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Administrators join students over dinner
October 5, 1998

Dinner in the North Campus Dining Hall was much as usual last Monday - with the exception of six tables that were decorated with multi-colored balloons. At those tables, President Philip Austin, Chancellor Mark Emmert and seven other senior administrators ate and talked with about 50 students, in the first of six student/admi nistrator roundtable meetings that will take place during the fall semester.

The series will give students and administrators an opportunity to interact, said Vicky Triponey, vice chancellor for student affairs.

"There has been some concern as I talk to students that the administrators don't care about them," said Triponey, who is also the director of the series. "My hope is that this program will begin to open up the channels of communication between the two."

Morgan Holenbeck, a first semester biology major, said the dinner gave her a chance to make connections with "the movers and shakers." Holenbeck sat next to Jeffrey von Munkwitz-Smith, University registrar. The two talked about early morning classes, college life in a rural area, and his position at the University. After von Munkwitz- Smith explained his duties to Holenbeck and the changes being made in the registrar's office to better help students, the conversation shifted to a discussion of the construction on campus and, as others joined in, the reasons why the students chose UConn over other schools.

When Triponey asked the students how classes were going, several expressed concern about teaching assistants whose first language is not English. Debbie Brown, a third semester business major, said that for classes like philosophy, which she finds difficult, having a teacher who speaks English as a second language makes the class even harder.

Triponey told students that the University is working on this issue. "There are some theories out there that you should be promoting your best instructors in the freshman and sophomore level," she said, "but what has happened is that we have front-loaded the teaching assistants and the instructors at the lower level, so when you get to your junior and senior years you are in small classes with our best professors."

As for the complaint voiced by some that there is not much to do in Storrs, Triponey said that issue is embedded in student tradition at UConn. But other students she talked to at the table didn't feel strongly.

Brown says she and several people in her dorm are involved in coed basketball and working out at the gym.

"There is always something to do," said Tami Davis, a third semester drama student.

When President Philip Austin joined the group, he told Chris Dutilly, a transfer student from the Waterbury campus, that in four or five years the University should be able to accommodate 25,000 students, and that the quality of instruction will still be offered in classes of sufficiently manageable size.

"A lot of places say that," Austin said, "but a lot of places don't deliver. One of the strong points about UConn is the class size, believe it or not. We have our large lecture sections, like every place, but the class size is significantly smaller on average than our peers."

As Austin continued to discuss the benefits of small class size, two tables away spring weekend dominated the conversation.

One of the things the University is struggling with, said Tom Callahan, associate vice president of governmental and community relations, is "Do you let it go? Will someone get hurt at some point in time? Clearly, we don't want to have a repeat of last year."

The debate about spring weekend continues, notably among members of the Chancellor's Task Force on Community and Civility. Still, Courtney Galla, a fifth semester psychology major, said she found Monday's discussion helpful: "Having the conversation we did about spring weekend and other issues made me feel the administrators care about what we want."

Luis Mocete