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Emmert encourages debate of issues
at first campus town meeting

More than 200 people crowded into the Konover Auditorium at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center on Wednesday to participate in Chancellor Mark Emmert's first Campus Town Meeting. The meeting gave faculty, staff, and students an opportunity for an open forum with the chancellor on issues ranging from the campus master plan, budgetary realities, and new hirings, to concerns about how the proposed new football stadium will affect the town of Mansfield.

Much of his presentation focused on a discussion of the master plan and how it complements the current strategy and aspirations of the University's leadership.

"It is critical for the University of Connecticut that the Storrs and regional campuses are places of seriousness and distinction that show themselves to be very special, not just in the state but on a national and international level," he said. "We have some buildings like this on campus, and the Dodd Center is certainly one of them. But the whole campus is not up to that level. However, the master plan will bring us much closer to that goal."

Emmert went on to discuss some of the principles and philosophies behind the plan, including the creation of a recognizable academic core that is not only structurally and aesthetically impressive, but also offers opportunities for, as he termed it, "loitering."

"We need more places where people can hang out, relax, exchange ideas, and create a sense of community. These types of places are included in the new plan," he said.

"Because of UConn 2000, we don't have to dream about this process," he added. "We will actually see it happen."

Later in his presentation, Emmert was asked about the disruptions on campus being caused by construction. The questioner, who did not identify himself, also expressed concern that with all the emphasis on the future, the needs and concerns of current students were being disregarded.

Emmert acknowledged that some of the improvements would not be enjoyed by current students "until they are alumni," but said many of the improvements were being made with the students very much in mind.

"A lot of people have asked me why the field house was the first project completed," he said. "Quite simply, I talked to many students and that was something that many of them felt was important. The next new building completed will be the South Campus residence facility, which is also very important to students."

He agreed that the construction on campus has created some inconvenience, but added, "Frankly, I like the sound of bulldozers and jackhammers better than falling bricks and ceiling tile."

After his presentation, the chancellor took questions for nearly an hour on a variety of topics. The issues raised included a question about the University's continued ability to attract quality graduate teaching assistants, given current budgetary belt-tightening.

Emmert pointed out that the University has one of the best compensation packages for full-time teaching assistants. He acknowledged, however, that many assistantships that were previously full-time had been divided up by individual departments.

A woman who identified herself as both an employee of the University and a resident of Mansfield wondered if the administration had taken into account the effect of the proposed move to Division I-A football and the building of a stadium on traffic and the quality of life in Storrs on game days.

Emmert assured the audience that the University has spent hundreds of hours of working with representatives with the town on "town-gown issues." But he also asked if anyone in the audience had ever been to State College, Pennsylvania, or the University of Colorado, or any other Division I-A school on game day. Many people nodded and laughed, knowing what Emmert was alluding to.

"The roads in those towns can't support all the traffic, either," he said. "We will try to do what we can to alleviate any problems, but frankly, six Saturdays every year, about 35,000 people will descend on the University of Connecticut, and we'll all just have to deal with that."

Emmert said the football games will be an opportunity to show off the whole University and added that he hopes programs and events will be in place that would bring people here at "9 a.m. on game day."

When another audience member commented that they were still very concerned about all the congestion, Emmert renewed his pledge to try and avoid undue problems.

Paul Kobulnicky, director of University Libraries and a Mansfield resident, commented from the audience that a reassessment of the town's views on zoning and other issues could help the town and the University "work for the benefit of each other."

His comments marked the end of the meeting.

Early in his presentation Emmert said his goal during the two-hour exchange was to offer yet another method of communication to the University community. Judging from the crowd's enthusiasm and size, and the animated conversations that followed the meeting, this initial campus town meeting was a success.

David Pesci