The nearly $1 million renovations on President Judy Olian’s estate are one of many large down-payments on the university-wide strategic plan.
“The main thing is, we’re an institution that makes investments all the time in our future,” Olian said in an interview with The Chronicle. “Significant investments. Some of which are not seen by the students or known by the students.”
[media-credit id=2228 align=”alignright” width=”300″][/media-credit]One of these investments involves the costly renovations on Olian’s home, which received backlash from the student community earlier this week.
Freshman Nicole Giordano created a petition to fire Olian after learning of these expenditures. The petition on change.org received 333 signatures, but was taken down after Giordano met with Olian to talk about her frustrations.
Olian said she personally did not decide to renovate the property, but re-emphasized that it is one of many budget decisions that Quinnipiac makes all the time.
“This was not something that was on our radar screen to report but once it was noted in the press we were happy to speak about it,” Olian said. “We’ve built classrooms, we’ve renovated labs, residence halls, we have hired 12 faculty. There are many more expensive decisions that we have made, but once it’s out there we’re pleased to discuss it.”
Olian met with the student body on Feb. 21 to respond to questions about the renovations, which were first reported in the New Haven Register on Feb. 19.
Students expressed concerns that the university is spending money to add amenities to Olian’s, university-owned house such as smart lighting, but the residence halls lack air conditioning.
The New Haven Register reported that “The university is leaving no wall alone through the renovation. Even the closets are being redone.”
Olian said that the changes being made are necessary to create a home and an entertainment space “suitable” for a president.
“I think that what’s going to be done is suitable for a president’s residence,” Olian said. “For a residence that will be able to entertain students and faculty and parents and alumni and donors and bring people in.”
Luke Ahearn, vice president of Student Government Association (SGA), believes that the investments that are being made as a result of the strategic plan are necessary and that the renovations are part of a larger mission to improve the university.
“Student Government understands the need for a university to have a president’s house and the renovations that are being made,” Ahearn said in a statement. “We feel that not only will the renovations be paid off by money raised at events hosted there but that this upgrade will allow the president to host students and create more dialog between students and administration. We do understand students frustration and we want to see more money allocated to enhancing the student experience as well.”
Other students, like freshman film, television and media arts major Sarah Sewell were not convinced the investment has the student body’s best interest in mind.
“I think that money could go toward things that are more useful to students to make our college experience better,” Sewell said. “After all, we’re the ones paying $60,000 a year. Maybe that money could go towards AC in the dorms rather than towards renovating a mansion.”
Student suspicions about superfluous aspects of the home were intensified when reports of “lavish spending” from Olian’s time as dean of the School of Business at UCLA surfaced in an article from 2014.
Revealnews.org reported that Olian spent more than any other UCLA dean, including the chancellor, on travel expenses.
Olian said her travel was necessary to interact with the alumni network she built. Additionally, Olian said she was in charge of the international strategic priorities of the university, which required extensive travel.
“The only way to connect and entertain is to travel to where they were,” Olian said. “A lot of the alumni were international and that’s why I had to engage in that. Frankly, it was highly supported and highly admired while I was at UCLA. I only engage in activities that benefit the institution.”
UCLA spokesperson Steve Ritea said that Olain’s spendings were insignificant when compared with the $180 million she raised in her tenure, according to Revealnews.org.
Olian said that she hopes to have the same success here at Quinnipiac, but in order to achieve her goals, the community must be prepared for changes.
“Change is difficult,” Olian said. “This is what we’re in encountering. Just one episode of a slight difference, not the acquisition of the property which was done in the past, but just making the house ready for a president to move in.”
Sophomore political science major Gina Divito said she does not resent or disrespect the need to renovate the home but thinks the university’s academic programs should be prioritized.
“I don’t necessarily feel the same resentment as most of the student body does about the situation,” Divito said. “However, I do wish more funding would be put towards the College of Arts and Sciences as it is the largest yet most underfunded school for undergrads at Quinnipiac. In my opinion, the allocation of funding towards the home renovation should be used for more pressing and influential matters on campus like that of strengthening our academics.”
Olian’s house is not the only one of her university-owned spaces that will be undergoing construction.
The executive suite in the Arnold Bernhard Library will be renovated to that Vice President and Provost Mark Thompson, whose office is on the left side of the library near the Learning Commons, can join Olian on the right side.
Thompson’s old office space near the Learning Commons will be used to enlarge the Learning Commons.
Additionally, Olian said that the construction will create a larger conference room for senior leadership.
“We also have a slightly larger executive leadership committee that needs to be fit into an executive conference room so we’re updating and enlarging that and we can accomodate meetings of the leadership team,” Olian said.
“Because of the changing structure of the senior management team with Mark Thompson coming into our suite we’re changing out suite a little bit and enlarging the leadership.”
These renovations have already begun. While the suite is under construction, the executive leadership committee is meeting in the development building behind the alumni house according to John Morgan, associate vice president for public relations.
Another costly expenditure resulting from the early stages of the strategic plan is the half million dollars being invested in scoping out land for a new residential facility and a new health and wellness center Olian said.
Construction and new facilities aren’t the only expense occuring behind the scenes. Olian said her inauguration in May will celebrate the university’s heritage and values.
“We’re going to be having high school students here, TedX talks, faculty talks, student performances,” Olian said. “The ceremony itself, a big luncheon for the entire community, a trustee dinner.”
Olian said she anticipates the cost of the inauguration will also be scrutinized.
“My sense is, someone will say ‘why are we spending on the inauguration?’” Olian said. “Well it’s because of the heritage of the institution. This is an important moment.”
Some changes as a result of the plan will be noticeable soon, Olian said. She said that the university has already hired 12 new faculty members, renovated labs and built classrooms.
Over the summer, Olian said she hopes to see improvements in residence halls and to the dining hall on the North Haven campus.
Olian reminds students that the master facilities planning, which is part of the strategic plan, will not happen overnight.
“The strategic plan is really a five-year plan,” Olian said. “Master plans often take longer because facilities take longer to build or renovate.”
Mark Thompson, vice president and provost, said that the strategic plan involves a series of steps that must occur before changes are made.
“Once we all decide this is the direction we want to go, the next step is the resource commitment, the budget plan, the space planning and those kind of things to see it come to fruition,” Thompson said.
Olian said the news of the renovations have started a productive conversation between students and faculty about Quinnipiac’s changing future and the steps that administration is taking to get there.
“The dialogue that we are having, I hope is informative, I hope is transparent,” Olian said. “I hope it continues.”