The Metropolitan met with President Ginny Arthur on Oct. 20 for an hour-long conversation. Arthur discussed the details of the space utilization study, the future of the Midway campus, and the loss of the Black Box Theater as a performance space for Metro State Theater students.
This is the first in a planned monthly series of interviews with President Arthur.
Metro State recently commissioned a ‘Space Utilization Study’ that proposes shifting offices and services around on campus. What should students know about it?
This is about getting things clustered together for students. If you go to one office and it turns out you need another service, it will not be far away. On that same principle, we want to get academic departments clustered together. There’s more synergy when they’re close together and everyone can talk to their colleagues.
You’ve called this a student-centered, student-facing plan — what does that mean exactly?
Sometimes students don’t know all the things that we have available. If they’re looking for one thing, they might discover others. So we really open up the space in a different way. In Founder’s Hall, there’s Counseling Services and student services like the Veterans Center, Women’s and LGBTQ Center. Instead of having them scattered across first and second floor, let’s have them in all one area. I think students don’t go in these offices because they see it as closed off area. Let’s open it up.
We saw that work in Minneapolis in the MEC [Management Education Center] on the second floor. We had to move out due to a ventilation, heating and cooling problem. There used to be a whole maze of cubicles and they took those out. Now there’s a big open area and faculty are saying, “Let’s put in a few comfortable chairs and tables and chairs, and some public access computers.” It’s an inviting area. Those are the kind of spaces that encourage interaction between students and faculty.
We have been talking about moving the campus food shelf [the Food for Thought Food Pantry] too. When students discover it, then they use it. But it’s not in a very welcoming space currently. Also they have a long way to move food when the truck pulls in to unload. Plan is to reconfigure it in St. John’s Hall, closer to the parking lot and the bus line.
A visually striking part of the plan is to move the Bookstore to the Student Center, and then give its former space to the Gordon Parks Art Gallery and Institute for Community Engagement and Scholarship (ICES). What’s the idea behind that?
The university’s commitment to community engagement is a central part of our mission — and it should be visible to the community. This space has lots of windows and lots of people come through to go to the public library and our library. Having ICES [Institute for Community Engagement and Scholarship] there makes a much more visible statement about who we are.
Moving the art gallery was the consultant’s idea because he heard from Professor Erica Rasmussen that the art gallery has these beautiful shows but not a lot of foot traffic. It’s up on the third floor and a little out of the way. So what if we put that front and center for both public patrons and students?
We also want to reserve some of the space for public partners. The workforce center for the county and the city of St. Paul would love to have a presence on campus. Ramsey County social services is interested too. It would be a resource for students. We have a lot of students who live on the edge of poverty and could use some help in getting enrolled in programs or help with housing.
What other parts of the plan offer real change for students?
We went ahead and got the new Testing Center under construction [in New Main]. It will be done next week. The concept was to put all testing in one space, including a quiet area for students that may need that as an accommodation. There are banks of computers for assessments. An open area with desks and tables for makeup exams. The beauty of it is we can extend hours with the same amount of staff. We can stagger their hours and offer a lot more coverage. I’d heard it was hard for students to get their tests done with limited hours for testing.
Cyber security is a really growing area of interest for students, so the old Educated Palate café in New Main will become the Cyber Security Center. It turns out it’s the perfect space as it was set up to power freezers, big refrigerators, an industrial stove and grill.
We just reached an agreement with a large multinational company to get a top-grade cyber attack simulator. There will be an attacking team and a defense team, and others can play the recreational hackers. Faculty are monitoring the whole exercise, and offer debriefing with the team.
We need special servers for this center too. We don’t want this hooked into the university servers. The idea is corporations in the Twin Cities, if they think they’re under attack, could redirect their traffic to these servers. This is an opportunity for undergraduates and master’s degree students to work on real problems.
You’ve mentioned some problems in the MEC building on the Minneapolis campus. How will they be fixed?
MEC is a whole different project. We are in the bonding bill for a major asset preservation, to fix the heating and ventilation problems. When we started this discussion a few years ago, we thought if it involves tearing up everything inside MEC to install a new system, how about we plan to make that space more functional at the same time? MCTC and the [Minnesota State] systems office agreed with us. It’s more work than just those upgrades. We would have more student gathering space and office space in MEC too.
What does the bonding bill process entail? Can the Legislature, over the course of the session, extract what they don’t like in the bill and then potentially our building doesn’t get fixed?
What normally happens is we have an internal process. We bring together people from across the [Minnesota State] system and everyone puts in their proposed projects. Then there’s a scoring rubric to make a prioritized list of maybe 40 projects.
What has tended to happen, historically, is maybe the first 10 to 12 projects — the highest priorities of the system — tend to get funded. But this last legislative session? Totally by surprise — whatever deals were going on behind doors at the Legislature — they picked the projects that they wanted to do instead of the priorities.
The HEAPR [Higher Education Asset Preservation and Renewal] project for MCTC was supposed to be number one on the list. We had to move people out this summer because we didn’t think we’d have air conditioning. It was bad. But the legislators went and picked something else on the list.
We have hundreds of millions of dollars of deferred maintenance in the Minnesota State system. We always try to get as much as we can for HEAPR and do as many of those projects as possible. But that’s an ongoing thing that we’ll never catch up with.
Based on registration numbers, and anecdotally, students seem to love the Midway campus. But Metro State doesn’t own the building—it’s leased. What are the long term plans for Midway?
I know that students like it. I’d love to hear more about what it is that they like about it. I think our longer term strategy is to not to be in Midway. It’s a very expensive facility. It’s leased, so we can’t always do what we want to do to make it work the way we want it to.
Here’s a good example. For the last two years, faculty members have been raising the issue of cell phone coverage in the basement. We need a repeater to strengthen the signals. Several repeaters probably, because they are carrier dependent.
We’ve been trying to work with Wellington [the building owner and manager]. It’s an expensive proposition for us to do it on our own. We finally have convinced them this is a safety and potential liability issue. They are willing to collaborate with us to find a technology solution.
If we put a couple hundred thousand dollars into a leased space, and then we’re not there long-term? It’s hard to invest a lot of money. But for the foreseeable future, we will be at Midway.
How can students give their input on the Space Utilization Study?
Please email email@example.com. We also have been doing gallery walks, having administrators there to explain the diagrams. We have Post-it notes so people can write a note and stick it on the diagrams.
We welcome everyone’s feedback. We’re gathering it until mid-November, then we’ll take it all and compile it. It’s possible we’ll just have minor tweaks. Or maybe comments will make us rethink part of the plan. In which case we would have the consultant redo the boards with the new plan, and then go for a shorter round of feedback.
What’s the timeline for changing all these spaces?
We want to finalize the plan by late March. It’s kind of like dominoes. We’d have to do construction on the Student Center first if we’re going to move the Bookstore. Shifting offices around could be done over a summer.
It’d be hard for me to predict, but it couldn’t all happen in one year. Plus, how much will this all cost? We haven’t gotten there yet because this isn’t finalized.
I’m thinking two to five years of implementation. That may sound like a long time but this is a strategic evaluation of our space and how to use it. We would be making progress to a more permanent use of the space. It pays to do it right, do it well, and take the time we need. There’s not going to be a single ‘everybody get up and move’ moment.
Another change coming to campus: Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC) is demolishing its Black Box Theater after selling the land to a private developer. Our Theater students are upset over the loss of their classroom, rehearsal and performance space at MCTC. Are there plans to give them a new home?
We are definitely in conversation with MCTC about what should we do. Discussing our need for a Black Box and a multi-purpose space. Space for movement classes. Access to scenery. Everything we need for a theater program.
It is a conversation with them about how to move forward. I asked the Provost to be in conversation with MCTC’s chief academic officer. We need to talk at that level, and have a clear and direct conversation. We would like to try to work with MCTC, but there are other options in the Twin Cities for finding a home. Being in a system means working with all our sister campuses in the Twin Cities.
I know the Theater program loves being in downtown Minneapolis, but if we don’t have the space that’s suitable there, then we may have to trade off that particular location for a different location where you can have the right space.
We are trying to work it out. We are definitely looking for the combination of the right space and location to suit the philosophy and approach of the theater department.