Ball State Board of Trustees discusses new campus master plan, approves faculty early retirement plan

<p>Provost Susana Rivera-Mills speaks during the Ball State Board of Trustees meeting held at the L.A. Pittenger Student Center Dec. 17.  Rivera-Mills discussed student retention strategies as well as early retirement opportunites for employees at the meeting. <strong>Eli Houser, DN</strong></p>

Provost Susana Rivera-Mills speaks during the Ball State Board of Trustees meeting held at the L.A. Pittenger Student Center Dec. 17. Rivera-Mills discussed student retention strategies as well as early retirement opportunites for employees at the meeting. Eli Houser, DN

Ball State’s Board of Trustees considered plans for launching the university’s involvement in the Navigate Student app at its meeting Dec. 17.

Jason Rivera, associate vice provost for student success and dean of University College, said the app allows communication between students and professors and has an option for students to sync their schedules to their phone calendars. 

Loren Malm, vice president for information technology and chief information officer, said if Ball State used the Navigate app, his vision would be to merge with the bConnected app, which he said about 70 percent of students have downloaded. 

Susana Rivera-Mills, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, said another goal for student success and retention is to hire more academic advisers and incentivize advisers to stay at Ball State.

“There has been a lot of turnover because there is really little opportunity for them to be promoted to anything else,” Rivera-Mills said. “So we’re trying to take our flat structure and increase dimensionality to provide some other professional pathways.”

Ball State President Geoffey Mearns said he will invite Rivera to every Board of Trustees meeting for regular updates on student retention. Mearns said Rivera — who has held his position for six months — “creates a real passion for this work, and I think we all know how important this work is.”

Counseling Center outreach

Also in the Academic and Student Affairs Committee meeting, Director of Counseling and Health Services Bill Betts delivered an update on the Counseling Center’s services. Betts said after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Counseling Center increased it’s available services like launching Let’s Talk, a one-time session with a staff member to discuss coping strategies for minor stresses. Betts said the Counseling Center is also experimenting with YouTube videos and TikTok.

Because of increases in the availability of Telehealth and other virtual mental health services, Betts said he thinks some students were able to get mental health care in their hometowns and said it was difficult to determine if the need for Counseling Center services increased or not.

“What’s interesting is I actually had some students say to me, ‘I didn’t get COVID, no one in my family died, so yes, I’m suffering and I’m miserable, but I don’t want to take a spot from somebody else who really needs this service,’” Betts said. “So we’ve had to do a lot of education to students to say, ‘come here and we’re ready to support you.’”

Betts said the Counseling Center has been fully staffed for most of the COVID-19 pandemic and it will continue outreach strategies and new programs into 2022.

2021 Campus Master Plan

In the Finance, Facilities and Planning Committee meeting, Board of Trustees members approved the 2021 campus master plan presented by Associate Vice President for Facilities and Planning Management Jim Lowe with Michael Johnson and Doug Kozma of SmithGroup

The campus master plan is still aligned with the goals of engaging the campus layout with the Village and looks to encourage people to visit downtown Muncie and local neighborhoods, Johnson said.

“We start with the students first piece,” Kozma said. “Some of the key initiatives are culminating around this idea of a one-stop shop and a different lens of looking at the physical campus around the student cycle as it relates to recruitment and retention.”

Kozma said in the next 15 to 20 years, student services offices like the Learning Center, Career Center, Counseling Center and Office of Student Life may move closer to each other rather than their current locations in buildings around campus.

Voluntary early retirement for faculty

The Board of Trustees approved a one-time early retirement incentive plan for faculty over the age of 55 who wish to retire in the spring 2022 semester. These faculty must have spent at least 10 years working at Ball State and their combined age plus years of service at the university must equal or exceed 70, Rivera-Mills said.

Full-time faculty who meet the criteria must agree to retire effective May 14, 2022 to receive a single payment of 125 percent of the 2022 academic year base salary. Faculty may elect to enroll in post-retirement health and dental plans and can also apply for emeritus and honoratus status.

“Because we have been good stewards of our resources for many years, we are so fortunate to be able to offer this one-time opportunity to eligible faculty in the spring of 2022,” Rivera-Mills said. “The pandemic has created enormous challenges and extraordinary demands on our faculty and staff, and because of these, some of our faculty members may prefer to retire earlier than they had originally planned.”

Mearns said the application period for the early retirement incentive plan will likely be open from February to March 2022. This four-to-five-week time period, Mearns said, will allow college deans to discuss where additional faculty will need to be hired for the following academic year.

“This plan is voluntary, and we that many of our senior and experienced faculty will want to continue with us on the journey that we've been talking about where we're headed as an institution,” Mearns said, “but we also understand that some of them might prefer to accelerate their retirement plans.”

Mearns said this plan is rooted in Ball State’s dedication to increase its community impact and preserve the university’s culture of gratitude.

Jean Ann Harcourt, Ball State Board of Trustees member, listens to a presentation during the board meeting at the L.A. Pittenger Student Center Dec. 17. Harcourt was appointed to the Board of Trustees in 2016 and her last Board meeting was Friday Dec. 17. Eli Houser, DN

In his president’s report, Mearns expressed appreciation for Sue Hodges Moore, chief strategy officer and interim vice president for marketing and communication, who is retiring this month. Hodges Moore came to the Ball State in 2018 and assisted in creating and implementing a new strategic plan.

“She's provided [students] with the opportunity to receive a quality education, which I know is an opportunity that she cherishes to this day,” Mearns said.

The Board of Trustees also approved the naming of the Thomas E. and Karen Bumb Lauer Distinguished Professorship in the College of Science and Humanities. Dean of the College of Science and Humanities Maureen McCarthy said this professorship naming aims to support faculty retention in honor of two Ball State alumni.

Trustees also said goodbye to Jean Ann Harcourt, whose term as trustee will end Dec. 31. Harcourt will be replaced by Julie Griffith, who Gov. Eric Holcomb announced he was appointing to the Board in November.

Krystiana Brosher also contributed to this article.

Contact Grace McCormick with comments at or on Twitter @graceMc564.


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