President David M. Dooley held a forum Monday afternoon in the Memorial Union Ballroom to discuss the University of Rhode Island’s accomplishments and plans moving forward.

Dooley began the event by sharing the ways in which URI has grown over the past decade. According to Dooley, in the 2017-2018 academic year, 74 percent of first-year students earned the 30 credits that are required to stay on track to graduate in four years. This is an increase from the 45 percent that was reported a decade ago. Dooley also said that there has also been an increase in how many students graduated within the span of six years, by 8.4 percent since the 2013-2014 school year.

Dooley said that the University had an 85 percent retention rate in 2016-2017 for full-time first-year students.

Some reasons for success are credited to initiatives such as the new general education curriculum, the expansion of research at the University, the Center for Career and Experiential Education and the ‘Take Five, Finish in Four campaign.’

Dooley also mentioned how URI’s recent focus on experiential learning has benefited graduates. “At the end of the day we want to create an academic environment for learning here that empowers students for success,” Dooley said.

After discussing the University’s academic achievement, Dooley mentioned how the University’s success will help Rhode Island’s economy. “We now award almost 4,400 degrees [a year], almost 2,000 more than we awarded a decade ago,” Dooley said. “That is essential for the success of our entire state. A college-educated workforce is the bedrock of much of the 21st-century economy. There’s no escaping that.”

The University’s commitment to globalization and celebrating diversity was also discussed. According to Dooley, the University launched several study abroad programs over the past decade and has more international students than ever before. Regarding the diversity on campus, he said that 20 percent of faculty identify as people of color, and 20.2 percent of honors students are from underrepresented groups.

Dooley said that diversity is foundational in creating a successful University. “We want to build a community here that values and embraces equity and diversity,” Dooley said. “A community for every individual to be welcomed, where every individual is supported, every individual is empowered, regardless of where they came from, what they believe, or what they look like.”

He then discussed upcoming construction projects on campus.

“We’ve got a lot of work going on,” Dooley said. “It complicates parking at the worst possible times occasionally, but a lot of it is nearing completion.”

The president said that the Brookside Apartments and the new College of Engineering building are set for completion in 2019. Plans for renovations of the Fines Arts Center, Memorial Union and the construction of a new Health and Counseling Center were also mentioned. According to Dooley, all of these projects are on schedule for completion and align with the budget.

The floor was then opened to questions and comments from community members.

Jody Lisberger, a professor of gender and women’s studies, applauded Dooley for encouraging a culture change against sexual assault among students. However, she asked how he planned to change faculty and staff mentality about sexual assault.

In his response, Dooley said that listening to those who have been assaulted or abused was the key. “We have a tradition here, as I understand it at least, of really, while staying in compliance with federal guidelines, of putting together processes, particularly around student conduct, that are sensitive to the points you raised,” Dooley said.

Earlier in the presentation, ways the University was working to prevent sexual violence was mentioned. The Culture of Respect Collective and a report by the Advisory Council on Prevention and Response to Sexual Violence are used to aid in this initiative.

Mental health was another issue the community was concerned with. Nicolle Potvin, a URI alumna and graduate student at Northeastern University, asked Dooley if the new counseling center would have any programs geared towards student athletes.

Dooley said that he understands the stress placed on student athletes and that stress, anxiety, loneliness and depression, were the most common reasons students attended counseling. He also said that the University is partnering with other health organizations and providing mental health first-aid training in order to serve the community.

“I was very pleased with the president,” Robert M. Samuels, director of URI’s counseling center, said. “It was very forthright, talking about mental health issues, talking about cross-campus partnerships, and that we’re in the design phase for our new building, so I’m excited about the possibilities.”

Some students felt that the forum exposed them to a lot of different ideas about the University and its future.

“I think that a lot of people had some really good points,” Kristina Nihan an undergraduate at URI, said. “There were questions that I didn’t even think about. There were good answers from [Dooley] too.”

President Dooley’s speech can be viewed here.