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Students aid in new president's transition

Allison Farrand/Daily
LSA freshman Ezra Lesser meets President Mark Schlissel at an open house at the historic President's House on August 28. Buy this photo

By Michael Sugerman, Daily Staff Reporter
Published September 1, 2014

The Michigan Daily is publishing an article each day this week to cover the start of University President Mark Schlissel’s first semester. He will be formally installed as the University's 14th president during a day of inauguration festivities Friday.

Familiarize yourself with campus; meet new people; move to a new home in a new city. Apparently, the experiences of a new president and a first-year student are not so different.

Since starting his new job in mid-July, Schlissel has been busy preparing for the school year. In the last few weeks, he has met with a group of student leaders and opened his home to University students and parents for introductions, pictures and ice cream.

E. Royster Harper, vice president for student life, said both August gatherings demonstrate the president’s desire to be visible and involved in student activities.

“I think he is going to continue that tradition of being engaged with students,” Harper said at the Aug. 28 open house. “He’s been really clear (about that).”

Schlissel launched the initiative to improve his administration’s relationships with students with a small roundtable of representatives from the University’s largest student organizations on Aug. 20.

Organizations present included Central Student Government, the Black Student Union, The Michigan Daily, Hillel and Students Allied for Freedom and Equality.

CSG President Bobby Dishell, a Public Policy senior, said Schlissel’s newness has been a key driver behind his push to engage with students. He added that student leaders are some of the best people to help the new president become acclimated to the University.

Dishell added that an important goal will be to strengthen the administration’s ties to the initiatives of CSG and other organizations — for example, the Night Owl bus route — to help sustain new student services and resources.

“One thing I’ve learned … is that there’s a lot of great ideas, but if someone isn’t incredibly passionate about it, unless you really institutionalize it, three years will go by and the program will be gone,” Dishell said.

BSU Speaker Arnold Reed, an LSA senior, said the meeting indicated an effort to further open up communication across all facets of the University — an effort he thinks will help improve campus climate and increase connectivity among all types of University resources.

“The administration has been very proactive this year in terms of reaching out to us,” Reed said. “I think especially after last year, they’re really making a conscious effort to say, ‘Hey, what is it that we can do for you?’ If what has been going on here lately carries on to the school year, it’ll be an amazing year.”

Reed said his biggest concern, which he and others brought up in the meeting, is that while the University has a set of incredible opportunities, it lacks “one thread that really unifies, or unites or lets everybody know all of these things.”

LSA junior Becca Levin, Hillel’s Israel cohort chair, said it will be necessary not only to give students a greater awareness of the University’s vast resources, but also of one another.

“I really think that Michigan promises from the beginning that it will make a big school small, and I think that Michigan sticks to that … everyone finds their niche,” Levin said. “The flipside of that is that, as we get further in our careers as Michigan students, we sometimes don’t branch out of our groups, and so there’s a lot of amazing people on our campus that we don’t meet.”

She called for some kind of extracurricular avenue that students can use to both meet new people and sit down to discuss difficult issues on campus.

LSA senior Tala Dahbour, a SAFE co-chair, said she hopes the meeting was “just the beginning.”

“We’re hoping that President Schlissel continues meeting with us … as marginalized students on campus, we’ve never really had that platform to be heard, and we appreciate any time that the University invites us to speak with them.”

At Schlissel’s open house, Harper said the informal lunch with student leaders is far from an anomaly; rather, it demonstrates Schlissel’s desire to learn from the University community.

“We were teasing him because he just moved into the house this morning,” she said last week. “Students are moving in and unpacking, you’re moving in and unpacking … doing the same.”

Daily Editor-in-Chief Peter Shahin attended the student leader meeting and did not edit this article.


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