NEWS

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January 31, 2006

Randel, Klass chat with community

Amidst a bustle of students grabbing free sandwiches, yogurt, and the last few empty seats, University President Don Randel announced, “The presidential yogurt has arrived!” The quarterly grilling of Randel and Vice President and Dean of Students in the University Steve Klass, known as the Presidential Brownbag, had commenced.

The conversation began with students voicing concerns about the allocation of money, primarily to larger RSOs such as University Theater. The students believe that these groups monopolize University resources at the expense of smaller groups, creating hostility and competition among RSOs.

Sharlene Holly, director of ORCSA, countered that some larger organizations have found outside funding and that she is working to promote greater sharing of physical space between RSOs. But, she said, “We cannot have one model that fits all.”

One student complained of “cronyism” within Student Government, with elected members giving more money to their friends. She said she believes this situation makes it especially difficult to “start something new” and creates “a lot of antagonism towards student government.” This “cronyism,” she said, is perpetuated by the fact that only 12 percent of the student body votes.

Randel said this complaint exemplified that “democracy turns out to be slightly inconvenient.” However, the University does not want “to enforce policy from the top down.”

Bill Michel, director of Student Life, argued that there must be a balance between decisions the University makes and decisions students make.

Randel recommended that students “take a cue from national politics—vote the cronies out.”

In response to a student’s concern that the $42 million gift to the U of C Hospitals reflected a lack of parity for the arts and humanities, Randel said that the tendency for funding to favor health sciences was reflected on a national scale. While the funding for the National Foundation for the Humanities was “pathetic,” funding at the National Institutes of Health has gone up “eight percent per annum,” Randel said.

He noted that the new government initiative for the study of critical foreign languages, entitled the National Security Language Initiative, was funded for defense purposes. Klass said jokingly that someone should submit a proposal for an Arts Security Program.

The conversation shifted halfway through the hour to the role of the University within the Hyde Park community. One disgruntled graduate student wondered what the University was doing to improve the quality of businesses in Hyde Park. Referring to the Co-Op Market, he said, “That place needs some competition.”

Randel said that the University had tried to attract larger chain stores, such as Dominicks, but they were uninterested in coming to Hyde Park. Della Moran, a Hyde Park resident, criticized this point, inquiring why the University was interested in supporting large corporations rather than supporting local businesses.

Klass responded that the Office of Community Affairs has a priority “to make Hyde Park a place people want to live.” But, as Hyde Park attracts higher priced real estate, Klass said the office was also interested in “keeping Hyde Park affordable.”

Not comforted by this answer, another student said, “Make Hyde Park a place where who wants to live?” Unconvinced by arguments that Hyde Park is a highly racially integrated community, she wanted to know what the University is doing to alleviate racial tensions both within the University and in the community.

Randel responded by saying he believed that “having an Office of Minority Affairs is not enough.” He said that every person ought to think about this issue every day, on a personal level.