By Phillip Milano
He had them at “half-day Fridays.”
JU President Tim Cost, in an informal Q&A Tuesday, April 9, with attendees at the monthly Employee Advisory Council meeting, prompted cheers when he kicked things off by announcing traditional half-day Fridays would be back again this summer for staff members.
Cost, who took office Feb. 1, then waved and faked a quick exit from Gooding Auditorium a la David Letterman, drawing wide laughter, before coming back to take a variety of questions from employees.
“More than anything, I’m here to serve, and these first eight weeks have been the best I’ve had in the professional world since leaving JU in 1981,” said the JU alum. “I’ve been so encouraged by the reception from students, faculty, elected officials, CEOs, non-profit leaders and others who all want JU to just keep succeeding. The warmth and goodwill is amazing, and you are all a huge part of that, so I want to thank you.”
EAC President Charles “Chip” Moore encouraged the audience to ask questions, and to “meet Tim and really engage him on your own. I know he is excited to be here and to work with you.”
Topics discussed during the half-hour session dealt with everything from beautifying campus to parking issues to student financial aid to health benefits:
On changes to the grounds: Cost said JU vendor Sodexo has been “outstanding” so far in cooperating with a push to improve the University’s surroundings and facilities. “From replacing light bulbs to fixing screens to new grass or new sidewalks, they are working their butts off,” he said. “The students haven’t had to ask about these things, but they are on to it. And these are the kinds of things that keep them coming back to JU.”
On changes in attitudes: Students are latching on to the idea that the faculty and staff care about them and respect them, and that is reflected in their desire to give back and support their University, Cost said. “It shows up in something as basic as littering on campus. You don’t see it happening anymore. It’s a changing mindset.”
On attracting and keeping students: JU’s research shows that nine out of 10 students who start at the University each fall come back after Christmas break, but that number drops too far by the following fall. One way to address that is to make sure the campus has attractive gathering spots and a sense of community for them. “We want to make certain areas of campus ‘stickier’ as meeting and entertaining spaces. We are looking at finalizing plans to bring Chick-fil-A to campus, and I am hell-bent on making sure the River House is revamped by next Homecoming in the fall,” Cost said. “That’s going to be a central gathering area for students, faculty and staff.”
On the campus book store reducing its employee discount from 25 percent to 10 percent: “I haven’t heard that one. I know I’ve always paid full price myself there,” he said to chuckles. “I assure you I will look into it.”
On campus parking: More spaces mean a higher-quality work and campus environment, and Cost said he’s been driving around and parking in various JU areas to monitor parking and traffic flow. “Again, these amenities are needed for staff, and they are also issues when it comes to attracting better students who will stay, excel and graduate. I am seriously looking into this issue and we’ll begin a full push to address it in the summer.”
On health care benefits: The new Affordable Health Care Act shouldn’t have too major an impact on JU employees, Human Resources Director James Williams noted after Cost prompted him to respond in more detail to a staff member’s query about the Act. JU generally meets or exceeds the new requirements of the Act, including already offering insurance coverage to those with pre-existing conditions.
On recent efforts to boost scholarships: The “March Forward: 31 Scholarships, 31 Days” campaign by University Advancement was a huge success, with 36 new scholarships created for students to start using in fall 2013. “For a current or new donor to be able to create a named scholarship matched by the University for four years, that has really opened up JU to alums who perhaps hadn’t thought about us for a while.”
On his game plan coming out of the gate: “It’s about first giving and gaining respect, and asking for excellence. We will continue to pursue advancement here by stressing four key characteristics: Persistence, Optimism, Trust and Teamwork. That is how you create the connection that keeps JU working so well, and that makes it the unique place it is.”