Creating a U that students can use

Editor’s Note: This is the sixth in an eight-day series on the U2000 initiative.
Tracy Ellingson

When they first arrive on campus, people often see the University as a dizzying array of buildings, sidewalks, tunnels and bridges, rather than as a top research institution or education facility.
The University’s size can be intimidating, particularly to those who rely on the resources found within the buildings and around the campus.
Recognizing that establishing comfort and ease would take a serious administrative effort on a campus of the University’s proportion, University President Nils Hasselmo included in his University 2000 plan a directive to make the school more user-friendly for all who use it.
University administrators’ goals for U2000 are to make a concerted effort to break down some of the bureaucratic barriers that are so often associated with programs at the University, and creating a more “inclusive, supportive and participatory” environment.
“I think U2000 established priorities for us,” said Bob Kvavik, associate vice president for Academic Affairs, “and one of those priorities was to make this campus more user-friendly.”
Three tiers under user-friendliness lay out the administration’s approach to making this a reality by improving campus services. Enhancing the learning and working environment are included in the first tier, and upgrading the physical environment on campus makes up the second.
A third category stresses improving customer-oriented services through improved technology and streamlining.
Learning and workingenvironment
The first tier, a broadly defined aspect of the plan, calls for a high level of participation and contribution from every faction of the University community — from administrators to the faculty and students — and emphasizes a need for diversity within these factions.
Members of the University’s community can participate on two levels — in the governance of the University and by contributing to the scholarly atmosphere of the University.
For example, Boynton Health Service combines both governance and scholarly contributions by students into one program, the Student Health Advisory Committee.
The advisory committee acts as a governing body as well as an educational tool. Boynton administrators work with and often report to the committee, which is made up of students who explore what kind of service their peers are getting out of their health care and what kind of service they would like to see.
Student assessments, access to comment cards and student focus groups help provide Boynton and the committee with information on how user-friendly health care service is on campus.
“We try to remain as in touch with students as we possibly can and I think that’s where our user-friendliness activities spring from,” said Dr. Edward Ehlinger, Boynton’s director.
Ehlinger said Boynton’s commitment to providing service and education to students was around long before U2000 was developed in 1993, but that the plan gives Boynton a good measuring stick.
“I think it gets highlighted with U2000, in that it fits hand-in-glove with what U2000 is trying to do,” he said. “So we’re getting really comfortable that we’re going in the right direction.”
Physical environment
In the next couple years, the most visible changes around campus that fit under the U2000 user-friendly platform will likely be physical renovations.
The administration plans to completely renovate the 56-year-old Coffman Memorial Union, as well as pour millions of dollars into classroom remodeling and upgrades by the year 2000.
Senior Vice President for Student Development and Athletics McKinley Boston and his office have made the union’s improvement plan its number one capital project.
Director of Minneapolis Student Unions Maggie Towle said U2000 is a big part of why the renovations are being planned. Towle’s office has listed support for U2000 goals of building community and user-friendliness at the top of its Goals of Renovation.
“Building community and user-friendliness have been pretty much the key for (renovating) the student union,” Towle said.
In 1972, Coffman underwent a major renovation project in response to students using the union to protest the Vietnam War.
Andre Viktora, a student member of the Coffman Board of Governors, said thousands of student protesters would come into the union and literally take over the building.
“What you see, if you look at pictures before that renovation and after, is that they really closed off the building so that you couldn’t get that many students together in one place again,” Viktora said.
Viktora said the plans for the new union will open it up for student interaction, as it was before the first round of renovations.
The planning process for Coffman has included open forums for students to express their needs and hopes for what the new union will include. Towle said most students are requesting quality food and longer hours.
Towle said one goal is to have the facility open seven days a week and some areas that would give students access 24 hours a day. In addition, the building will be air conditioned, making summer school and the last days of spring classes more bearable for union faithfuls. Finally, a mall-style food court would replace the current University Food Services.
Fast food restaurants and retail service centers such as McDonald’s and Kinko’s will likely be a part of the changes. Some students have expressed concern that the additions will further corporatize the University and distract them from their studies. Towle said they will do what they can to maintain a balance between corporate presence in the union and the traditional feel, but that finances for the renovations require some corporate companionship.
But planned renovations won’t all be meant to enhance students’ social lives.
The University administration has also declared that every classroom on all four campuses undergo renovations.
Kvavik said about five percent of the project, which just received its first allocation from the Legislature, is complete.
Kvavik said making the administration’s goals to make classrooms more user-friendly will affect every student and every faculty member at the University. Better sight lines, more comfortable seats and bigger arm tablets are all part of what Kvavik said makes a user-friendly classroom.
However, the initial phases of the renovations have received mixed reviews, at least from instructors who use the classrooms.
“It’s been mixed because in some cases we’ve done some things wrong in the initial phases,” said Kvavik. “I don’t think we were surprised by that. In one case, we put in white boards instead of blackboards. … Well it turns out the faculty doesn’t like using white boards so we put the blackboards back in.”
The speed with which the classroom renovations will be completed depends on the Legislature’s willingness to continue giving money to the project, Kvavik said.
The classroom renovations are one aspect of U2000 that will eventually affect everyone on campus.
“This is an initiative that will affect every student and every faculty member at the University,” he said. “It has a 100-percent impact because every faculty member and every student sits in a classroom.”

Tomorrow: U2000 and diversity. For more information, go to: http:// www.daily.umn.edu/library/focus/U2000.html