As part of an ongoing effort to increase student awareness of upcoming administrative initiatives, University President Robert Zimmer held a question-and-answer dinner session with Shoreland Hall residents on February 6.
About 30 students and resident heads attended the limited-seating event, the most popular so far in the Shoreland Resident Masters’ Dinner series.
Zimmer fielded attendees’ questions that mostly focused on the recent decisions to discontinue the University’s famed Uncommon Application and not to divest from Sudan.
Zimmer defended the University’s stances, explaining that the “decisions came out of [the] rigorous and intense inquiry of various members of the administration, and I approve their efforts.”
Many students also expressed concern over a perceived lack of input from the student body in the administration’s decisions. When one student asked directly why students had not been involved in University policies, Zimmer disputed the characterization and cited the complexities of the University’s bureaucracy.
“First of all, the admissions office made the choice to switch to the Common Application,” he said. “I only encouraged discussion of the issue in the office and later approved of their choice. And the divestment decision came out of much discussion between Board [of Trustees] members and even STAND leaders.”
While the diners were primarily concerned with challenging the recent decisions, many were also interested in hearing about Zimmer’s long-term plans for the University, and especially changes to the College. Several attendees expressed concern about potential reforms to the Core curriculum and “life of the mind” ethos.
Although he failed to announce definitive plans, Zimmer posited that certain changes will be necessary over time.
“I think it’s inevitable that the Core will undergo natural evolution,” he said. “What this evolution will be, however, I’m not entirely sure.”
Zimmer did highlight some initiatives the University is currently exploring, including the addition of a molecular engineering program and greater performance-based study in the arts.
“The boundary between science and engineering has really blurred to the extent that they are no longer independent fields,” he said. “And the line between analysis and performance in the arts has also blurred significantly.”
Although he emphasized the benefits of these measures, Zimmer mentioned the need for a significant investment from outside sources to get the projects in motion.
Zimmer further expressed his hope for improving relations with the greater Chicago community and increasing the University’s financial endowment in order to heighten public and academic recognition of the University.
While the attendees responded well to such proposals, some wondered why the University had so far neglected certain other proposed initiatives, such as eco-friendly construction and community health care outreach.
Zimmer concluded the session by encouraging attendees to propose plans to various administrative offices and to remain up-to-date with the administration and their decisions.