University President Mark Schlissel joined 30 students in the Michigan Union on Thursday for his fourth and final fireside chat of the semester.
Covering topics including athletics culture, mental health and public safety, Schlissel opened by noting his first semester as president is drawing to a close.
He said the fireside chats — during which a few dozen randomly selected students are given the chance to participate in a conversation with their president — provided a great forum for getting to know the University’s student body. However, Schlissel said he plans to add office hours in January and begin teaching as a guest lecturer to further develop these connections.
“All of this is really an effort for me to get to know and understand you and your fellow students, upholding the values here and how we’re doing delivering that and how I can do my job as well as possible,” he said.
In one of the first questions, LSA senior Wes Vear, captain of the men’s club rowing team, said the team’s coach is one of just a few openly gay staff members in college athletics. He noted that particularly in men’s football, coaching staff and leadership positions are predominantly held by white males.
Vear asked if Schlissel had any plans to work with interim Athletic Director Jim Hackett to increase diversity in the ranks of the University’s athletics staff.
Last week, Hackett hosted a press conference announcing that he had decided to fire former Michigan football coach Brady Hoke. The firing followed a tumultuous season for Michigan football that also included the resignation of former Athletic Director Dave Brandon.
Though Schlissel said hiring a new head coach is ultimately up to Hackett, he thanked students for encouraging more female representation in the athletic staff and said he will discuss ways to improve gender diversity within the program.
“I think that’s a great question for me to ask and how we think of issues of gender and other issues of equity on staff of the Athletic Department,” Schlissel said.
Students also discussed the ways in which campus geography has led to both safety concerns and a disconnect between students on North Campus and Central Campus.
LSA senior Alex Abdun-Nabi spoke about Ann Arbor’s current moratorium on erecting new streetlights on campus due to cost concerns. He said this poses problems for off-campus students living in areas such as Kerrytown and South Campus.
Schlissel said with the recent election of Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor, the Ann Arbor City Council has looked into lifting the moratorium and increasing lighting throughout the city.
Schlissel also commented on the amicable relationship he shares with Taylor, noting that both are open to meeting regularly to address the concerns of student residents.
Students also raised issues related to the seemingly separate nature of North Campus.
One student with dual enrollment in the Ross School of Business and the School of Art & Design noted the distinct cultures that exist in each school due to their geographical separation. Others said North Campus tends to get overlooked in discussions of overall University improvement, raising concerns associated with the Bursley Dining Hall and the deteriorating infrastructure of the Northwood Apartments.
Schlissel said the discussion to improve North Campus is a relatively new one and students might not see changes in the near future. However, he said improvements are in the works.
“It’ll take a couple of years, but the discussion to improve the campus is happening now,” he said.
Schlissel asked students for suggestions to help bridge the gap between schools and colleges on North Campus and Central Campus. One student suggested creating interdisciplinary programs to facilitate collaborations between students in both schools.
Another topic of discussion was the improvement of mental health services on campus. Because of the stressful nature of final exam period, more students seek psychological help and therapy during the final weeks of school than during the rest of the semester.
E. Royster Harper, vice president for student life, who also participated in the montly chat, said the additional number of students attempting to seek treatment often results in longer wait times at Counseling and Psychological Services.
Both Harper and Schlissel noted that in the past the University has attempted to hire additional staff during these periods, yet has underestimated the number of students seeking help this season.
Both said the University is currently considering increasing the total number of counselors and expanding CAPS as a whole.