around campus as “the powerhouse”—from Alliant Energy to Beloit College. The second piece of this development is that the board selected award-winning Chicago architectural firm Studio Gang Architects to lead efforts to convert the power plant. A committee composed of students, faculty, and staff recommended Studio Gang to the board after three firms visited campus earlier this month.

“We think it’s a firm that will respect the building, respect the place the building has in the city’s past, and respect the place the building has in the college’s future,” the president said.

Details about the deal are as follows (you can read the full press release here.):

  • Alliant Energy and Beloit College have agreed upon a three-year window for developing this project. Under this arrangement, Beloit will have three years to raise the $30 million needed for the project, after which the college and utility will formalize a sale of the property to the college. In the meantime, Alliant Energy is moving ahead with remediation work at the Blackhawk Generating Station
  • Final sale of the building to the college will be contingent on, among other things, Beloit successfully raising $30 million to fund the construction.
  • The hiring of Studio Gang at this point in the process is intended to help inform Alliant Energy’s building preparation efforts, including determining what interior components would be removed and recycled when fundraising is completed, and what could remain at the property.
  • Beloit College has already completed an initial, campus-wide programming study that informed and enlarged its initial plans for the facility. A semester-long programming study for the building (completed in spring 2012) yielded a list of 10 pressing space needs for the college—from a 150-seat public auditorium to a competition-grade swimming pool.
  • More on the college and Alliant Energy’s work to date is available here.

Beyond the major power plant updates, Bierman also addressed questions posed online prior to the event, including:

What’s being done to better integrate international students more quickly into campus life? Bierman asked Director of International Education Betsy Brewer to speak on this front, and she reported that her office is performing a self-study and organizing exchange student focus groups aimed at this very issue.

Distribution/availability of classes across semesters: “It’s always going to be the case that there are going to be constraints,” the president said, due to the model of delivery—i.e., unlike a community college, which can hire instructors to meet demand for certain classes, the college has to take a more considered approach. Registrar Mary Boros-Kazai said close attention is paid to the way classes are distributed across semesters, but having FYI seminars in the fall semester skews the balance slightly.

On the budget: “At the end of the day, the budget for this year will be balanced,” Bierman said, and he is “enormously optimistic” about next year’s budget, though due to a 30-student shortfall in the incoming class, he is asking all budget managers across campus to keep an eye on their budgets.

On the importance of increasing the number of domestic minority professors, especially in the science department: “There are processes in place…to recruit more diverse applicants,” Bierman said, and part of that is to recruit even when no positions are open, by inviting scholars to campus, and having current faculty and staff reach out to exceptional scholars and professors at other institutions at conferences.

Favorite tree: Apparently there is an “Ent-tree” in the Biermans’ backyard, which is the president’s current favorite. “I’m reminded of Middle Earth every time I look out the window,” he said, though it’s followed closely by the gingko tree outside Campbell Hall.