On Thursday Aug. 30, Tech president G.P. “Bud” Peterson gave his 10th Institute Address. The address began as most of Peterson’s conversations have in the past few weeks, with discussion around the changes being made in response to the multiple firings that have come as a result of ethics investigations on campus.
Peterson began by introducing four new hires that have come as a result of the shake-up in the upper levels of administration. Of those four, he introduced three in interim roles: interim Executive Vice President of Administration and Finance, Jim Fortner, the interim Vice President for Ethics, Compliance and Legal Affairs, Aisha Oliver-Staley, and the interim Senior Vice President and Director of GTRI, Lora Weiss.
After introductions ended, Peterson continued in his now standard apologetic approach.
“I personally have been embarrassed,” Peterson said, “I suspect that you as members of the faculty, the staff and the students have also been embarrassed.”
Peterson went into depth about what has been done, what is being done and what will be done regarding addressing ethics violations and culture on campus.
“We’ve made some personnel decisions,” Peterson said, “and some organizational changes and we’ve put in additional safeguards.” Most of these personnel decisions regard filling the roles of those who were fired or quit during the ethics investigations. While most searches are ongoing, all interim roles have been filled.
The organizational changes involve a shift in reporting structures that offer streamlined ethics reporting in the future. Specifically, more offices report directly to President Peterson regarding ethics issues, and the division that approves contracts has been separated from the division that approves funding for those contracts.
“Most importantly, what we have to do is restore the public trust,” Peterson said. To restore that trust and increase ethics awareness, the administration is working on a series of events and updates later in the year in an Ethics Week that will take place the week of Nov. 12.
After addressing ethics on campus, Peterson moved forward to discuss the Institute’s three big current focus areas: people, programs and platforms.
Peterson began discussing people by describing the students of Tech. In the past ten years, the number of applicants has more than tripled, leading to a decrease in the admit rate from 61 to 23 percent. Additionally, the freshman-to-sophomore retention rate has continued to increase, with a 97 percent retention rate reported.
Peterson also noted that an increased number of faculty hires has led to a decreased student-to-faculty ratio, a trend that Tech is aiming to continue.
“[Student-to-faculty ratio] is a very important number for us,” Peterson said, “because it affects and impacts the quality of the educational programming [at Tech].”
Moving into programs, Peterson discussed the many scholarship and program opportunities Tech is offering in-state students, including programs such as the G. Wayne Clough Georgia Tech Promise, the REACH program and the APS Scholars program. Specifically, Peterson and the Institute are working with the state to make s ure that any student who wants to enroll at Tech is not held back by a lack of money.
Finally, Peterson discussed the many soon-to-be-completed construction projects. Closest on the horizon is the Price Gilbert Library renovation. Peterson said that Crosland Tower will open by the end of 2018, and construction on Price Gilbert begin by Jan. 2019. Also on the list of new projects being built are the CODA building in Tech Square, the Kendeda Living Building and the Dalney Street parking deck.
Before taking questions, Peterson brought up the strategic plan of Tech and showed a video discussing many of the efforts that have emerged as a result of the three Path Forward action teams formed in late 2017. The video discussed efforts to create satellite counseling services, mini-mesters and more inclusive facilities.
Peterson concluded by discussing his wishes for the culture on campus, and how difficult it will be to change it.
“We’ve got a chance to change the culture here at Tech and improve it,” Peterson said, “to change it and improve it to one that’s more focused on ethics and compliance, that’s more intent on creating a welcoming and inclusive environment for all of the people at Georgia Tech, and one more concerned about the health and well-being of the community.”
Questions directed to Peterson ranged from staff raises to increasing the number of international students to the specific recommendations from action teams. Peterson discussed that a lot of the issues were policy issues, and allayed fears that recommendations from the action teams would not be completed.
“I don’t know that we’ve decided that there are any that are not feasible,” Peterson said of the recommendations the action teams had provided. Peterson announced the three action teams would be coming out with updates in the coming weeks with a series of open forums happening on Sept. 4, 6 and 11.