University President Mary Sue Coleman’s final monthly fireside chat was more than a little different this time around as approximately 120 students filled the Michigan Union’s Pendleton room for a surprise.

While Coleman typically invites a random selection of students for her fireside chats, more than the anticipated amount of students came to applaud Coleman on her service as the University’s 13th president.

E. Royster Harper, vice president for student life, joined Coleman for the monthly event, which Coleman continued at the beginning of her tenure. During her presidency, Coleman and Harper have organized fireside chats to field students’ questions and concerns in a more intimate setting.

LSA junior Michael Chrzan, the student event coordinator for the surpise, said he aspired to make Coleman’s last fireside chat memorable to honor her commitment to students during her tenure.

“We wanted this to be really special because she made hearing students’ voices a priority and that’s not something that comes intrinsically with every president,” Chrzan said. “We wanted to give back in a small way, to say ‘thank you’ for putting themselves on the line and answering students’ questions.”

Even though double the number of students attended the event, Chrzan said he was pleased that they managed to maintain a sense of “intimacy,” which he said was important to Coleman during her tenure. Though the event took about twice as long to plan and execute, he said he was pleased with the turnout and result because the crowd was “exceptional.”

While student questions hit upon a range of topics and issues concerning student life, a consistent thread focused on Coleman’s own legacy. After one student asked for her most prominent memories from her 12-year tenure as University president, Coleman’s quick list recounted some of the biggest events at the University, both positive and negative over the past decade.

Coleman touched on the 2003 landmark Supreme Court cases on affirmative action, which she fought for in Washington D.C. She added that she will remember witnessing University students’ reaction on the Diag to the passage of Proposal 2, which eliminated the use of race-based admissions process in the state.

Coleman also cited the loss of a University transplant team in a plane crash, which she said she will “remember forever.”

Coleman answered questions from the edge of her seat, trying to squeeze in as many questions in as possible in the one-hour chat.

Another student in the front row asked about the University’s green initiatives. Coleman said while the University has always stressed sustainability, remaining realistic is important.

“What I have always tried to do is to challenge us, hold us accountable, but not be unrealistic,” Coleman said. “I don’t see a way, unless there are huge changes in technology, that we can become carbon neutral in the next 20 years. I just can’t get there, and I don’t want to pretend that we can do something we can’t.”

On a lighter note, one student asked Coleman what’s next for her and husband Ken Coleman. Coleman said she plans keep busy during her retirement.

“I’ll be able to say no if I really don’t want to do something,” Coleman said as the room responded with laughter. “But we have a place in Ann Arbor; we bought a condo a few years ago, so we’ll be here for part of the year and in Colorado for part of the year. I’ve joined two foundation boards — these are places that give money away rather than asking for money. I love asking for money, but now that I’m on these foundation boards, I’ll be able to give money away.”

More laughs from the students followed.

As a student coordinator, Chrzan has attended most of the fireside chats this year, and said he believes he has seen firsthand how an effective leader interacts with others, adding that Coleman “leads by example” and that her impact on students is evident as a result.

There are just over three months until University President-elect Mark Schlissel takes over Coleman’s office in the Fleming Building in July. In light of the upcoming administrative change, many students asked what the 13th president’s legacy will be. Coleman said she was proud of her work.

“I think legacies are best determined by others, rather than by me,” Coleman said. “But I hope that when people look back, they will believe that I left the University a better place than I found it. It’s been the most wonderful experience of my life.”

—Daily News Editor Stephanie Shenouda contributed to this report.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.