“Ask and you shall receive” takes a new meaning for Lee students at President Dr. Paul Conn’s Ask the President chapel.
This event typically takes place every semester and consistently draws in numerous students hoping to share the spotlight with their university president as he addresses student’s questions sent in weeks before.
Freshman sociology major Anna Gilliam admitted that her first Ask the President chapel was a bit of a surprise.
“It was definitely different than I thought it was going to be,” Gilliam said. “A lot of people asked for money, and we all need money. And if you can’t get a girl by yourself, I guess, ask Paul Conn. He’s here for you.”
Conn uses the chapel time to answer as many questions as possible, but time restraints forced Conn to condense the over 300 questions down pretty significantly.
However, Conn still managed to address several different aspects of life at Lee, including campus renovations and security, dining hall updates and the university’s stance on the LGBTQ+ community.
Concerning tangible plans, although his reputation of “a building a year” precedes him, Conn is focusing on restoring existing buildings rather than adding to campus.
“We want to bring some of our things up to speed before we jump into the next new building project,” Conn said.
Renovations will include the Walker Memorial Building and the Mayfield Annex, with the Recreation Center possibly on the horizon. Walker Memorial renovations will tentatively begin in 2020, and Mayfield Annex renovations are ongoing.
With years at Lee ahead of Gilliam, changes to campus affect her classes the most.
“I think renovating the Mayfield Annex is beneficial to this campus,” Gilliam said. “With it being kind of out of sight, renovations to keep it protected would be good.”
Completed Mayfield Annex security updates include adding card access to enter, additional lighting outside, installing cameras and adding a wall between the gym and the rest of the building.
With security issues becoming a main concern recently, Lee has contracted with a Global Security firm to make the campus safer.
While campus administration will continue researching to inform their decision, they’re considering arming security officers in the future.
Vice President for Student Development Mike Hayes is hopeful about the security changes taking priority on campus.
“I am looking forward to continuing to enhance our security around campus,” Hayes said. “In terms of arming security officers, we’re currently looking at that and are awaiting the final report from the security firm we’ve worked with since October to come to a final decision on that.”
Students also sent in questions concerning the Deacon Jones Dining Hall. Conn promised to bring avocados, BLT Fridays, African dishes, ice cream toppings and more in the upcoming semesters.
Sodexo, Conn said, is always analyzing data and tweaking their operations to provide healthy and diverse options at a low cost.
“It makes me excited,” Gilliam said. “I think the [cafeteria] does a good job of serving healthy foods. It’s not always the first thing you see, but you do have options.”
Conn also delivered on other requests sent in, such as extending Squires Library hours for the remainder of the semester, addressing drainage issues on Parker Street and promising standardized bus routes in the fall.
Hayes explained that, although these initiatives do come with a cost, this will not directly affect tuition.
“Typically, capital projects are paid for from money generated from sources other than tuition,” Hayes said. “Changes in areas like food services are reflected in how Sodexo calculates its contract with the university. Adding bus routes is a low-cost improvement that doesn’t have a significant impact on tuition for individual students.”
Conn also used polls during chapel to gauge students’ opinions on possible future plans for selling Coke or Pepsi products, implementing a football team and adding opposite-sex visitation hours for dormitories, emphasizing that the poll outcomes will not determine the final decision.
“This is not a democracy,” Conn said. “It’s just helpful to know. This is an interesting debate to continue to have over the next few months on this campus.”
Although Ask the President chapel can be lighthearted and silly as Conn gives out cereal boxes and cheese blocks to students, there is a more serious side.
Conn explained that many emails are responded to privately, and some topics are too serious to be addressed casually during chapel.
When asked about how Lee University interacts with the LGBTQ+ community, Conn replied that the university has been more intentional about responding to that issue this year.
“Can Lee University be the kind of place that combines our deep values and convictions with a true spirit of love and Christ-like kindness to all people ... in official policy and every day on this campus?” Conn posed.
Also in the spirit of love and kindness, Conn responded to the anti-abortion protests that occurred a few weeks ago. Although the protesters share the same pro-life goals as Conn, their methods fell outside what Conn and what Lee considers acceptable behavior.
“I agree with their goal, which is to discourage abortion,” Conn said. “But I deplore their methods as crude, vulgar, abusive and wrong.”
According to Conn, the purpose of Ask the President chapel is to encourage students to ask questions and know that their opinion matters to the university.
“Lee is a place where we listen to students,” Conn said. “I pledge to you, in all the ways we can, we’ll be a place where you can both ask and live your questions — large and small.”