Robert Caret appointed new University System of Maryland Chancellor

Robert Caret appointed new University System of Maryland Chancellor

The University System of Maryland (USM) Board of Regents has appointed Robert Caret as the fourth chancellor of the University System of Maryland, effective July 1, 2015. Caret is the current president of the five-campus University of Massachusetts and served as president of Towson University, one of USM’s 12 institutions, from 2003 to 2011.

The Board of Regents said in their official announcement that “The board determined that Dr. Caret possessed the combination of experience, insight, leadership, and knowledge, and vision necessary to guide the USM and serve the state of Maryland in the years ahead.”
In an email from President Hrabowski to the UMBC community, Hrabowski said he was “encouraged by the Board of Regent’s selection,” and thinks that “Caret is a strong leader and will do a fine job as Chancellor.”

Construction at UMBC — A Perpetual Nuisance

Frequent delays in construction pose a hassle to students

Few would argue that enhancement of our facilities isn’t a good thing, but could the campus construction have been planned better?

   The past two years have been marked by ongoing construction projects on campus. Many of them have helped streamline the campus and enhance its characteristic atmosphere. However, there were many projects that were overly prolonged by delays for no apparent reason, often to the detriment of students or faculty.

Many were upset by the work done to the traffic circle at the entrance to the campus, as it seemed to exacerbate congestion rather than alleviate it. Students have learned that stepping around a construction vehicle or trying to tune out the sound of a jackhammer is just a regular part of life at UMBC. This raises questions about the efficiency of the planning behind the additions to our campus.

Naomi Schumacher, a junior and computer science major said, “I do think it’s kind of ridiculous that we’re almost always doing construction somewhere and that some things under construction have been going on for a long time, but I don’t know if they ran into problems or anything like that during the process.” Her sentiment echoes through the student body at large, as many of us simply don’t understand the source of the delays.

On the other hand, there are students who don’t mind the ongoing construction. Alfred Hayre, a junior and information systems major, said, “They seem to be not too bad, they haven’t really affected me the few times I’ve had to walk around it.” Hayre represents a much needed call for calm.

Still, while the conditions on campus are more than tolerable, one has to wonder why the prolonged inconveniences have to be tolerated in the first place. Many of the projects were quite simple, yet would sometimes take weeks longer to complete than they would elsewhere. As students, we don’t know whether this is the result of mistakes in the planning process or unforeseeable complications.

This brings us to the crux of the issue – we simply don’t know. There hasn’t been an official statement about something that has become a constant of student life at UMBC, which reflects an administration out of touch with its students. A transparent administration makes for a happier campus, even if that means admitting to making mistakes. The community is mature enough to understand that mistakes are inevitable and acceptable, but needless bureaucratic red-tape between the students and the administration is not.

Flooding in the forecast

UMBC lacks adequate care for walkways in inclement weather

Even after many construction and improvement projects to better draining conditions on UMBC’s campus, some areas still cause major flooding, ice buildup and annoyance to students.

 When it rains on UMBC’s campus, it doesn’t just pour, it floods.

Areas that accumulate the heaviest foot traffic on campus also appear to be where rainfall accumulates most densely, and the school’s efforts to fix it haven’t worked.

Academic Row seems to have the biggest issues when it comes to rainfall on campus as deep puddles form quickly that students must jump over and dodge to avoid getting soaked feet and ankles.

Despite these areas of flooding, there have been multiple projects to improve drainage on campus that were directed specifically to two areas that suffered from flooding issues, without too much success.

“The [project] at Biological Sciences Building took care of a terrible ponding problem after rainstorms,” said Dusty Postlewate, Assistant Vice President of Facilities Management. That project cost about $180,000 and re-graded the area to install a “pervious” paving system and subsurface drain lines to eliminate the ponding.

“The one at the south quad involved the area bounded by the RAC, Sondheim Hall and the outdoor pool…This area was unsightly and suffered from bad drainage,” said Postlewate.

The second project also re-graded the area by installing retaining walls, pavers, replacing the roadway and installing landscaping with bio-retention structure that cost around $500,000.

These improvement projects that have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars still have not solved the issues on campus regarding flooding especially throughout Academic Row.

Many areas of Academic Row still flood badly past The Commons and especially at the bottom of the steps leading down from the Performing Arts and Humanities Building. Here, students are usually forced to take the plunge into the puddle due to such excessive water buildup.

So, as students are forced to deal with an overwhelming amount of construction throughout campus, its effects have not solved some of the most basic issues of campus maintenance.

There is also the issue of ice on campus, as there have already been patches of it on campus that formed on some of the coldest days this semester that did not get covered with salt, creating hazards for students.

Last winter, the sidewalk area from the library down through academic row was completely covered in ice — students had to skate their way through.

“Ice treatment is an animal all of its own,” Postlewate said. “This one is very difficult to define, since there are so many variables, primarily weather, that determine the success of removal.” The formation of ice comes from many factors, whether it is the layer of snow left over from shoveling, the melting and refreezing of snow, making it hard to take care of efficiently.

UMBC must work more diligently to take care this issue. Large patches of ice are difficult to control, but are also extremely dangerous for students and need to be attended to more urgently.

Whether it be rain, snow or ice, students of UMBC should be prepared for any of the upcoming weather conditions the winter holds, but so should the establishment. For now, students should expect flooding and ice in UMBC’s forecast.

Holiday spiritless

Minority religions not given off for their holidays

Getting rid of mentions of any religious holidays in regards to school breaks doesn’t actually fix the problem, it just hides it.

Public schools give off for major religious holidays, families to be together, but this does not apply to minority religions’ holidays. This creates an atmosphere of intolerance, and favoritism for the majority religions in America.

America strives to create a place where all religions can worship equally. But, in the case of vacation on religious holidays, this seems to be the opposite of what they are doing.

Public schools generally give off from late December to early January. They call it winter break, a secular reason, so it does not violate the first amendment’s separation of church and state. However, they are essentially giving off for Christmas and New Year’s. That is mostly catering to Christianity.

Most public schools also give off a day for the High Holidays of Judaism, Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Again, it’s claimed to be for secular reasons, but it’s really for religious holidays. This is catering mainly to Judaism.

So where is Islam? Where are all the other minority religions? In a recent upset in Montgomery County, the Muslim community was asking to have Eid al-Adha, their major religious holiday, off as well. This would ensure that the school is not favoring one religion over another. But the schools, instead of adding in a day of vacation, just took the holiday labels off the other vacations, so instead of Rosh Hashanah, they have unspecified “vacation.”

This doesn’t solve any problems. These Muslim and other minority religion students have to choose between their religion and their schoolwork. While religious students know they have to work harder if they choose to miss school to celebrate religious holidays, it still creates a sense of imbalance. This degrades the worth of the religion that is not given off, as if it isn’t worth a vacation day.

In addition, the backlash created over this decision was huge, backlash from Muslim students, who believe they are not being treated equally. However, not all of it was directed at the school board. Some of it was directed at the Muslim community for their part in this from other religions. That they, like the Grinch, had a part in “canceling Christmas.”

This is what intolerance is. Refusal to recognize a religion equally, and then hatred toward that religion for something that was not their fault.

However, this could potentially go very far. There are many different religions in America, each with their own holidays. To give priority to all religions is problematic, but to maintain the status quo is equally problematic. So, to give off for those religions that are represented by a certain percentage of the population of the United States would be an appropriate solution.

Here at UMBC, there are many students who have to take off for their religious holidays. Esther Caplan, a sophomore architecture major who practices Judaism says that, “UMBC does it right. They don’t give off for any holidays – they just give a break between semesters, and that happens to contain Christmas and New Year’s. They’re not giving off for a holiday.” She believes this makes it fair.

But Caplan said that if the public schools are going to give off for Rosh Hashanah, they should give off for other holidays. It should be all or nothing. She also said, “I understand that when I choose to be religious I’m choosing between classes and religion, and it’s not like I can complain it’s unfair, or something.”

So for schools to just wipe the labels is pointless. The issue still remains; these religions want to be recognized as an integral part of America, and we, as Americans, have to do something, because to leave vacations as they are now fosters the very air of intolerance and favoritism that America was founded to avoid.

To read the counter argument to this piece, click here

Secular schooling

Removing references to religion in schools’ breaks for the best

It is impractical to close public schools for all religious holidays.

There was a recent uproar amongst the communities of Montgomery County over the decision by the board of education to eliminate all references to religious holidays on the 2015-2016 school calendar. This indignation is misguided and mistaken.

The decision from the school board came as a response to a petition by Muslim leaders in the community to grant equal billing to the Muslim holy day of Eid al-Adha. The reasoning behind the decision was that this would effectively give equal footing to all holidays.

Many members of the Montgomery County community disagreed with this decision, and students of the UMBC community echoed these thoughts.

Asfiya Mariam, a Muslim and junior biology major with a psychology minor, doubted the decision’s effectiveness. “By just covering up the problem, by pushing it under a rug, it doesn’t solve the problem itself. Removing the names off holidays from the calendar isn’t an effective way to deal with the situation,” she said.

She added, “It almost sounds as if the county officials don’t want to deal with the problem. They have to understand that religious holidays are an integral part to the upbringing of a child in a religious household.”

Julian Tash, a Jewish freshman and Asian studies and history double major, felt similarly. “I think that it slightly offensive. By removing the names of these religious holidays, the board is denying that these breaks are religious This gesture doesn’t change the nature of the breaks, so it is unfair to say that the board is more equitable simply because the breaks do not have religious names,” she said.

Both of these students make excellent points, however, it needs to be taken into account what would happen if the Montgomery County board of education were to actually close schools for all religious major holidays.

Under the current status quo, absences on the Muslim holy day of Eid al-Adha amounted to a little over 5.6%, and school officials noted that this was only a bit higher than on any other given school day. If schools were to close on this religious holiday, then the other 94% of students would miss out on a viable school day as well.

Furthermore, if schools were closed on holidays for all religious days, many of our viable school days would be further trimmed down. We would have to grant holidays for small denominations such as Taoists, Buddhists, Pagans and many others. Finally, it should be recognized that this would do a disservice to Atheist children who would be excluded by the policy.

Excluding Saturdays and Sundays, there are only about 261 school days. Montgomery County is required by law to have a minimum of 180 school days. Granting days off for all religious holidays would simply not be practical, if even possible.

Having said this, it must be considered that winter break and other school holidays still do coincide with Christian religious holidays. While this may be considered unfair, it should be recognized that this is merely a matter of practicality. Keeping schools open on Christmas would result in a vast majority of students not showing up. This is not the case for keeping schools open for religious holidays of a minority group.

It should be noted that religious holidays are still treated as excused absences, and children are given the opportunity to make up missed school work.

Ultimately, school officials have to be in the service of the public, all while being lawful and practical. Removing all mentions of religion from the school calendar achieves the goal of keeping a secular state and serving the best interests of the public.

To read the counter argument to this piece, click here

Does anyone know about UMBC’s mental health services?

Frank Warren’s PostSecret Lecture started mental health conversation, let’s continue it

Mental illness is a prevalent issue on college campuses, and it is important to provide adequate resources for all students.

Recently, UMBC’s (seb) presented a lecture by Frank Warren, the founder of PostSecret. Warren created PostSecret, “an ongoing community art project where people mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a postcard,” in 2005. The postcards are posted on Warren’s website, or are used in his books or museum exhibits.

Warren also does lectures on college campuses, which helps open the dialogue about mental health among college students. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, “25% of young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 have a diagnosable mental illness,” which means that college students need to be aware of not only how to deal with personal issues, but how to cope with those around them.

One of the most valuable ways to help someone with a mental health problem is to make them feel as though their voice is valued. PostSecret, by allowing anyone to anonymously share their thoughts in a creative way, gives everyone a voice.

There are two main mental health resources on UMBC’s campus. University Health Services offers individual counseling at a reduced cost to students and staff. Active Minds, a student organization, “empowers students to change the perception about mental health on college campuses,” according to their website.

Sharde Hoff, the Public Relations Chair for Active Minds, said that the group has sponsored events in the past, such as tear-away flyers with inspirational quotes and a smash-out stigma pumpkin smash. They also plan on organizing several events in the Spring to raise awareness. “Our main goal is for the whole campus to be a safe place free of judgment,” said Hoff.

What if UMBC also had a mental health lounge space, where students would be able to simply wind down in a non-formal, relaxed atmosphere? Counseling requires an appointment and is a one-on-one session, and Active Minds only meets bi-weekly. A mental health lounge space would allow students to have a place where they know they can escape the hustle-bustle of college life.

Most students do not know that UMBC already has a place for that. A raised awareness for it would be beneficial to many students. There currently exists a place on campus for students to experience aromatherapy, massage chairs, hot tea, and music. It’s called the Mind Spa, and is a place to escape the stress of the day and relax, yet it’s hardly ever used because very few people know of its existence despite it being publicized and featured on myUMBC.

What does that say about the accessibility of mental health resources on campus, or how well they are advertised? Mental health is an important issue to consider, since a quarter of college students currently have a mental illness. Even without a specific diagnosable issue, it is still crucial for everyone to care for the mind to avoid being consumed by the stress of college life.

Frank Warren’s PostSecret lecture gave UMBC the opportunity to talk about the mental health of its students, yet most of them still don’t know what they can do to prevent or deal with problems. It is time to change that.

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