NEWS

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February 10, 2009

Zimmer talks financial crisis at S.G. roundtable

[img id="77259" align="alignleft"] President Robert Zimmer addressed student concerns about the University’s financial health at a roundtable discussion Tuesday sponsored by Student Government (SG). Zimmer aimed to convey his vision for the future and gather feedback.

“Will the University look really different in 10 years than it looks now? I hope so,” Zimmer said. “Will it look different because of cost-cutting? No. [This is] more perturbation than fundamental change in the nature of the University.”

However, Zimmer said that budget cuts, almost all of which been proposed to the provost, will have their effect on the University. The budget will be cut by between $130 and $150 million and will affect all divisions.

“This will have an impact across the whole University. Nobody gets a bye,” he said.

But he was clear that certain areas would not see their budgets slashed. “Off the table for reduction was financial aid and support for graduate students. We’re completely committed to that. We won’t be backing off,” Zimmer said.

He added that the new Logan Arts Center and the Mansueto Library are slated to be completed on time, though other projects may be pushed back.

Zimmer also discussed student desire for more retail development in the neighborhood.

“We will be actively involved in getting a hotel and a better commercial environment in Hyde Park,” he said. He described plans for street-level stores in the new hospital complex to be built along East 57th Street but explained that options for increased commerce close to campus are somewhat limited.

“There are some things we can do, but there are some zoning problems. There is a feeling that there’s not enough urban dynamism, but everywhere that can have retail is full. We have to explore south of campus,” he said.

Vice President for Campus Life Kimberly Goff-Crews, who also attended the meeting, spoke to student concerns about the potential effect that bringing new retailers to Hyde Park will have on the existing community.

“Whatever we do for students, we think about the community, because you would expect no less of us,” she said. “We’re trying to be comprehensive in our planning.”

Students who attended the panel were pleased. “I wanted to hear from the ultimate leadership,” second-year Allen Linton said. “I was very satisfied that he’s taking a chance to listen to the people who make up the University: the students.”

Linton also commended Zimmor’s candor. “He gave thoughtful answers,” Linton said. “He did not give a cookie-cutter answer. He also challenged students and didn’t necessarily agree or disagree with everything students said. I can appreciate that.”

“It’s really nice to hear the man behind the e-mails,” said fourth-year Jessica Schwab. “He really clarified some of the initiatives that we kind of know about, but that we don’t understand fully.”

“I’m not just here to answer questions,” Zimmer told the 20 assembled students, who reserved seats at the discussion in advance. “I’m happy to hear declarative statements.”

Though few declarative statements were made, Schwab was pleased by the Zimmer’s request for them. “I thought by making that statement, he told students to have a voice,” she said.

SG sponsors quarterly discussions with the Zimmer. Though one did not occur fall quarter, Zimmer will be speaking with students again this quarter in an open forum about the budget scheduled for February 23.

Zimmer emphasized the importance of communication. “I can’t say, ‘Here’s my plan for this; here’s my plan for that.’ It’s the deans’ responsibility to create an environment for planning so that it can be argued about,” he said. “That’s why the involvement of students is so important.”