Have you had a chance yet to chat with the President of the University of Michigan? Once a month during most of Fall and Winter Terms, President Mark Schlissel and Vice President for Student Life E. Royster Harper invite interested students to a Fireside Chat. It’s a special opportunity for students to join a candid conversation with the university’s leadership, on the topics that are important to you.
Fireside Chats are purposefully kept small to allow for interaction and conversation (often 30 students or so). To request an invitation, please send a request to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read on for the notes from the February 9, 2016 Fireside Chat.
President Schlissel: Hi everyone. Thanks for coming. We were just joking about having a snow day and I was thinking about how I received emails that I was a student’s favorite president ever because I hired Coach Harbaugh and we had a snow day (laughs). I find these fireside chats to be important because they help me see the university through the eyes of students. Since I’ve only been here for a year and a half, it’s a great opportunity to learn of the changes you want us to make to make this a better university for you and those who come after you all. So, I’m all yours to learn about what you value most about the university.
Risks of Football
Student: I’m wondering why the university hasn’t placed a moratorium on the football program, due to CTE (Chronic traumatic encephalopathy – brain damage). There are about twenty professional players with CTE, and I think the players shouldn’t be at risk of it. We should be protecting our players from those types of injuries that lead to CTE.
President Schlissel: We need to understand the health of student-athletes; many of the football players have been playing since they were younger. Many student-athletes understand they are taking a risk for their own health. What do you think will happen if we place a moratorium on the program tomorrow?
Student: Well I know that everyone would be upset, but I believe that that issue comes from the philanthropic efforts of our alumni.
President Schlissel: Football is part of our culture, it’s a significant part of our culture, everywhere we go. We aren’t afraid to do it because of philanthropy. We are trying to understand the risk and ways to minimize that risk.
Student: The issue is we don’t know those risks and we shouldn’t put football players up to it.
President Schlissel: I have had football players tell me that playing football was their opportunity to get into this community and I am glad about that. There is an awful lot that we do not know. The discussions of student-athlete health were part of the steps that led for us to hire our new athletic director. At this moment I don’t think the costs outweigh the benefits of playing football.
Student: I am glad the university is taking steps to understand the risks.
Student: I have a question about CAPS. What are the steps we are taking to grow the size of CAPS? Well what’s your opinion on what should be the steps?
President Schlissel: The need or demand for psychological services has increased and so has our investment in CAPS. There’s a budget increase to hire more diverse counselors, and we’re working on a way to support a serious mental health clinic that goes beyond CAPS services for students with on-going mental health issues. We’ve created an environment where there are a lot of challenges from being a student here, due to the level of competitiveness. That being said, becoming the health care provider for all of our students would be very hard.
Student: My initial wait time to see someone in CAPS was seven weeks.
President Schlissel: Your story is very disappointing about your longer than average wait. In a crisis they will see you in a day. If you’re not suicidal, they say 2-6 days. I’ve probably been a part of ten Fireside Chats and in about eight of them have mentioned issues with CAPS.
Student: I am very involved with the Wolverine Support Network, what we need to do as a campus is to shatter the stigma that we are not always going to be the leaders and best. What can we do to de-stigmatize and increase awareness of mental health?
President Schlissel: The increasing demands for CAPS appointments isn’t just due to the need, but it is also because of de-stigmatization. One good idea I heard was putting the access information for CAPs on the back of the M-Card, which is a pretty simple thing to do.
Student: I wish there was something we could do, like changing the syllabus.
President Schlissel: You mean putting mental health resources on every class syllabus?
Student: The Greek system is trying to place mental health experts in contact with each chapter, and provide some sort of training that the RAs have so there are more people around who would know about these issues and how to treat them.
Student: Our role as leaders is to provide resources to all different part of campus. There could be increased information on CAPS and WSN for all students when they come in for orientation.
President Schlissel: I agree.
Student: I was at the Greek-wide meeting at the beginning of the school year. Do you think the status of affairs has improved since then?
President Schlissel: My understanding of Greek Life has improved. Students in Greek Life tend to have higher GPAs, are service-oriented, and being a part of a frat or sorority can help make a big place feel smaller and more manageable for students. I’ve been encouraged by the national organizations and how they deal with their chapters. The Greek system has created a task force that is being chaired by the heads from the overarching Greek organizations. I’m not sure if there has been a change yet but I know important things and new ideas are being discussed. My worry is really over the toxic behavior that may put your long term health at risk. It hasn’t been long enough to see changes. I don’t think the meeting was good and wasn’t greatly structured. I was disappointed that people showed up and were disrespectful.
Vice President Harper: What do you think?
Student: There are definitely being steps taken, especially in my chapter.
Student: What actions are being made to address non-Greek life?
President Schlissel: A lot of prevention is being done in dorms. We have a closer connection with the Ann Arbor Police Department, and campus security, so we can come up with shared expectations that we can try to diminish high risk behaviors. We have this two-year pilot program of notifying parents after the second alcohol related offense for freshman.
Student: What is being done in search for Dean Munson’s (Dean of the College of Engineering) replacement?
President Schlissel: Deans report to the Provost. I supervise the Provost and she supervises the Deans. The size of the College of Engineering has increased by a third by Dean Munson and the GPA has not dropped either. Rankings aren’t objective, but it’s a really good engineering school. We want someone who identifies and strives for academic excellence. The new Dean should continue to extend the College of Engineering into new areas. Michigan’s strength is its academic breadth; there are a handful of schools in the country to have 19 colleges that are really good. It’s a hope that the new dean will take on a commitment to bringing together and working with all of the schools in the university.
Student: The difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition for undergraduates have a gap of about $30,000. How can you justify the price difference between Undergraduates and Masters students?
President Schlissel: In-state undergraduates are charged a lot less than the cost of attendance. The Board of Regents set tuition, and people vote for the Board of Regents, so a lot of it is politics. The cost of out-of-state tuition is close to the actual cost of education. The price is established based upon demand. Frankly, I think education should be accessible to everyone.
Student: I moved out of the state then I returned and now I am working on my Master’s degree, but why do students have to cut their out-of-state ties and why is the process so long?
President Schlissel: The committee only meets every couple of weeks so that can attribute to the length of the process. It has to be balance between what seems fair and what the politics will support. Every few years we make changes to that policy.
Middle East Representation and D.E.I.
Student: How can we make resources available to Palestinian students? How can the culture and influence be included in academics? What kinds of initiatives will the university take to have equal representation from both sides of the Israel-Palestine conflict?
President Schlissel: We’re beginning a training program for faculty about how to manage classrooms made up of different identities, so that the class doesn’t turn to the minority student about a viewpoint of an entire race or group. Students should have any role in the class that they want to. Each of our residences has a Diversity Peer Educator to promote dialogues amongst all different identities. Are we doing a good enough job of creating those provoking conversation that will people understand each other? There are students who never think about how their experience will be different from someone else’s.
Student: Have you considered requiring IGR for all students?
President Schlissel: I think it would be difficult to make a blanket requirement for everyone. I’m worried if it wouldn’t be a good experience for those students who actually want to take the class.
Student: I have a question from the Twitter Town Hall with the Regents. Will the new athletic facilities be open to all students?
President Schlissel: When the facilities aren’t being used by our teams, we will make them available to students first - before people not affiliated with the university. Athletics has to provide for our own students first. I don’t know the rules of who will use what and when entirely yet though.
Vice President Harper: I just want to point out that President Schlissel is the one that brought up that question during the planning meetings.
Student: I think when a professor is teaching for the first time, that he should have a professor with him and they co-instruct the class.
President Schlissel: I can imagine doing a version of that, but not exactly that. Faculty are expected to teach a certain number of classes per year. If we have two faculty members teaching a class, then that would be another course that isn’t offered this year. I believe having a mentor assigned to a brand-new faculty member and sitting in on a couple of classes and help them through the first year would be a great variation of your idea.
Student: I believe that Central Campus freshman have an advantage over North Campus freshman, when it comes to socializing and quality of resources.
President Schlissel: We’re about to start on the third phase of residential life improvements. Vice President Harper is trying to really improve recreational spaces on North Campus. The long-term goal is to make North Campus living experience similar to Central Campus living experiences. They are necessary. We have a lot of land up there, there’s about 50 years of growth potential on North Campus.
What’s Up with Ruthven?
Student: Is there any more news on the Ruthven building?
President Schlissel: LS&A will build a new life science building, and we need to decide whether to tear it down or modify the current Ruthven building. It won’t be empty until the new biology building is built in two years. What do you think?
Student: I think we should keep it because it’s an Albert Kahn building, and it would just have historical value.
President Schlissel: Well there are a lot of Albert Kahn buildings, but it will either be repurposed or torn down.
Student: What would be your first financial investment for North Campus?
President Schlissel: A transportation system: light rail or monorail system. That would cost $600 million. It would have to be completed by debt, and the university only has a certain amount of debt capacity for various reasons. It’s difficult to try to figure out to do with a very little investment from the city of Ann Arbor as well.
Student: the NCRB only has $12 million for renovation and that’s basically money for the renovations of the dining hall. Are there plans to improve funding for these projects?
President Schlissel: There is a realization that there isn’t enough money allocated for these projects. Decisions haven’t been made. Vice President Harper made that same argument that it’s not going to be enough to enhance the facility. A significant amount will be spent, more than you quoted.
Student: Could we have Ann Arbor donate the monorail?
President Schlissel: I talked to the mayor, and he said it was a really good idea but they wouldn’t contribute a lot.
Student: Why not charge less for those students who live in different places on campus?
President Schlissel: We have students who come from different backgrounds and I don’t want to find something else to separate students based upon how much they are willing/able to pay for University Housing.