The University Record, September 6, 1994

Welcome events feature sessions for parents

Friendships, leaving options open are important for students

By Mary Jo Frank

Relations between students and faculty, even at a large institution such as the U-M, can be warm and cordial, philosophy Prof. Carl Cohen assured parents.

Speaking at one of several programs designed for parents as part of last week’s “Welcome to Michigan ’94,” Cohen offered tips on how to foster faculty-student relationships.

Students need to “be politely forward, to put themselves out there,” he said.

Cohen frequently suggests that students who want to get to know a particular faculty member read a few of his or her recent articles, make an appointment or visit the faculty member during office hours, and ask questions about the readings and what’s being discussed in class.

“You’ve got to work on these friendships. They rarely just pop up,” observed Cohen.

Cohen offered an upbeat mix of assurance and advice to the parents, most of whom had spent the morning moving their sons and daughters into their residence halls.

“Relax,” he suggested. “Your sons and daughters have done well. Don’t be too uptight.”

Cohen, who has taught as a visiting professor in Europe, Asia and Latin America, said most other institutions don’t compare to the highly-charged intellectual atmosphere that is part of the U-M and Ann Arbor.

This tradition of intellectual pressure creates some anxiety for members of the University community, junior and senior, he said, because they are expected to produce.

Because the U-M is very selective, accepting only a fraction of applicants, Cohen said, “It is very likely that your son or daughter will be successful.”

Noting that most students tell friends and relatives that they intend to study a particular subject, Cohen said, “It isn’t essential for a freshman to know his or her area of concentration.”

Uncertainty on this front is not a bad thing, he added.

Cohen said he advises first- and second-year students to “go easy and try to keep their options open.”

Even if they don’t know what area they want to concentrate in at the end of the second year, “the heavens won’t fall. It is a decision that should be made wisely and thoughtfully,” Cohen said.

Cohen talked about distribution and concentration requirements, grades and the need for self discipline.

For 17- and 18-year old men and women, the U-M has a very heady atmosphere, a very free environment. Music, films, politics, sports, bull sessions and parties compete for students’ time, and sometimes it doesn’t go well, he observed.

“How can a student develop the needed self discipline? Who knows?” Cohen asked.

Influence of peers has the greatest impact on the student, he said. If friends are serious and “get their papers in,” the student is likely to do the same.

“If I had one wish to give you, it would be for your sons and daughters to find the right groups of friends.” The prospects are extremely good, Cohen said, because U-M students in general are bright and wholesome.

“All will settle out. I promise you,” Cohen told the parents. “Be patient with us. We’re not always a very efficient organization, but then we’re not trying to run a railroad.”