Students breakfastwith newpresident

by Jessica Steeno

Student leaders used every minute Friday of the carefully budgeted hour that University President-elect Mark Yudof spent with them.
Although he was in town primarily to meet with University officials and the governor to learn about the institution, Yudof held an informal breakfast with members of the Minnesota Student Association and the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly at Coffman Memorial Union. He and the leaders talked about issues, such as tuition and classroom renovation, in a conversation that included some playful exchanges, as well as serious discussion.
Yudof began the meeting by stating what he hoped to learn from the students.
“I thought this would be a good opportunity to listen,” Yudof said. “The budget process is going on, and I’ll have, I think, a rather small role — one president at a time — and I really wanted to get a sense of student priorities as I participate in that.”
Sean Ohmswinnie, a legislative liaison for GAPSA, was the first to speak out, raising the question of tuition. He said student leaders hope tuition increases for the next year will be held to 2.5 percent, which is what University administrators had planned in their biennial budget request.
Ohmswinnie said tuition in his college, the College of Veterinary Medicine, went up 11 percent last year.
“I’m committed to holding (tuition) to inflation or less,” Yudof said. “I don’t vote in the Legislature, but that would be my recommendation up and down the board.” He added that he could not guarantee that legislators would follow his recommendations.
Throughout the meeting, the students voiced concerns, and while Yudof addressed them, he also said students need to be realistic in their requests.
Eric Hanson, vice president for MSA, said he thinks many students feel as if they don’t have a voice in decisions that involve them.
Yudof responded by recognizing Hanson’s concerns, but reminding the students that the president represents more than just student voices. “That’s something we can work on, just as long as we all understand that sometimes things happen that we don’t like,” he said. “I don’t think anyone really likes a tax, but they get voted for all the time in the Legislature.”
Many student leaders who were either opposed to Yudof or to the search process that led to his selection last month seemed more optimistic about his ability to lead the University after Friday’s meeting.
“I think, on the whole, he’s really adapted himself well to the attitudes and concerns of Minnesota students,” said Helen Phin, president of MSA. “I don’t know where he’s headed from here, and I’m just waiting to see what he does as president.”
Phin said she hopes Yudof will get involved in student issues like the renovation of Coffman, another issue students brought up.
Speaking to Yudof, she said many people are involved with the renovation of Coffman. “But somebody I certainly don’t see getting very involved in student issues the way you’re talking about is (University President Nils Hasselmo), and I am hoping that as you start coming to campus a lot more, that you do the things you’re talking about and get really involved on the student level.”
As University officials discuss renovating Coffman, student leaders told Yudof about their concerns that the changes would not benefit students. Officials plan, among other things, to bring retail shops to the union.
“I think their goal is to turn it into a showboat, someplace that looks good, but isn’t student-friendly,” Hanson said.
Yudof listened to the concerns and addressed the students’ interests. “I’d like to learn about that because I think that’s a real concern,” he said. “A student union has to be primarily here to provide that home for the students.”
Students also expressed concern about funding for the library and archive center that Gov. Carlson withheld in November. The center was designed to store valuable or fragile collections in a climate-controlled facility.
“Something like this would allocate a lot more space to the libraries,” said MSA Academic Affairs Chairman Corey Donovan.
Yudof agreed with the students that lack of study space is a significant issue without specifically endorsing the archive center as a solution.
“I think that’s real important, and something we’re not very good at is creating a humane environment for people to study in,” he said. “Particularly here, where you go outdoors and you’re all at risk.”
Yudof joked about Minnesota weather throughout the breakfast, suggesting that a tunnel be built connecting Eastcliff, the presidential mansion, with the campus.
“There could be a 15 percent tuition increase to pay for the tunnel, but you can go the other way,” he joked. “It’s a two-way tunnel.”