Affirmative action, the student health plan, and tuition increases headlined yesterday's Presidential Brownbag forum. The gathering, sponsored by the Office of the Dean of Students in the University, provided an unscripted opportunity for students to discuss concerns about the University with president Don Michael Randel and vice president Steve Klass.
Foremost on the minds of most of the students who attended the Brownbag was the University's policy on affirmative action. Yuwan Lee, a student in the College, asked if the University would alter any of its special programs for minority students as a result of the pending Supreme Court case regarding the University of Michigan's admissions policy or lawsuits brought against Princeton and MIT by a conservative group named the Center for Equal Opportunity.
"The legal problems [as a result of litigation by the Center for Equal Opportunity] that Princeton and MIT have had with their minority student programs will probably not impact specific programs here at the U of C for minority students," Klass said. "For example, the Summer Research Opportunities Program (SROP) here at the U of C is funded by a government grant, so it will probably need to be reconsidered only if the government changes the standard [for funding]."
According to Randel, the U of C is still dedicated to increasing the population of underrepresented minorities in its faculty, students, and staff.
"While the legal environment may compel a change in our ways, the U of C is still dedicated to the end of diversity, because diversity is very important for the University community," Randel said. "As far as the University of Michigan case is concerned, we have filed an amicus curiae [friend of the court] on behalf of the University of Michigan, because we as a university have a stake in the Michigan case."
The forum turned confrontational when Shira Offer, a graduate student in the Department of Sociology, asserted that the health of students, especially graduate students, was not the highest priority of the University. Offer went on to name several grievances against the student health plan, citing the modest amount of benefits provided.
Klass took a different view than the one expressed by Offer.
"Every year the costs for health care rise, and if we kept the old plans the percentage increase in the costs would have been substantial," Klass said. "The University, as a result of having far more graduate students than undergraduates, is in a tricky situation financially when it comes to health care, and every year when we redo the health plan we try to take into account how we anticipate the plan will be used."
Randel also weighed in on the subject, noting that the cost of providing health care rises quicker than any of the University's streams of revenue. Randel, did, however, state that it is a long-term goal of the University to provide health insurance for all graduate students.
"It is a problem that some of our graduate students do not have any health insurance, and we'd like to do something about it," he said. "However, it is also a problem to try and locate sufficient funding for health insurance--the U of C will never have as much money as Princeton, and so we have to make do with our more limited resources."
Money problems were also on the minds of College students present at the forum, and the question of tuition increases came up more than once.
President Randel assured the audience that the tuition would not be too different from this year's but that the rate of growth for tuition would continue to outpace the rate of inflation.
"Next year's tuition percentage increase will be roughly five percent, but this is all tentative until the Board of Trustees approves next year's budget in late spring."
"The increase in tuition will of course be matched by some increase in financial aid," Klass added.
Other issues discussed during the forum were the lack of non-Eurocentric study abroad programs, the use of alternative energy sources, student attrition, and the University's reaction to the Level Orange terror alert.
"We are always glad to hear student concerns about the University," Klass said. "These Brownbag forums provide president Randel and I a unique opportunity to address those concerns in an informal and thoughtful setting."