The University Record, April 15, 1998

President, provost field students' questions at open forum

President Lee C. Bollinger and Provost Nancy Cantor played host to about 50 students at a Town Hall meeting in Angell Hall last week. Photo by Bob Kalmbach


By Jane R. Elgass

Educating students "for a future that will put a mark on society" is one of the principal responsibilities of the administration, Provost Nancy Cantor said at a Town Hall meeting with students April 7.

The session in Angell Hall was one of two held last week with the University's two top administrators to provide an opportunity for students to have a free-flowing discussion on topics of concern to them.

The excellence of the faculty "is critical to what we offer," Cantor stated. "We try to recruit a world-class faculty and to compose a student body that will stretch each other. We try to educate you for a future that will put a mark on society."

Other issues addressed at the meeting included:

A comfortable environment for African American students. African American students must use the Michigan Union ballroom for many of their events because they do not have facilities like those of the Greek system, one student noted. The Department of Public Safety "gets involved and are not friendly to us," the student said. "DPS gets restless and makes us feel uncomfortable in a building we pay for. Students should feel they can move freely on campus. We don't feel the community you feel."

Cantor indicated that the formation of a campus committee to advise DPS will be announced shortly. There will be student participation on the committee, she said, urging others to make their feelings known to the group.

Student participation in the hiring of faculty. While there are central programs to help units recruit and retain minority faculty, the decisions are made at the unit level, "and come to us only when approved. That's not to say the system is right," Bollinger said. "It's worth thinking about. Only positive decisions may not be the best system."

Cantor said the deans "know how absolutely critical [the hiring of minority faculty] is to us," adding that student evaluations of teaching are taken very seriously in the review of faculty for the granting of tenure.

 

Hurtful speech under the guise of freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is being used as a scapegoat to trivialize serious issues facing minority students, to give implied approval to hostile and derogatory statements, one student noted. "Where's the social responsibility? Our presence here already is challenged by affirmative action. We don't need these pressures. It's already hard for us. We don't need to have our presence in the classroom challenged."

"I hope you know how deep our commitment is and will continue to be to fight [the admissions] lawsuits and how excruciating it is given the ideals of the University to have to endure so much of the pain," Bollinger said.

"Free speech as an ideal can be undermined by the act of speech," but our commitment to open debate sometimes allows "bad speech to go on." But hurtful speech has limits, Bollinger said. Pejorative comments, threats and defacing property are not free speech. If the Ku Klux Klan chooses to meet on the Diag, it can do so, "but it is our responsibility to condemn and recognize the pain it carries," the president added.

Student representation on the Board of Regents. Bollinger is against the idea because it would require an amendment to the state Constitution and because "all that could be accomplished by a student candidate can and is" by Michigan Student Assembly representation at the meetings and the open comments sessions.