LSA senior Amy McConnell realized last winter she had more credits than her transcript stated. Placement into Spanish 232 her freshman year allowed her to receive four retracted credits. She decided to get in touch with the Office of the Registrar to clear up the discrepancy.
Since then, McConnell said she has sent out 12 different e-mails to various employees in the Registrar’s office and other departments. Some people have not responded, others have told her to contact someone else. She said she was sent from department to department, never getting a clear answer about how to proceed. She finally gave up on gaining the credits this fall.
“I’m frustrated, mostly annoyed,” McConnell said.
McConnell’s sentiments echo the belief shared by students that University officials are out of touch with students whose lives are being affected daily by administrative decisions.
“It’s so large that nothing can ever get done,” she said.
So who makes decisions around here?
Students have little knowledge about University administrators, according to the results of a recent informal survey conducted by The Michigan Daily of approximately 100 students on campus.
Only one student knew who Provost Paul Courant was, but he did not know what Courant’s job entails. But Courant said at a big university, he is more concerned that students maintain solid relationships with their professors.
“If the University is working right, then University students should not be aware of the administration,” Courant said.
One student knew there were eight people who sat on the University of Board of Regents, although no one knew that their terms lasted eight years. Six students were able to name at least one regent. Larry Deitch (D-Bingham Farms) and Rebecca McGowan (D-Ann Arbor), who have both been on the Board for 10 years, were most mentioned. Regent Olivia Maynard (D-Goodrich) said she was not surprised that she was unknown among the student body.
“I know that when I was in college, I didn’t know anybody who was on the board,” Maynard said.
Four people recognized E. Royster Harper as the Vice President for Student Affairs, and one person knew that part of her job is to supervise many student activities.
While not one of the 81 students surveyed who are in the College of Literature, Science and the Arts recognized the name of Terrence McDonald, interim LSA dean, five out of the 12 students interviewed who are not in LSA knew the name of their dean.
“It’s the smaller school effect,” Courant said, adding that schools such as the School of Natural Resources and Environment and School of Kinesiology are comparable to the size of departments in LSA.
Music School Dean Karen Wolff said one of her jobs as dean is to oversee the quality of her faculty, which teaches the approximately 1,000 students enrolled in the college. She said she would not know how well the faculty were doing if she did not maintain close contact with the students who they teach. She does this by attending performances and meeting with student groups.
“I certainly wouldn’t pretend to know all (the students), but I know quite a few,” Wolff said.
Was it always like this?
F rom its inception in 1817 until the early 1940s, the University was a small Midwestern college with only a few thousand students. The deans and president had offices in Angell Hall, and it was not uncommon for students to see the president going to his office in the morning. University Archivist Nancy Bartlett said President James Angell, who served for 38 years, was able to point out students individually.
“He was on a first-name basis with students,” Bartlett said. “He was very much a beloved figure of the University.”
Bartlett added that Marion Burton, president from 1920-1925, was also a favorite of the students and had many progressive ideas for the future of the University. After he died, Burton Tower was built in his memory.
As the University grew, presidents still attempted to reach out to students in other ways.
“President (Harlan) Hatcher and his wife were well regarded for inviting students into their home for tea,” Bartlett said. Hatcher served as president from 1951 until 1967.
But the post World War II era allowed a large influx of students to attend colleges. The University population grew from 17,000 to 37,000 students during Hatcher’s term. The LSA Building on State Street was constructed in 1948 and more faculty were hired to accommodate the larger student body. To facilitate University officials and to open up space in Angell Hall, the now-named Fleming Administration Building was constructed in the mid-1960s. As a result, the relationship between the administration and students eroded.
“The administration has grown as the University has grown,” Bartlett said. “It certainly presents a risk that the bigger the University becomes, it is harder to continue to create a certain shared sense of belonging.”
How can we improve?
S tudents and administrators tend to agree that the University is too big now to allow for the intimacy that used to be prevalent.
“You lose something by being big,” Courant said. “When you have 39,000 students, that’s not the way it’s going to be.”
But Courant also said the University has grown in the past 50 years to be one of the most highly regarded research universities in the world. “The University has benefited greatly from being big,” he said.
LSA sophomore Matt Cassidy said he agrees with Courant’s assessment that it is difficult to promote interaction with officials at such a big school.
“It just makes it harder by the sheer numbers,” Cassidy said.
But Cassidy and other students said they would like to see more outreach from University officials to hear students’ opinions. Although some said they are aware of e-mails and occasional meetings, there needs to be more.
“I feel like administrators live in their happy little worlds where everything is perfect,” McConnell said. “I really don’t see them around campus doing anything.”
But Courant said he frequents campus events, attending faculty meetings and talking with various students. He likes to walk through campus and talk with people whether it be in Angell Hall or in line at Espresso Royale Caf