Study indicates U community is loosely knit

by Bei Hu

Students who feel overwhelmed at the University can find plenty of people who share the frustration.
A 1996 campus survey reported that only 22 percent of the students thought that the University placed high value on them as individuals, as compared to 49 percent who thought the opposite.
“That’s certainly an unfortunate perception,” said Marvin Marshak, senior vice president for Academic Affairs.
The Office of the Vice President for Student Development and Athletics has been conducting the student interest survey every five years since 1971. The latest study, administered in winter quarter 1996, surveyed a random sample of 800 degree-seeking undergraduate, graduate and professional students on the Twin Cities campuses. Seventy-nine percent of the students surveyed returned the mail-in questionnaire.
“I think it’s a legitimate characterization of the student population,” said Roger Harrold, a University assistant professor who is analyzing data collected through the survey.
Despite the school administration’s efforts to bring students together through more on-campus housing and improving faculty and student communication, the survey has again confirmed that because the University is largely a commuter school, students lack a sense of togetherness.
Sixty-six percent of the students said a feeling of community at the University was important to them. But 34 percent of them reported that their yearning for togetherness remained largely unfulfilled.
Fifty-one percent of the students surveyed said they had never participated in any student groups or campus activities. Sixty-eight percent said they didn’t think the University’s traditions and celebrations played an important role in their college lives.
Marshak did not appear to be disturbed by the figures.
“Historically, there has been that perception,” he said.
He attributed the perception to the large number of older and part-time students on campus, who tend to socialize elsewhere.
“I think one thing about the University of Minnesota is that we do have a diverse group of students,” Marshak added.
He also said that in a university where about 53 percent of the students said they lived four miles or more away from the school, and only 14 percent lived on campus, it is not unusual for there to be a feeling of a lack of community.
“That’s something we are certainly trying to work on,” Marshak said. He said building more housing on campus, reduced class sizes and weekly brown-bag luncheons where faculty can mingle with students are ways to help develop a sense of togetherness on a large campus.
Students have even become less group-oriented in their fitness activities, according to the study.
Since 1981 the percentage of people participating in team sports has declined from 27 percent to 17 percent.
Overall, the study seems to portray a student body that relies heavily on electronic communication but is lacking in direct socialization.
Sixty-two percent of the respondents said they used e-mail frequently. And about two-thirds of the students in the study reported surfing the Internet at least occasionally.