University President Mary Sue Coleman faced a barrage of critical questions from students in a classroom appearance yesterday. In her responses, she defended the value of a Michigan education.
She visited Communications Prof. Russell Neuman’s class, “The Academic Paradox,” to answer students’ questions about academics and higher education.
During the session, many students criticized and questioned University policies.
One student cited a Wall Street Journal story that said colleges are receiving a record number of applications and asked how the University is responding.
Coleman said the University has begun rejecting more applicants in response to all-time-high freshman class sizes the last two years.
“It’s getting harder to get in,” she said.
“That’s good,” the student replied.
“It’s good for you,” Coleman shot back. “You already got in.”
Another student asked why out-of-state tuition at the University costs more than it does at other prestigious public institutions.
“What you’re paying for here is access to world-class professors, a library that is one of the largest in the world, being able to do research with professors starting when you’re a freshman,” Coleman said. “If you move into a community and contact the Michigan Alumni Association, you’ll get a foot in the door at a job. You’re paying for all that.”
Responding to a question about how the University prepares students for careers, Coleman said the University offers unique opportunities like the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program.
When another student asked about the necessity of the University’s language requirement, Coleman said it’s far more important than students realize.
“Does it give you a successful life? No. But does it give you a leg up? You bet,” Coleman said.
Coleman described a student with stellar career opportunities, mostly because the student learned Mandarin while working as an intern in China.
“She’s interviewing for jobs now, and the only thing they’re interested in is that she’s worked in China and she speaks some Mandarin,” Coleman said. “When I see what’s happening in globalization, I think (the language requirement) will be more important.”
For a University graduate with only a bachelor’s degree, finding a job is not too difficult, Coleman said.
“There are plenty of young people who can go out and get bachelor’s degrees and get wonderful jobs,” Coleman said. “My son is one of them.”
Coleman said after the discussion that her favorite question came from a student who criticized the University’s faculty for discouraging creative thinking in classes. He said students could only get A’s if they followed professors’ expectations.
“Even though I do think students need to learn how to buttress their opinions with the facts, I think he poses a very important point,” she said.
But the University must make sure it teaches students the skills they need, Coleman added.
“We need to be finding ways to say ‘Look, did the individual faculty member accomplish what they said they would accomplish by the end of the course?’ ” she said.
Neuman’s class covers a variety of topics like interdisciplinary education, the economics of education and human capital theory.
He first taught the course at Yale, where he invited former Yale President Bart Giamatti to speak. Neuman said Giamatti’s discussion of governance was a valuable addition, so he decided to invite Coleman to take questions from his students.
Because of her initiatives involving team teaching and interdisciplinary studies, Coleman was a natural speaker candidate, Neuman said.
The students’ aggressive questioning was impressive and showed their interest in academic issues, Coleman said.
“I was really glad,” she said. “I enjoy that kind of give-and-take.”