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UNH students present President Mark Huddleston with tough questions at open forum

Union Leader Correspondent

February 16. 2017 12:29AM
Charlie Ali Durkin of Bedford asks top UNH officials about the flight of staff members from the school's counseling center. Over half the staff members have resigned since June 2016 and Durkin is concerned for fellow students who need their support. (KIMBERLEY HAAS/Union Leader Correspondent)

DURHAM — Students at the University of New Hampshire had a number of hard-hitting questions for President Mark Huddleston and Provost Nancy Targett during the school’s second Open Forum on Wednesday.

The forum replaces the traditional State of the University address, and offers students a chance to interact with UNH’s top leaders. Students who came out for Wednesday’s event asked about what the school would do if immigration officials decide to remove international students from campus, what the university is doing to ensure professors and students respect diversity, about the flight of staff members from the UNH Counseling Center and one student questioned Huddleston’s pay.

Huddleston said he met with members of the international community when President Donald Trump signed his travel ban. But Huddleston will not declare UNH a sanctuary campus. Durham officials have also decided they will not seek sanctuary status.

“What we can do,” to protect students, Huddleston told a freshman student from Iran who did not want to be named in print for fear of her safety, “is to continue the longstanding practice of not allowing federal agencies like ICE to deputize our UNH PD and essentially put them in the enforcement of immigration law.”

Junior Gabrielle Greaves said she has experienced discrimination as she pursues her degrees in English and Women’s Studies. Greaves asked Huddleston what the school does to ensure professors don’t single people out based on their race or gender.

Jaime Nolan, the associate vice president for community, equity and diversity, said they train staff members using theater students so they can better communicate with people from all backgrounds.

Charlie Ali Durkin, a student coordinator for UNH Safe Zones and vice president of Trans UNH, asked about the nine staff members who have left the UNH Counseling Center since July 2016. Most recently, Megan Tucker resigned her position as a staff psychologist. In her letter of resignation, Tucker cited the work environment at the Center.

Earlier this year, the center suspended hormone therapy services for transgender students temporarily.

Senior journalism major Raoul Biron pressed Huddleston about his pay.

Last year, Huddleston received $108,000 in an incentivized payment plan on top of a $405,000 base salary. Some have categorized the additional money as a bonus.

“Let me try it once more, and I’ll do it slowly. I did not receive a bonus,” Huddleston said. A woman could be heard saying, “No” as audience members expressed their shock. Huddleston would not reveal how much he is paid, saying that is public information.

Later, another student brought the incident up, saying Huddleston’s phrasing was offensive to the disabled and those who don’t speak English as a first language. Huddleston apologized, but Biron had already left.

“As a student who’s got like $25,000 in student loans out right now, which is actually under the per capita average for New Hampshire which is $33,000, it’s just concerning to see a president of a university refuse to be transparent about his own post-cap payments,” Biron said in the hall after leaving with senior psychology major Taylor Picard.

After the event, Huddleston said the new forums are a good opportunity to hear what’s on people’s minds and it is time well spent. Approximately 130 people were in attendance.

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