Military, Non-Traditional Student Services to be merged

By Jackie Nevarez

The merger of Military Student Services and Off-Campus and Non-Traditional Student Services will happen despite concerns voiced in the departments, said Katrina Caldwell, assistant vice president for Student Affairs.

The decision to merge the two departments came after Jarvis Purnell, former director of both, left in June. Dwayne Malone is serving as interim director.

“We’re merging them because we think that bringing the two departments together will strengthen the services that we offer these two populations of students,” Caldwell said. “These are two relatively smaller departments.”

Military Student Services is responsible for 710 veterans and 219 dependents of veterans; in total, 929 people have their benefits processed by the office.

Off Campus and Non-Traditional Student Services serves more than 2,000 students with resources like childcare, events and a lounge. That population includes students older than 24, commuters and students with dependents and veterans.

In order to allow student input into the merger, Caldwell said the departments plan to meet with students, faculty and staff to discuss how the merger may be done effectively. Although there are no set dates, Caldwell said students can expect to see a survey this fall and focus groups in the spring.

Visits to merged centers at other universities will be made within the academic year, with a town hall meeting planned where students will be invited to speak to Eric Weldy, vice president for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management.

“And then we’ll make a decision based on all of that over the summer to determine what the new name, what the new mission, the new vision and the new programming framework will look like,” Caldwell said.

Caldwell said she has reached out to military students to let them know this will not be a rushed process and the merger will be stronger with their participation, as she recognizes the needs of Military Student Services and Off-Campus and Non-Traditional Student Services.

Student Association Senator Leon Kincaid, president of the NIU Veterans Association, said he opposes the merger but has not started any petition to oppose it.

Listing a loss of identity as the “first, most obvious” concern for the merger, Kincaid said NIU must consider a Department of Education initiative called Eight Keys of Veterans’ Success. The initiative outlines ways universities can support veterans.

“One of the Eight Keys [to] Veterans’ Success is to have a dedicated place for veterans to feel comfortable at, and veterans are very proud of their service and they want to be recognized as being different,” Kincaid said.

Kincaid said he is concerned about the understaffing in Military Students Services, citing a vacant counselor position. He said he is concerned about the merger’s effect on the services the staff can provide.

Kincaid said he will use his role as a senator to propose a resolution to express “the student body’s opposition to the merge … .” He and the SA Committee for University Services Oversight will meet today, and he will suggest a discussion on researching and drafting a resolution.