Speaking before an intimate group of students gathered in front of a crackling fire in the Kuenzel Room of the Michigan Union yesterday, University President Mary Sue Coleman answered a variety of questions that ranged from serious matters like diversity at the University to more light-hearted topics like the book she recently read about vampires.

Coleman’s first monthly fireside chat of the year drew approximately 40 students who pitched questions to Coleman and E. Royster Harper, the University’s vice president of student affairs.

Among the topics discussed at yesterday’s gathering was diversity on campus — an issue that multiple students asked Coleman about.

Questioned about the University’s commitment to diversity, Coleman said it is an overarching commitment of which she is extremely proud.

“I think if there’s one thing that defines the University of Michigan, at least in higher education and the people who go to the University of Michigan, they say this is a University that puts its money where its mouth was,” Coleman said. “We were willing to go all the way to the Supreme Court, and I’m very proud of that.”

In fact, Coleman said the University’s commitment to diversity is one of the reasons she decided to take the job as the University’s president.

“One of the reasons that I was attracted to come to Michigan in the first place was because of the commitment of the institution (to diversity),” Coleman said.

Coleman was also asked about how she reconciles the importance of diversity and academic excellence. She responded by saying the University never lowers its academic standards to increase diversity, but rather that it takes a holistic approach among qualified applicants that includes looking at a wide range of factors to build a class of students with diverse backgrounds and opinions.

And diversity on campus, Coleman said in response to other questions, is one of the things graduates say was one of the best parts of attending the University.

“I’m proud of what we’ve done, but we’ve got a lot of work left to do. We’re not there yet,” Coleman said.

The ethnic diversity of the incoming freshman class of University students increased this year for the first time since the state passed a ban on affirmative action, which took effect in 2007. The population of underrepresented minority students increased from 9.1 percent of the total freshmen class in 2009 to 10.6 percent of the total freshmen class this fall.

But topics discussed at yesterday’s fireside chat also included more light-hearted questions, like the most recent novel Coleman read.

Coleman said her most recent read was a book titled “The Passage,” which is about a military project gone awry and the ensuing struggle that the only remaining colony of people in existence face as the power station that helps to prevent vampires from entering the city and killing all its citizens begins to fail.

“It’s sort of a vampire book, but it’s not like Twilight,” Coleman said, explaining to the group that she received the book as a gift when attending a meeting of University presidents from across the country at Rice University earlier this year.

A student followed up with a question for Coleman about whether the president also liked the Twilight saga by Stephenie Meyer.

“Stephenie Meyer is a genius, and she’s made a lot of money off Twilight,” Coleman said. “But Twilight books don’t hold a candle to ‘The Passage.’ ”

The light-hearted topics also included questions about Coleman and Harper’s favorite places to eat near campus. Coleman told students she likes to eat at Red Hawk Bar & Grill on South State Street, while Harper said she likes to eat at the Ann Arbor staple Blimpy Burger.

Another student asked Harper and Coleman to name one thing on their bucket lists.

Harper used her iPad to pull up a copy of her bucket list, joking that she’d have to look at it to find something she could share and adding that she wants to become technologically literate.

“I really love paper and pencils, and the more beautiful paper is and the nicer the ink is the more I like it,” Harper said, holding up her iPad. “I really do have to get over that. This has been a big help for me.”

Coleman’s list included a more traditional bucket list activity — visiting the Inca ruins at Machu Picchu.

“It’s high on my list,” Coleman said.

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