Hearing on GC sees little student presence inside

The committee co-chairwoman said the hearing was a chance for input before the official public comment period Dec. 12.

Emily Kaiser

An academic task force on college design had a public forum Monday to preview the task force recommendations for the new department previously known as the General College.

Despite the opportunity for public comments and questions about the recommendations directly relating to students, they were far outnumbered by faculty and staff members at the forum of approximately 50 people.

Task force co-chairwoman Laura Coffin Koch said the meeting was to show the visionary aspects of the new department and give the public an opportunity to have points clarified.

“We wanted to do this prior to the public comment period to give everyone an opportunity to give comments on the direction we are going,” she said.

Koch said the task force was instructed to look at the bigger picture of the new department and will produce a 10-page report by Dec. 10.

There will be a public comment period Dec. 12 through Jan. 27.

Outside the meeting, several students protested the public forums.

Political science junior Russ Lyons said the public forums were set up with no intention to reverse the closing of the General College.

“Most of the system was set up with the end in mind,” he said.

Global studies senior and Equal Access Coalition organizer Lily Shank said the forums are undemocratic.

“We don’t feel we have a voice because they wouldn’t take our recommendations,” she said.

The group is having its own public forum to discuss the General College during the public comment period to provide a “real” discussion of the issue, Shank said.

Minnesota Student Association President Emily Serafy Cox said she understands why students are protesting, but said it is her duty to attend the forums.

“I understand people need to be outside because we do need protest, but we need people on the inside too,” she said.

The recommendations focused on key visions, including attracting the best students and faculty members, engaging in interdisciplinary work and addressing issues such as the achievement gap.

The task force is recommending the development of small learning communities for the one-year program, which is not specifically planned by the task force, Koch said. The task force decided this would be the best way to create a sense of community within the new department.

The recommendations are not final and could be changed or deleted before the plan is implemented, Koch said.

General College interim Dean Terry Collins said his main concern is continuing the values of the college in the new department.

Collins said the recommendation for small learning communities is one of the college’s main values and said he is excited to see it continue.

“I think there is room for GC folks to feel optimistic about this,” he said.

Graduate and Professional Student Assembly President Karen Buhr said she was disappointed by the low student turnout at Monday’s forum as well as previous opportunities for students to speak out.

“It’s important for more students to be involved because we have a totally different perspective to staff and faculty,” she said. “Hopefully their comments are heard somehow.”

Task force member and University senior Leah Woodstrom said she is optimistic about the recommendations.

Woodstrom said she receives some comments through student groups and around campus.