Video by: Sara Meredith

Marist President David Yellen stood in front of a relatively vacant Fusco Hall at the start of his recent town hall-style meeting. He invited all students and faculty to attend the event with questions and comments. “[This meeting] is for most of the community to ask any questions that you have; raise issues,” Yellen presented that day. However, only a small portion of the Marist community came out for the event.

For the many that missed it, here is a recap of some of the important issues Yellen discussed.

Perhaps the most prominent issue that afternoon resided in the apparent lack of student interest in Yellen’s event and the state of campus.

The meeting commenced at 11:30 a.m. during activity hour before spring break. The initial crowd consisted of about five Marist students, who were outnumbered by faculty members and many rows of empty seats. Ten minutes after the meeting began, a group of 20-25 members of Student Government Association (SGA) filed into the hall and filled an additional row.

“I certainly wouldn’t expect an overflow crowd at something like this,” Yellen said, but expressed confusion at the apparent lack of campus interest. “I would like to see 30, 40 students here at a time,” he added, turning to attendees to ask how to improve upon publicity, timing, and generation of interest.

This time slot, at the height of midterm exams, may have caught students on an exceptionally busy day. “I think it’s a bad time because it’s midterms week,” offered first year student and Career Services employee Patricia Thomaselli. “Maybe that’s why it’s a low turnout.”

Student Body President-elect Matthew Marotti suggested that Yellen’s email memorandums did not provide enough reminders leading up to the meeting. “I saw the email the day before,” Marotti said. “By the time [students] had that reminder, plans were already made for activity hour.”

When Yellen joined the Marist community last Fall, he established a tradition of conducting semi-annual town hall-style meetings similar to this one. Despite low turnouts thus far, he intends to continue holding them each semester. Yellen also hopes to implement additional evening and online forums to accommodate busy schedules and non-traditional students.

At Yellen’s first town hall-style meeting last semester, a similarly sized crowd gathered to meet their new college president. Sophomore Class President Isabella Duenas-Lozada recalls a better turnout than Wednesday’s meeting but notes that, aside from SGA members, there were fewer than 20 student attendees.

On Wednesday, after the additional students settled in, Yellen proceeded to address the array of issues they brought before him. For example, regarding campus renovations, he laid out plans to remodel the Steel Plant over the next year, followed by the McCann Center and then most likely Dyson.

When asked about his approach to politically-based decisions, Yellen explained that it is not his job to get involved until a political issue directly affects students. Another student expressed concern over the ratio of tenured professors to adjuncts, and Yellen assured him that the school would expand the number of full-time faculty, both tenured and nontenured.

Among these topics and many others, Marotti brought up the issue of school spirit on campus. In this area, he believes that the Marist community is lacking. “You say ‘red foxes’ but I don’t see foxes and I don’t see red,” he said, regarding Marist’s appearance.

The nature of this under-populated meeting certainly demonstrated Marotti’s conviction about non-engagement on campus.

“I’ve gone—in my eight months—to a lot of sporting events and performances and, like today, I would like to see more people at all of these things,” Yellen explained. “How to generate the interest is a real challenge.”

To combat this challenge, Yellen suggested surveying students on their interests and forming committees to generate ideas on specific issues. As for his unique forums, Yellen will continue to generate wider-spread interest every semester for the rest of his tenure at Marist.

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