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UCFORUM-L email list promotes spirit of debate on campus
September 29, 1997
A few years ago the prospect of bringing nearly 400 people together to discuss University-related issues would have been dim. Thanks largely to recent technology, this meeting of minds is now taking place through UCFORUM-L.
The brainchild of Ted Mills, former director of the Faculty Resource Lab, the forum is an electronic mailing list.
Mark Emmert, chancellor and provost for university affairs, described the list as "an experimental forum for interactive communication" in a message posted to UCFORUM-L at its inception in April.
"This is a time of transition and progress at the University," he said. "As we deal with change and uncertainty, it is essential that we find more successful means of communicating."
Participants, including faculty, staff, students, and administrators, express their opinions on a variety of topics, for example, parking, the Field House, and other items of interest. An important advantage of the technology is the potential to receive a response in minutes.
"Before creation of UCForum, there was no space - physical or electronic - where the University community could meet and interact," says Fred Carstensen, a professor of economics and an active participant in UCFORUM-L. "UCForum has been a strikingly constructive step in the right direction.
"I think the forum has primarily served to help us discover the degree to which we have shared concerns and shared aspirations," Carstensen adds.
Kent Holsinger, co-manager of UCFORUM-L and associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, agrees. He says the forum can be a effect positive change in the University climate, "if everyone who participates feels respected." To keep the debate cordial, he appears from time to time on the mailing list, gently reminding people that we "can disagree without being disagreeable."
One concern about UCFORUM-L is that if membership does increase dramatically, and a large number of people post messages, the amount of e-mail for the average member could become overwhelming. The potential for this was recognized early on and was one reason for the decision made from the beginning to restrict the list to the uconn.edu domain.
The forum offers an opportunity for the students and members of faculty to be heard by high-level administrators - something that may be beneficial for everyone. Students and faculty members may get from UCFORUM-L "a sense that they do have the ears of the administration," says Holsinger, and "it's a good way for (administrators) to have a little better sense of what it's like out here in the trenches."
Kim Chambers, also co-manager of UCFORUM-L and a program manager in the Department of Residential Life, acknowledges that the list has not only been effective in "getting some issues on the table," but also "I think that there have been things that have changed because of it." An example of this is Husky Haulers, a group of faculty and staff who assisted students in moving into residence halls, an idea that was first suggested on UCFORUM-L. Within days of the proposal, 30 members of the faculty and staff - including some top administrators - volunteered to be Husky Haulers.
Carstensen says it is important that UCFORUM-L should continue to produce positive changes at UConn. "If that endures, and is a harbinger of change to come," he says, "then UCForum will have been worth every minute of writing and reading comments."
Note: The interview with Fred Carstensen was conducted via e-mail.