Student Life

fireplace with white mantel insert

True to its name, this Fireside Chat was set in front of a rustic looking fireplace, though the weather was too warm to actually light it. That’s not to say anyone was complaining. We must give our commendations to the University Unions’ Event Services department for making the room so charmingly cozy. There were couches and armchairs interspersed throughout the regular chairs, and students weren’t shy about claiming these to burrow into with their mugs of coffee and plates piled with cookies and fruit from the steeped refreshments table. Following the form of so many of their students, President Coleman and Vice President Harper entered in the last few minutes of Michigan time, talking animatedly. Once settled into their own armchairs, President Coleman opened by joking about how today she was competing with the Tigers for students’ attention, which received an appreciative laugh from the sports fans present.

  • Introductions
    • President Coleman: We’ve been doing these Fireside chats for about ten years now, and they’re always different. You get invited kind of randomly, but we also try to invite students who’ve done something special or those who’ve expressed an interest.
    • VP Harper: She’s your president; she belongs to you! This is your chance to ask whatever you want.
    • President Coleman: There have been a lot of good things going on this fall: faculty awards, sports, receiving approval to start renovations on East Quad, Couzens is opening, and Alice Lloyd is currently under way. I’m going to stop talking and let you guys start asking questions…would anyone like to start?


  • An African international student asks about resources available to international students, particularly with regard to housing during the holidays.
    • President Coleman: There are plenty of resources available. Talk to me afterwards and we can see about putting you in contact with Housing to resolve this kind of situation.


  • An undergraduate senior states that the increased police presence at pregame activities is ruining the spirit of things. Also, it seems to her that police are dragging groups of students from houses causing them to scatter from pregame parties.
    • VP Harper: It depends on the nature of the pregame event. Our concern is that students get to the football games healthy, safe, and sober. The intent isn’t to make people scatter; rather, it’s to make people responsible and responsive.
    • Student: Has there been an increase in injuries in the last few years to warrant this?
    • VP Harper: There’s been an upward trend in the severity of pregaming, the intensity of the level of drinking, of students being in dangerous places where they risk falling (i.e. standing on railings), risk of being a nuisance, setting a tone that doesn’t reflect who students are, etc. The intent is to get students to tone it down and most importantly keep them safe.
    • Student: Do you have any recommendations for how to make kids feel like they aren’t being targeted—that the police officers are there for students’ safety, not specifically to give them tickets?
    • President Coleman: What feels different this year as opposed to last?
    • Student: This year it seems there’s a line of seven cop cars in the street, and cops will come and force people around. It’s much more forceful than in the past. My parents were here a few weekends ago and even they were surprised with the increased level of police presence.
    • Dean of Students Laura Blake Jones: The Ann Arbor Police Department (AAPD) has said that they really only come to parties if they have received a complaint since they are so busy with traffic control on game days. Activities such as dancing on railings are really what draw attention and cause the police to ask you to tone it down.
    • President Coleman: I’m assuming that these efforts on behalf of the AAPD are an attempt to tone things down, avoid riot kindling, etc. I’m sure AAPD doesn’t go looking for this since they’ve got so much to do on game days.


  • Student: Campus safety, I know, is currently a big issue and that there were initiatives taken over the summer i.e. extending the Oxford Shuttle. Are there any things you’ll be implementing this year?
    • Dean of Students Laura Blake Jones: We’ve been working proactively on a number of issues. We’ve had some donations to work with and have created a program called Beyond the Diag to help kids living off campus to create a sense of community and work on neighborhood safety practices. We’ve been working on Packard and extending into all eleven major neighborhoods that students tend to live in. We’ve also been working on self-defense workshops, specifically with communities (such as sororities) that have requested them. Also, we’re working to increase the capacity of Late Night Transportation (which will be tripled by next week) and making the Late Night Transportation options clearer.


  • Student: I contacted Late Night and they said they’ve only got one cab that services the UgLi. Perhaps that’s another issue that could be addressed. Also, for as long as I’ve been at Michigan, there’s been a downward trend in the enrollment of minorities. Any thoughts?
    • President Coleman: That’s an ongoing challenge we work with everyday. The good news is that every year our enrollment for underrepresented minorities goes up and so do our admissions. We’re constantly trying to reach out to students with summer programs in the hope that we can get outsiders acquainted with the campus and with us.
    • Student: Is there any way that those efforts can be made outside of the Washtenaw area?
    • President Coleman: One of the things that the people in admissions have been revving up is the Wolverine Express where we send people out to schools with information about financial aid and about the school to try and reach new demographics of students.
    • VP Harper: The Center for Educational Outreach is one program we use to try to reach younger students. Admissions have found that if we can actually get students onto the campus, then we greatly increase chances of recruitment.


  • Student: I’m in the position where I’m starting to apply for internships this fall, and through that process I’ve started to become aware of the inequalities that exist between the Michigan internal schools. For example, in the business school they have different curves and grading scales than LSA does. That’s a concern to me because it can make one student appear advantaged over another.
    • President Coleman: I’m not intimately aware of the grading processes in the different schools; are you working with the Career Center to help you through the application process?
    • Student: Yes, I’m working with them as well as on my own.
    • President Coleman: I’m afraid I can’t tell you much about grading scales, but I can tell you that Michigan students are very highly prized because they are very well prepared. Grading policies are all set by faculty, so for more information I’d recommend going to the departments in question.


  • Student: I’m a representative for student government, and we’ve been hearing that students don’t get enough feedback before the add/drop deadline. By that I mean we don’t get midterms or papers (or really any grades, for that matter) until way after that deadline has passed, so you can’t know if the class will be too hard. We passed a resolution to force professors to change this, but I’ve not seen any change this semester.
    • VP Harper: You might want to check with the departments for more information. Perhaps faculty thought that was more/only applicable to first and second year students.


  • Student: What are your thoughts on diversity at Michigan?
    • President Coleman: One of the things that I love about Michigan’s diversity programs is that students have the opportunity to experience so many things. These opportunities are particularly valuable since we’re finding that many students come from high schools where they really don’t have much diversity.
    • VP Harper: We have plenty of programs in place, but it’s a challenge for us as an institution to get away from what we know and get into what we don’t. We look at service learning, CommonGround, Allies, etc. as one way that we create real diversity. The opportunities are there, but the challenge is motivating people to do it.


  • Student: How can we get more collaboration among the student organizations, i.e. sharing resources?
    • VP Harper: I think we need to create a motivation for the collaboration between student organizations that we want to see.


  • On Michigan’s environmental sustainability efforts
    • President Coleman: We’ve announced some goals we want to meet by 2025 that are aggressive and, we think, attainable. For example, we want to place solar panels on north campus that will generate enough electricity to heat and cool 50+ houses. Another goal is the implementation of geothermal technology—we’re currently trying it out in small facilities. We’re also celebrating that we’ve given 50,000 (closely monitored) dollars to student orgs for sustainability efforts. We’re moving all our buses to more sustainable fuel, as well.
    • Student: Is there a way to make sure sustainability efforts benefit Michigan/the US, i.e. choosing solar panels made here or at least in the country?
    • President Coleman: That’s a level of detail I just am not privy to at this moment.


  • Student: My student org has been talking about creating a blog type thing where all the student orgs could go to communicate/collaborate.
    • President Coleman: Why don’t you suggest it and start it? Go to MSA and do it!
    • VP Harper: I’ll put you in touch with Susan Pile (of University Unions) who can help you do that.


  • Student: I know we have a race and ethnicity requirement, but I feel the IGR (The Program on Intergroup Relations) programs actually force people to step more outside their comfort zones. Why don’t you make that a distribution requirement?
    • VP Harper: We keep hearing that question, but even IGR really resists that because we want it to be a choice, which leads to real conversations over things that matter. The class was one step we took with res training, but we need to get more creative with implementation.


  • Student: It appeared that the momentum of the night game was extremely successful—so what’s the campus initiative to change things on campus, working with the student body to create a different campus culture?
    • Dean of Students Laura Blake Jones: We know that high use risk of alcohol is the number one cause of death for students on campus, and any change we implement has to be systemic—we’re trying to change any misperceived norms. We’re working to make this a non-threatening environment to students choosing to stay sober. There’s not a very easy answer, but we’re taking many approaches. Certainly the night game was a hallmark event, and we want to have that kind of focus on safety for all games. The thing is that we have to really seriously involve students and student orgs to keep up with it.
    • VP Harper: None of the issues around drinking, pregaming, or diversity work when it’s just the faculty and staff saying, “Go to it!” It has to be us working WITH the students. Under the Lights worked because there were so many students who wanted it to work. Students checked themselves, and they checked their friends. The key is working with students because that’s the only way it can work.


  • Student: On Governor Snyder’s reductions to education, how are we emphasizing that we are a public institution and our responsibility as such? What are we doing to emphasize that we are a state institution?
    • President Coleman: Our out of state enrollment really hasn’t changed that much. We’re working to still emphasize our public investment. I understand this is a stressful economic time, but I will continue to advocate strongly for support. Student voices are immensely important in talking to legislatures.


  • Student: What are challenges that faculty face?
    • President Coleman: The 200th anniversary of the University is coming up in 2017, and it’s going to be an opportunity for us to take stock of all the firsts that happened here—founding of the Peace Core, etc., and it will be an opportunity for us to decide the impact we want to have in our third century. There are an infinite number of other challenges we face—safety, strictures, and everybody has their ideas about what issues we should tackle and how we should do so. I’m hopeful for our future—it’s the human resource that we’ve got and it’s why I’m optimistic.


  • Student: Around the country & around the world we’re known to be pretty cutting edge in terms of diversity, but what’s our commitment to really holding steadfast to that dedication? How do we compete with our peer institutions (Yale, Harvard, Emery, etc.) that pay for students to come out and see their campuses when we don’t have to means to do so?
    • President Coleman: I’d love to be able to fly students in to visit the campus since getting a kid on campus really increase chances of recruitment, but we just don’t have the funds. We’ve raised a lot, and we’re still working on raising more. The challenge is dividing those funds between scholarships and other things, but we are committed to getting students here. I work hard to tell people about the fact that here they can literally study anything. You can meet people from any place. I love Michigan because students here work so hard but still know how to have fun, and that’s an indispensable part of the college experience. You’ll get out of college, look back, and think, “Oh I didn’t understand how great it was,” but now is the time for you to think, and grow, and learn. I really believe there is no better place for you to do that than Michigan.



This Fireside Chat took place in the Kuenzel Room of the Michigan Union.

If you are a current student and would like to attend a future Fireside Chat, please contact Lindsey Ferguson at or by calling our office at (734)764-5132.