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Coleman tells faculty group students are a priority

Continuing to trumpet the cause of improving the undergraduate experience, President Mary Sue Coleman told two University faculty groups that she has the students’ best interests in mind.

From discussions about building a new residence hall on campus to hiring more tenure-track faculty members, Coleman told the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs (SACUA) and the LS&A faculty Oct. 7 that she has heard positive feedback from many students, but that the University must continually improve.

Coleman continues to evaluate the report issued last year by the President’s Commission on the Undergraduate Experience and has asked Lester Monts, senior vice provost and senior counselor to the president for the arts, diversity and undergraduate affairs, to implement the Undergraduate Initiative.

“There are areas that stand out where we can do better,” she said of the findings of the commission, which was convened by former president Lee Bollinger to explore, assess and recommend changes in undergraduate education. “There are things we can do to help our students navigate this great big University.”

Coleman said improvements must be made in the area of academic advising, especially across academic units. She also said the need for a new residence hall, or the renovation of existing halls, is clear.

“We must take a careful look at what we have and listen carefully to what the students have to say,” Coleman said. “If we build a new residence hall, it will take a lot of money and work. But, (the halls) need to be good for the environment we have. They need to be more than just a place to eat and sleep.”

Some members of SACUA said many faculty members are concerned about the large number of non-tenure-track faculty hired to teach undergraduate courses. John Riebesell, associate professor in the College of Arts, Sciences and Letters at U-M–Dearborn, said data show non-tenure-track faculty generate approximately 45 percent of U-M–Dearborn student credit hours.

“My guess is there is no long-range plan or blueprint for this, and if there is no institutional plan, faculty can get suspicious as to what is going on,” said Stan Berent, chief psychologist in the U-M Department of Psychiatry and director of the neuropsychology division. “It would be good if there were some study or rationale as to where we are headed.”

Coleman agreed the hiring of tenure-track faculty is a big issue and said it is something for the University administration to keep an eye on.

Coleman also attended her first meeting of the LS&A faculty, of which she is a member. Coleman said she has been told that 40 percent of faculty had appointments with more than one department on campus, and she said the benefit of dual appointments is good for the campus.

She also told the LS&A faculty that the University must continue its efforts to foster an international experience.

“The University has a rich tradition of not only welcoming scholars and students from all over the world, but also encouraging our students to go out and have international experiences,” she said. “We have benefited enormously from that exchange, and I hope we continue to find creative ways to engage our students.”

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