Valparaiso University President José Padilla joined the Student Senate meeting on April 19 for their first in-person general body meeting of the semester.
He began by reflecting on his first eight weeks as president and the personal meaning he finds in the role.
“I talk about my faith and how I like to put it into practice. This is how I put it into practice. I'm not a theologian, I can't tell you or recite scripture by memory. But I think I know how to put my faith into practice,” said President Padilla. “The way I do that is by being here and serving as your president, and working with great individuals, like these guys [the Student Senate], and it's amazing.”
He then explained the current initiative he is working on: increasing student enrollment. Brian O’Rourke has been hired as Vice President for Enrollment Management. He spoke positively of current enrollment rates.
“They're bringing in numbers, our numbers right now are ahead of what they were a year ago. They're competing back and forth with what the numbers were two years ago. So I have every faith and confidence that we're going to do a good job come this fall,” Padilla said.
Padilla urged students to share their Valpo experience with others.
“The one thing I would ask of you all, is, as I said, at town hall with the university my second week, is all hands on deck. If you got a little brother back home, if you got a cousin, if you have a family friend, who you think might be great, this might be a great school for them, we need all the help we can get to get them here, because you're our walking, talking ambassadors to how great this university is,” Padilla said.
The main topic of discussion centered around the senate’s recent ruling on YAF (Young Americans for Freedom). The conservative political group applied for recognition as a student organization and was voted down on the floor. Student Body President Kaitlyn Steinhiser vetoed this ruling, allowing the group to be recognized.
This decision has served as a point of contention. A petition was formed by students prior to the ruling labeling YAF as a hateful group that was discriminatory against LGBTQ students. Supporters of the group argue that YAF has a right to meet on campus and to not approve the group would be an act of discrimination itself.
In his address to the senate, Padilla praised President Steinhiser’s decision.
“You've had some fights, lately? Why if I'm gonna be honest with you, I agree with the decision she made. I vehemently disagree with their underlying principles,” Padilla said.
Padilla encouraged the student body to remain strong in their individual ideals and emphasized the importance of being able to argue for those beliefs.
“Nobody's going to be there to protect you, once you leave here. To me, you're Valpo, you’re soon going to be Valpo alums. I don't think we will have done our job if we don't teach you how to stand up for yourself, and articulate your principles, without throwing punches, without resorting to name calling,” Padilla said. “Because that's what we do in a civilized society and I like to think that you can do that. I know you can do that.”
A decision that is still in the works is if students, faculty, and staff will be required to receive a COVID-19 vaccination before returning to campus for the 2021-2022 school year.
“I'm about this close to requiring that all students have vaccines when they come back in the fall… This is something that I think will be very, very beneficial for the long term stability of the academic year,” Padilla said.
Padilla is waiting to hear further information from the FDA regarding the pause in distribution of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine before coming to a decision.
Students with medical or religious exemptions would not be forced to receive the vaccine if the decision to require them was made.