At the request of the Michigan Student Assembly, University President Lee Bollinger met with 20 students yesterday in a fireside chat in the Michigan Union to discuss alumni participation on campus, affirmative action and segregation.
Vice President for Student Affairs E. Royster Harper said those students selected to participate in the chat were chosen both because of their interests in student groups and a little bit of luck.
“We do a little bit of random sampling some by way of e-mailing the president others by way of concerns you”ve had,” Harper said.
Students selected were representatives of the Greek system, student government and various concentrations within the University. Fireside chats with the president have existed for three years in an effort to hear students” concerns first-hand.
LSA junior Kym Stewart said she wanted to know how Bollinger became an advocate for affirmative action. He credited the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision for defining diversity for the community.
“Brown vs. Board of Education is one of the most important decisions in our society,” Bollinger said. “It set in motion changes in our society such as the civil rights movement, gays and lesbian movement it was a major deciding moment.”
Bollinger said he profoundly believes in constitutional ideals.
“It”s hard to imagine what the country would be like without it,” he said. “We have not always lived up to our ideals as a public university.”
Bollinger said public universities across the nation have been open doors for women and minorities such as blacks and Jews. Bollinger said he hoped to dispel myths such as “race no longer matters.”
“A public university is more committed to access,” he said. “Public universities have provided a policy of openness.”
Bollinger said he is proud of the accomplishments of the University and through two strategies legal and public education affirmative action can be promoted and supported nationwide.
“I have made this a central obligation of mine to speak about this nationally,” Bollinger said. “We have a value equality,” he said. “We have many states that are not living up to that ideal.”
Bollinger said prior to arriving at the University, many students who come from all-white or all-black schools encounter a diverse environment at the University. In response, students involved in the chat said many people from different backgrounds do not intermingle.
LSA senior Marc Hustvedt said student groups can create divisions within the University community.
“When you come to campus the teams are already here,” he said.
Bollinger said although divisions exist, it is a stereotype of the University.
“It”s amazing how much intermixing there is,” he said. “I think there is less than the stereotype will have us believe.”
Harper said most students take advantage of the opportunity to experience diversity on campus.
“In my experience, when given a chance, students will move in and out of groups and environments,” she said.
In a series of questions from students about the affirmative action lawsuits, Bollinger defended the admissions policies, saying that in addition to race, boosts are given for geography, legacies, test scores, GPA, athletics and economics in order to seek variation and diversity in the student body.
“That reflects difference,” Bollinger said. “We take students who are ready for the kind of education we offer.”
Bollinger stressed the community should be a heterogeneous society, not a homogenous one. He said he envisions the appeals as a landmark case which might go as far as the Supreme Court.
“If we lose, we face a major problem,” he said. “At the end of the day you are talking about a constitutional issue.”
Bollinger refused to comment about the College of Literature, Science and the Arts” new “bottom-line budgeting” program.
He also addressed his opportunities to move to different universities. He said although he is flattered to be a presidential candidate for upstanding universities, he is content with his position at Michigan. He stressed he is committed to ongoing projects such as the new residence hall.
“I have no difficult in gauging what we”re doing here,” Bollinger said.
Yet, LSA junior JR Ramos said he would have liked to have more direct answers from Bollinger.
“A lot of it seemed like fluff,” he said.