Evan Chandler, Herald Bulletin

ANDERSON — Ball State University President Geoffrey S. Mearns visited the weekly Anderson Rotary Club meeting Tuesday to provide a few updates on campus facilities and an ongoing partnership with Muncie Community Schools, plus discuss freedom of expression on college campuses.

The speech first covered the university’s recent and current renovations. This included mentions of the demolition of LaFollette Complex, once the largest residence hall; creation of an amphitheater; and revitalization of the nearby business district, The Village.

“It’s exciting to see all the investment being made on campus,” said Mark Harville, vice president and small business administration development officer for Merchants Bank of Indiana.

Mearns said the projects completed since he became president in 2017, and the ones that are expected to be completed in the next two to three years, total over $400 million in investments.

He also provided updates on a partnership between Ball State and Muncie Community Schools. He mentioned three major issues for MCS that were the inspiration behind the partnership’s creation in 2018: steadily declining enrollment, fiscal mismanagement and numbers of teachers leaving the the profession each year, also known as teacher attrition.

Through a series of charts showing school data, Mearns showed how the partnership had stopped the decline of enrollment and improved starting teacher salaries by $14,000, among other achievements.

”It was a pleasure listening to President Mearns this afternoon,” said Dr. Joe Cronk, superintendent at Anderson Community Schools. “As an alumnus, and a father to two children that graduated from Ball State, a third that currently attends, and a wife that retired from there, I enjoyed hearing the exciting plans that are in store over the next few years.

”It was encouraging to hear their continued focus on immersive learning and desire to work more closely with K-12 school districts to help address the decline in Indiana students attending a traditional college or university after high school graduation.”

Finally, the university president discussed the importance of freedom of speech and expression on college campuses.

”Really at the heart of what we do in education is the free exchange of ideas,” he said. “We want to create that environment where all students feel comfortable sharing their views as long as it’s in a constructive and collaborative way.” In order to achieve this goal, Mearns established a committee in 2019 that focuses on developing a policy and practice around freedom of expression. The committee evaluated Ball State’s policy, studied policies of other universities and adopted a unifying framework statement to aid in promoting the free exchange of ideas on campus.

The university has already modified 15 policies as a result, and the College of Communication, Information, and Media is working to create a center for the freedom of expression. The university also hopes to fill three positions soon to help in the process: assistant general counsel, public access defenders and freedom of expression coordinator. Mearns answered questions throughout the event.

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