Office of the Vice President for Student Life
Fireside Chat of December 3rd, 2014
President Schlissel: Hi everyone, thanks for coming! I know it’s busy right now with finals starting soon and so I’m sure everyone is busy trying to pull things together so I appreciate you all taking time to come out and chat. I know I’m looking forward to winter graduation- we have a great list of people getting honorary degrees and a great commencement speaker- the head of NASA. I also have an old professor of getting an honorary degree, which is really exciting for me. So the purpose of these chats is a little selfish on my part, but I really feel that to do my job well I need to know what’s great about our university and what can be made better- what are the things we do well that we shouldn’t mess up and what can we do to make Michigan the best place to come for an education and make it a great community. Starting in the Spring, I’m also going to have office hours and I’m giving guest lectures all in an effort to get to know and understand the campus. Today, I’d love to entertain any of your questions or your advice or things I need to know about- the conversation’s all yours. Who’s brave and would like to start?
Saving the Gamelan
Alexa: Hi, my name is Alexa, I am a senior in the Residential College. This semester I have had the pleasure of having the unique opportunity for the gamelan class in SMTD. However, this semester, due to some renovations, the school has decided to remove the room the gamelan has been in since we received it. I was wondering if there were any plans to keep the gamelan, because it is a great instrument and a great piece of ethnic music, which seems to being erased at this university and is now homeless.
President Schlissel: Of course, I remember seeing the gamelan when I came on a visit to Michigan! It really is a great instrument. Do you mind telling everyone what it is?
Alexa: It’s really hard to describe. It’s an ensemble, really, made of many instruments. It’s Indonesian and it was a gift, we were the first university to receive a gamelan. It’s really important but it’s room has been taken over by piano pedagogy and a lot of people are worried the class will be lost, so, basically what I want is-
President Schlissel: You want me to put it in my basement (laughs)
Alexa: Yes! But, no, we just wanted to make sure its requested that the university really consider keeping it and the class.
President Schlissel: Absolutely. So I will say that it may have been the wrong decision but I do believe it was made in the right place and what I mean by that is that the decision on what to use the space for was made by the owners of that space. That’s a lot better than having administration step in when it can be an autonomous process. However, I definitely believe there’s gotta be room somewhere for it. I will talk to the Provost and I’ll give it a shot to protect it.
Diversity in Leadership for Athletics
Wes: Hi, my name is Wes. I’m on the Men’s Rowing Team here at Michigan and we’re one of the only teams in the NCAA with an openly gay coach and he’s particularly worried about gender discrimination and one of his concerns is what new leadership will be coming into athletics. Obviously you’re working with Jim Hackett to find new football coaching staff and the final decisions is his but my coach and I really felt like this was a good chance for us to lead in bringing women into leadership in athletics and I was wondering about your thoughts on what.
President Schlissel: I think that’s a good point and good time to raise it as well. And you’re right, even though the athletic director is over it that would be a good question for me to ask in these interviews and searches; asking about equity on the staff they would have to build, so thank your coach for me, it is something I hadn’t thought of before. Do you know of examples anywhere in the country?
Wes: I don’t know, sorry.
Athletics isn’t Student Life?
Nick: Hi, my name is Nick. I am a senior in Ross and to the point of athletics I was wondering why athletics is distinct from student life , thinking about access to venues and when considering ticket policies as well. Why do they operate by themselves?
President Schlissel: Well, that’s a complicated answer. Everything we do here, just about, is in departments. Vice President Harper is over student life which focuses on the quality of life for our students here, but there is nothing inherently wrong with having an athletic department be separate from that- there are similar structures all over campus in the schools and colleges. However, we do want to improve the extent to which intercollegiate athletics is integrated with the rest of campus. It has been discussed about whether student body felt comfortable and welcome and apart of these decisions and we realize we need to work on these things together and need to make athletics a part of the whole campus as much as engineering or other colleges are.
Wes: I think it’s a great goal and I’d also say our campus is much more integrated than other schools around the country. At some other schools athletics is their own LLC and club teams can’t even think about using those facilities. I definitely think there’s room for improvement to make it much more integrated though, but we are actually ahead there.
President Schlissel: We’re also working in plans for new facilities for rec sports and club sports in all of our renovations. We want to make all these venues more accessible to students for things that aren’t interfering with practices, etc.
Josh: Hi, my name is Josh, I am a sophomore in Ross and on the resident student government. It’s my second year as a resident on North Campus and it has always kind of felt removed- like it’s literally over the river and through the woods (laughs). I feel that the university doesn’t pay attention to it and I know housing just finished the Residential Life Initiative (RLI) Phase I and is working with Building Better Michigan but we haven’t heard anything about North Campus and there are a lot of students up there.
President Schlissel: Our meeting last time focused on this too and it came up the same way. I think North Campus represents a significant fraction of the total campus and we should be shooting for an ideal where it is indistinguishable between the two campuses- they should be of equal quality. The RLI Phase III deals with north and we’re working on quite a few things- we’re thinking about how to upgrade the dining, we’re working on building student-focused spaces in the academic spaces to turn the 4 schools there into more collaborative schools, and other things too. But the bad news is that we’ve been approaching these plans for 10 years and you probably won’t be here when it’s finished. I think what had to happen was prioritizing and working our way through places that needed the most work and working through phases sequentially to keep costs down, but north is coming up!
Building a Better Architecture Program
Sonia: Hi, my name is Sonia, I’m a junior in the School of Information. I like how you have talked about getting the athletes and athletics more connected to campus and I wanted to talk about working with another student population on that same thing. I have a friend who’s in the architecture school who’s been telling me some of their experience and they’ve mentioned that their architecture studios include beds and showers with the expectation that students will use them 24 hrs a day and even their professors are expecting that of them. I wanted to bring the point to your attention since I am worried about their health having such a heavy workload.
President Schlissel: That sounds a little extreme especially just for undergraduate students (laughs). I had not heard of this at all, this 24 hour work culture. I’ll ask and figure out what’s going on. I’ll actually see the dean tomorrow and will talk to them then.
Building A Brighter Michigan
Alex: Hi. my name is Alex, I am a senior in LSA and also on Central Student Government. One of the projects I am working on right now is getting more streetlights off-campus. There are certain areas students don’t feel safe in and we’re trying to fix that. The city has noted that they don’t want to increase the number of lights because of costs and wattage concerns, however I was hoping we could get your support and Vice President Wilbanks support to convince the city to lift the moratorium.
President Schlissel: The city of Ann Arbor has a brand new mayor and I’ve meet with him a few times already and we’re both of the understanding that the university and the city are mutually dependent on one another. The town is a great place to live, which is useful for us when recruiting- especially faculty- and we’re a large employer for the city. We both expressed an interest in meeting regularly and working on issues that come up and that will make the list. Tell me more about the feeling of the lack of safety. Is it just lack of lighting? Robberies, assaults?
Alex: Those are rare, but yes, the crimes are a part of it. We want to survey students about how they feel about safety.
Bridging the Gap
Student: Hi. I was wondering if there is anything being done to work to join together the campuses? For instance I am one of two students I know majoring between Ross and Art and Architecture and I just really feel like more could be done to facilitate these types of interactions across the campuses.
President Schlissel: My understanding was that Art and Architecture is actually very collaborative! I have heard great stories of how much engineers love to work with them. It seems to me that the schools up there do a lot. When thinking about connecting business with that, I suppose it all boils down to people and what they are interested in. The geography certainly works against it and sadly there’s no way to colloquialize all 19 schools on central, but we are trying to think about ways we can connect the campuses in a better way. For instance, one ideas has been creating a campus connector- a high-speed way to go between the two. This is a long-term thing though that won’t solve problems immediately or ones we’re facing now, but we are trying to bring campuses together. Any ideas on how to better do this?
Students: So one organization that I know does a lot of good work on collaboration amongst arts groups on campus is Arts at Michigan- they have a roundtable for orgs involved in the arts and perhaps one thing we could do is bring on business people and allow them to connect people through student organizations.
President Schlissel: I think that’s a good idea!
The Michigan Difference
President Schlissel: Any comments on the nature of the education you’re receiving? Are your classes mostly engaging? Are you disappointed at all?
Rachel: Hi, my name is Rachel. I’m a senior in LS&A studying history and I think, overall, I’ve gotten a great education at Michigan- especially in my major. I think a lot of course offerings are eye-widening and usually taught really well. The things I had to take as requirements, however, not so much. The classes really don’t seem to be designed for people not interested in the topic. I actually wanted to ask about the Race & Ethnicity (R&E) requirement. I know it’s designed so that it has to focus on R&E but the topics don’t have to be central to the course and considering the campus climate and society as we’ve seen it lately- what do you think about that? Are there ways to enrich [the requirement]?
President Schlissel: One of the most important things to learn in college is how to engage with difference and how to see the world in as many ways as you can: your coursework is one way, living arrangements and student orgs are another- which is why we need a diverse student body. And I don’t know if we’re doing it right or well enough but I know it’s important and all students should find a way to do it even if it’s not required because it’s not just a life skill, it’ll help you be a happy, satisfied person and help you know your place in the world. I would say we’re probably not doing it the best, but the goal is very important and we have to take personal responsibility for it. I find what you said about the required courses very interesting. That’s been the case everywhere I have worked! The professor might not get into it in the same way students don’t and we wind up with no one interested in the class at all. It was slightly different at Brown, where I served as Provost before this. At Brown they have an open curriculum- so that means there are not distributions or major requirements and I think that’s the only place I haven’t heard this complaint.
Rachel: I think one thing to alleviate this aspect where students don’t see the relevance might be to have more interdisciplinary classes, even within the distributions, so students from numerous majors can see how the information relates to them.
President Schlissel: I would love to promote more classes that focus more on problems than on distributions. For example, an income distribution class could be taught more problem-focuses than discipline-focused. I think that might be more useful because there are big problems in the world and those big problems don’t know what department they are supposed to be in (laugh). THe breadth here is amazing and we need to tap into it and I think that’s one of the ways we can do it.
Change it Up Faster
Patrick: Hi, I’m Patrick. I’m a freshman and a Public Policy hopeful. I grew up in 4 countries on 4 different continents and really thought I was very cultured and had deep cultural understanding. Recently though I really learned that even though I know a lot there’s so much more. For instance, I’m a member of the Educational Theatre Company and that’s really how I’ve learned it- through our work with the Change It Up program. Through that program, I’ve learned about how even small casual things can be offensive and I think it’s a great program and I was wondering about the reasoning behind why Change it Up wasn’t required, especially for freshman.
President Schlissel: If I’m not mistaken, Change It Up is new. Its smart to see how new programs like this work first and get feedback and after we decide it’s generally useful we can require it. And we also have to be careful what we require as compared to what we make available and what we promote. The simplest answer is we want to promote if not require and make it the best possible before we get to that point.*
Joey: Hi, my name is Joey, I’m a sophomore in LSA. I think the education- in terms of classes at Michigan- is top notch. I’m wondering though what initiatives is the university working on thinking about how to get highest quality of students to the university?
President Schlissel: This is not an overnight kind of thing. Our demographic of students seems to be changing and becoming less representative of the state’s population and national demographics. That’s why a part of our $4 billion fundraising campaign, $1 billion is for targeted student aid. We need aggressive student aid to become need-blind like ivies. The bigger challenge is identifying talented students that come from disadvantaged backgrounds. There’s great literature that shows if you’re a student from good public school system, you won't do well on standardized tests, which other literature also supports them being culturally biased. I think universities need to get better at finding these students and I think talent is everywhere. I don’t think one SES, or class, is more talented than another, but what differs is opportunity and we need to find those students succeeding despite missing those opportunities. And we have to find ways to accept students without the best test scores without affecting rankings. So the short-term solution is funding, and the long-term solution is finding students.
Student: Hi. I’m a student on CAPS student advisory board. A while back, CAPS made a goal that they would be able to see students within a week. Unfortunately, feedback has been saying that the wait time is more like 3 to 4 weeks and we brought this up at our last meeting of the board. They explained to us that its true because CAPS can’t handle the amount of students coming to them. The number of patients increased 20% from last year and for them to put that initiative out there and take it back looks bad and hurts students depending on them. Is there any way that during high stress times, like finals, could CAPS have an increased capacity?
President Schlissel: Vice President Harper, would you know something more about that, I’m not too sure.
Vice President Harper: Yes. So, in the past, we’ve hired additional staff during peak times. We’re also trying to be in all the schools- so, for instance, we’ll have someone at the Art and Architecture school for students to see there- and that way the help is closer to students. What we’ve found is that even with the addition- it has not been enough and so we’re trying to figure it out now.
Student: That’s great to hear. I mean, during every part of the year I know that CAPS is working really hard. I honestly think CAPS might just need to expand.
President Schlissel: That’s a great point. Seniors and juniors who’ve been here a while and been through these experiences more often, how do you feel? Would you agree?
Student 2: I just wanted to really encourage you to think about expanding CAPS. As a student here, and now a senior, I have struggled with mental health and when I tried to get help it took me 3 weeks to see someone in CAPS who sent me to UHS and said they couldn’t help me. It then took me 3 weeks to get to see someone at UHS- so it took me two months to see a psychiatrist. Students are reaching out and being told they have no help or they are for quick 15 minute in-and-out meetings not helping them so I definitely agree and I implore you that this should be a top priority. It’s a struggle for me and for a lot of students here.
President Schlissel: Your point is well made. Let me learn more about it.
Alissa: Hi. I’m Alissa. I’m a senior in Ross. I’ve loved my experience here at Michigan but I do feel that the university doesn’t emphasize service enough. Is there anything the university could do more to stress the importance of service? How can we better encourage students to take a part in service learning?
President Schlissel: One thing we can do is organize things better. I’d be willing to bet there are 50 efforts that don’t know about one another that do things similar to what you’re doing in any service activity. I think once we organize this info and push it out to students there could be a better match between what you want to do and existing opportunities. I think you’re right that its not the right thing to turn service into a requirement, and I should also start talking about it more when I talk about things central to coming to Michigan and being a part of this community.
The U and the D
Danielle: Hi! My name is Danielle, I am a junior in LSA who’s involved with the Detroit Partnership and I was curious- what do you see as the future of the university’s partnership with Detroit?
President Schlissel: So I think Detroit is an incredibly important city for the state and it’s going through a challenging transformation. I think the city is a great target for research and for service learning and for collaboration with citizens there on urban issues that exist there and in different places all across the country. One thing I have noticed is that the university does 100’s of things in Detroit, just not in a very organized way. I’ve got a group called the President’s Advisory Group, it’s a group of successful alums who advise me on the work I do and at the first of these meetings we focused on Detroit and I asked them for recommendations and gave them examples of things we’re doing, asked them about the things we should be doing and also had mayor Mike Duggan join us- he’s an alum too. I think in the future we will be organizing it better, but I think Detroit’s fascinating! I’m actually going there tomorrow.
Flipping the Script- Schlissel Speaks
Josh: I’m just curious, we’ve talked a lot about what we want and our experience but what’s your viewpoint on what students are doing well and what we can improve?
President Schlissel: I think that you all are doing a great job sampling and taking advantage of all the opportunities Michigan can offer. I also think students here take a much more personal ownership of your education, especially with some of these unusual pairings of majors, which really goes to show that you all are choosing your own things to study, things that interest you. Keep that up!
President Schlissel: Thanks for coming! For those of you with finals, good luck it’ll be over soon (laughs).
*= In review, Change it Up! actually is required for all incoming students living in University Housing. Students were required to swipe their M-Cards to ensure and measure attendance. Other groups for whom Change it Up! was required include high risk groups or groups where a team mentality was identified, including the Football team and the Marching Band.