Ask not what you can do for the U

As you probably know, Nils Hasselmo is stepping down this June, and we’ll be needing a new University president. Student leaders say they want input in the selection process, which sounds like a wonderful idea, as long as our real needs are addressed.
Of course, lower tuition would be great — but it’s not going to happen, so why dwell on it? We all want to see someone in the top job who’s open to diversity (well, most of us do), and someone who’s committed to quality professors and curricula. But who’s not going to say he or she supports those things?
In order for a presidential candidate to get our votes (not that we get a vote, thank you very much) we ought to know what he or she would do for us. Maybe all the promises won’t be realistic, financially feasible or even within the realm of sanity, but if Bob Dole can do it, why can’t our own presidential hopefuls?
First off, the entire campus should be connected by tunnels. Granted, we can look forward to telling our grandchildren, “Back in my day, we had to walk nearly three miles in bitter sleet and snow to get from one class to another!” But we’d be willing to give that up for some comfort. Maybe the University could even have little trolleys running in the tunnels — just like members of Congress have in Washington. And the University should go back to heating the walkway of the Washington Avenue Bridge. It actually used to be a bearable trek in the winter, but officials decided it cost too much to keep us warm.
We need a reasonable snow-day policy, too. Remember the time last February when it was a million degrees below zero and Gov. Carlson ordered all public K-12 schools closed? University administrators, in their infinite wisdom, kept this place open. What were they thinking? Almost no one showed up to class that Friday, and consequently many instructors repeated their lectures on Monday, meaning the students who were brave (insane?) enough to make it in did so for absolutely no reason. (By the way, you might have noticed that Morrill Hall, the majestic building that houses offices for all the important people who run the University, is connected to a parking ramp where the administrators park. You won’t catch a Vice President for Serious Matters waiting for a Campus Connector bus at the distant transit lot while 50 mph winds whip his face.)
The next president should also do something to stop students from getting ripped off at the bookstores. Not only are the texts way too expensive, they are constantly being “updated” so new editions need to be printed, and students can’t buy the cheaper used books. How publishers can legitimately say they need to revise things like collections of Charles Dickens’ work is beyond me. Plus, the return policy is ridiculous. Example: Last spring I waited until about the ninth week of the quarter to buy a book, but accidentally grabbed the wrong one. (I think I bought “A Critical Look at Analytical Writing” instead of “An Analytical Look at Critical Writing.”) The next day I tried to exchange it, with a receipt, and was informed by an oh-so-pleasant young woman that the bookstore is not a library and books cannot be returned after the second week of class no matter when they were purchased. No retail store would stay in business more than a month with a policy like that — ah, the joys of a captive buying market!
On to matters of sustenance. They say the fastest way to a man’s heart is by tearing a hole through his rib cage, but one of the fastest ways to students’ hearts, in general, is through the stomach. Somehow the University’s food service people came up with the brilliant idea of enticing us with Spamburgers and (ooh la la) Spam breakfast croissants at that new Minnesota Marketplace in Coffman Union. Well, tempting as that sounds, why not instead focus on selling food in more locations on campus? For instance, Morrill Hall usually has a little coffee-and-muffin cart in the entryway — why not put more of those in buildings that (gasp) students frequent? Wouldn’t it be great if, between classes, you could pick up a quick caffeine fix and maybe a veggie sandwich without having to travel halfway across campus? It would likely turn a tidy little profit for the University coffers, too.
Another addition that would make life here so much nicer is ventilation in the stinky bathrooms — or at least some of those plug-in air fresheners. Talk about a day killer. Toilet-tissue dispensers that actually let you tear off more than two squares at a time would also be nice.
Is this too much to ask? Yes, we want someone who can go the Legislature and the governor and squeeze money out of them. Yes, the next president should make sure liberal arts classes don’t get left on the sidelines while grant-drawing technology classes receive all the attention. Yes, we want someone who is committed to making the University more diverse. But we should also try to get someone who says, “I remember what it was like as a student, and I’m going to do everything I can to make sure you have it better.”
By the way, on the subject of making things easier on students, that University Web site is great. Maybe I’m in the technologically slow group, but I’m amazed that we can sit at a computer and read the class schedule, see if the section is filled, browse descriptions of the courses, find out what texts we have to buy and peruse a map of campus that shows where the course will be held. Generally this “user-friendly” tag gets thrown around way too much, but this is one instance where it fits. (Thanks, Nils!)
Anyway, for students out there who are seriously interested in voicing their opinions about the qualities our next president should possess, Minnesota Student Association President Helen Phin is having a meeting on the subject this Monday at 2 p.m. in room 355 of Coffman Union. A synopsis of the discussion will be presented to the presidential search committee. Seeing as we don’t get a vote, maybe this is the next best thing. Besides, you can pick up a Spamburger on your way.
Kris Henry’s column appears in the Daily every Thursday.