UNA’s student newspaper, The Flor-Ala, names top 10 stories of 2014-15

President Ken Kitts addresses students, faculty, staff and the community during a presentation he made during the search process that resulted in his hiring. Kitts arrived at UNA March 31. The coverage of the presidential search from William Cale’s retirement to Kitts’ hiring was The Flor-Ala’s top story of 2014-15.

by The Flor-Ala staff

1. It’s Kitts

Campus welcomed Ken Kitts, his wife, Dena, and their sons, Colin and Corbin, as UNA’s new first family. Kitts took office March 31 with big expectations from the community. Falling enrollment and declining state funding top Kitts’s list of issues to turn around.

After William Cale announced his retirement, effective July 1, via email to faculty and staff in March, John Thornell assumed the presidency in a temporary interim role July 1, where he remained until Kitts’ arrival.

Cale remained at UNA in a consulting role as president emeritus until Dec. 31, retaining full compensation and benefits. Under Cale’s 10-year leadership, UNA saw the addition of The Commons, a new science building, two new residence halls and pay increases for faculty and staff. Cale said his proudest moment was when construction crews broke ground on the new science building.

He and his wife, B.J., said they will continue as active members of the UNA community, but much of their retired life will involve traveling, golfing and playing bridge.

2. Officials investigate band’s ‘discriminatory’ body fat testing

A Title IX investigation that began fall 2014 into the Pride of Dixie auxiliary line led to suspension of its body fat testing. Title IX Coordinator Tammy Jacques said preventing a member from performing based on BFP is a “discriminatory practice.”

The story originated as an investigative report in the spring 2014 COM 356 Advanced Reporting class about unhealthy eating practices among members of the line. Former Pride of Dixie members shared their experiences, and fitness officials explained the testing process. The story was updated when officials said the testing had been permanently suspended.

News Editor Ashley Remkus was named a finalist in the Society of Professional Journalists 2014 Mark of Excellence General News Reporting Category for the report.

3. Job application raises equality questions

This story prompted removal of two questions from the job application for two local restaurants. The story asked: Does the application for Ricatoni’s Italian Grill and City Hardware violate federal employment law by requesting height and weight? Owner Rick Elliot employs several UNA students, and his restaurants are favorites among many Shoals residents. Employees, students, locals and UNA alumni flooded social media with posts about the restaurants and the application.

4. SGA approves gender-neutral bathrooms; officials begin implementation

Senators began discussing legislation to provide gender-neutral restrooms on campus early during the fall semester. They received varying opinions and feedback from students, faculty, staff, alumni and parents before taking a vote on the issue. The Student Welfare Committee drafted the resolution and presented it Nov. 20.

After hearing from Equality Alabama representatives and a student who said he was harassed in campus bathrooms, many SGA members said they were ready to take a step toward greater inclusion of all people. Senators said they hoped the restrooms would serve the needs of transgender individuals, parents with young children and people who have health conditions.

5. Officials address poor condition of campus facilities

A series of articles published during the fall semester addressed the quality of facilities, including the Art Department, Music Building, and campus elevators and restrooms. Students and officials from Facilities Administration and Planning participated in the discussion, which led to the cleaning of Memorial Amphitheater and other facilities. SGA members attempted to contact officials about the amphitheater for more than one year with no response prior to the stories’ publication. Afterward, the university hired a company to wash the structure. Students said it was important that the campus look its best for events and incoming student tours alike.

6. Residence hall construction progresses; science building nears completion

Construction of a new science building and two new residence halls brought hard hats, yellow equipment and chain-link fences to campus. The Flor-Ala staff toured “Mattielou” Hall and the science building to share the inside scoop.

Construction crews broke ground on the $26.9 million dorm project summer 2014, and officials said they expect the first to open in August when the first-year freshman live-on requirement takes effect. The second hall is expected to open January 2016, allowing UNA to house 764 students in new facilities, collectively.

The $40 million science building is expected to be fully operational by the start of the fall 2015 semester. At 162,000 square feet, the facility boasts more laboratory, office and research space than Floyd Hall. It houses 40 classrooms and laboratories, 42 faculty offices and 15 designated research rooms. Project Manager Jim McGee said each floor is designed specifically with students and professors in mind, as architects asked faculty “what they needed most within a new building — what would help them teach more effectively.”

7. Teams topple records, achieve milestones

It was another year full of milestones for the Lions. Trailing 29-28 to Valdosta State University, senior placekicker Taylor Pontius connected a school-record 54-yard field goal as time expired to claim UNA’s victory Oct. 2. The football team went on to win the Gulf South Conference title before falling to Valdosta in the first round of the NCAA Division-II playoffs. It was the first time the team won the conference two years in a row since 1994-95. Head coach Bobby Wallace claimed his 100th win at UNA. Head men’s basketball coach Bobby Champagne and head baseball coach Mike Keehn reached their 200th career wins, and head volleyball coach Stephanie Radecki claimed her 250th. The softball team reached its highest ranking in school history at No. 9 in the nation. Junior forward Chloe Richards led D-II soccer in goals scored. Breaking records, claiming victories and achieving goals defined athletic success throughout the year. Expectations for the upcoming year continue raising the bar.

8. Alabama (sort of) becomes 37th state to legalize same-sex marriage

A federal judge struck Alabama’s same-sex marriage ban Jan. 23, making the “Heart of Dixie” 37th to legalize gay marriage. Confusion arose with statements by the Alabama Probate Judges Association and Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore saying state law trumped federal orders.

U.S. District Judge Callie Granade instituted a stay, postponing the legalization of same-sex marriage until Feb. 9, and a Feb. 8 order from Moore stipulated no Alabama judges should issue licenses or perform marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples the following day. However, many couples across the state obtained licenses and got married. Local couples were not so fortunate, as Colbert, Lauderdale and Franklin county officials refused to perform ceremonies for any couples or issue licenses to same-sex couples.

Same-sex couples now can marry in 36 states and the District of Columbia, but the future of the issue is now in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court. Arguments in the case began this week, and many experts expect the Court to give its ruling in June.

9. Police department addresses campus safety

Coverage of the UNA Public Safety Division this year meant saying goodbye to five-year Police Chief Bob Pastula, welcoming Interim Chief Mark Parker and updating campus about the search for a new chief. It also brought stories about crime and security.

Officials closed campus after a threat was written in the Collier Library second-floor men’s bathroom Sept. 26 that said four people would die Oct. 9. A series of vehicle-related crimes prompted safety officials to remind students about the importance of locking car doors. Officials announced they will add cameras to the parking deck and several other campus locations.

Campus also mourned the loss of Alumna Sarah Davis, whose body was found in the on-campus parking deck March 18.

10. O’Neal work complicates driving

Renovation of O’Neal Bridge caused traffic backups and increased commute times between Colbert and Lauderdale counties. Florence Police Chief Ron Tyler advised drivers to use the Singing River Bridge as an alternate route for the duration of the project, which began March 18. One lane both eastbound and westbound remained closed as construction crews began the refurbishment that includes repainting, replacing lighting, adding a new drainage system and repairing concrete.