Vice provost addresses Topping changes in new memo

To increase more communication between the University and the Norman Topping Student Aid Fund, Andrea Hodge, vice provost for undergraduate programs, disclosed more information regarding the program’s structural changes in a memorandum released last week to Topping scholars and Governing Board members.

Students delivered a compilation of letters to Provost Michael Quick on Jan. 16 about Topping Fund changes. Mahira Raihan | Daily Trojan

The memo emphasized the importance of upholding the traditions and activities in the Topping Fund, such as luncheons, banquets and retreats. Additionally, Hodge said that the Fund’s scholarships, “exceptional” funding and travel grants will remain in place as “we work together in building a NTSAF for future generations of undergraduate and graduate scholars.”

Alongside assistant vice provost David Glasgow, Hodge asked for the Topping Governing Board to develop a “strategic plan” to chart the future of the Topping program.

“Creating such a plan is critical for an organization, and I will be asking some faculty colleagues with expertise in this area to assist us,” Hodge said in the memo. “Your input is absolutely critical to this effort.”

In the coming months, Hodge, Glasgow and the Topping Governing Board will be discussing a finalized strategic plan for the program. In the memo, Hodge said that her office will be focusing on reviewing original documents from the Topping Fund “to maintain its vision and mission” and will receive input from members in the Topping program and both Undergraduate and Graduate Student Governments when finalizing the plan.

Hodge said that the plan, which will be developed throughout the semester, will include policies and procedures for graduate student selection and programming for future expansion. This plan, she said, will be implemented for the next five years and beyond.

“Once the strategic plan is completed and approved, we will emerge with a stronger and expanded program which can serve many more deserving, eligible students and result in many more hours of service to the surrounding community,” Hodge said in the memo. “I will be working with the [Governing Board] to set up listening sessions to gather your input on the strategic plan.”

Topping scholar Sabrina Enriquez, a senior majoring in mathematics, said she was relieved to see the second memo as she felt it demonstrated increased communication and transparency.

“In my previous meeting with her, I really emphasized how communication has been terrible and it all seems very opaque, so I was at least happy that something went out,” Enriquez said. “Just the fact that something went out is good.”

However, when it comes to Hodge’s idea of a collaboration on the strategic plan, Enriquez said that many scholars are “a bit skeptical,” as one of the most significant changes made to the Topping Fund — Christina Yokoyama’s removal as Topping director — was finalized without the Governing Board’s consent.

“It seems to a lot of people that there already exists this grand plan that we aren’t privy to,” Enriquez said. “People have very little hope about the Governing Board making a strategic plan that will genuinely be used. I’m trying to take things at face value, and if she says that they will be working together, then I’d like to believe her.”

In the memo, Hodge invited the scholars to meet her at the biannual faculty-student luncheon, which will be held on March 28.

“I look forward to getting to know many more of you as we work together to continue the successes of this program,” Hodge said in the memo. “I very much share your commitment to the NTSAF.”

With this strategic plan, Enriquez said that it is unclear if the Governing Board, the administration or both will be in charge of making most of the executive decisions.

“I think everywhere should always have a strategic plan, every department, every fund,” Enriquez said. “So it’s not really a question to me if there should be a strategic plan … However, I’m concerned about who is ultimately making the decisions because it’s clear that the Governing Board has a shift in its power, and that’s the unsettling parts of the changes.”