UR President Joel Seligman spoke to a group of students and faculty in the Gowen Room in his biannual Town Hall Meeting yesterday.
Seligman was introduced by Interim Dean of the College Richard Feldman and spoke for about twenty minutes before answering questions from students on a variety of topics ranging from student housing to the commercialization of technology.
Seligman began by mentioning the London Times article that listed Rochester as the 21st best school in the country and 48th best in the world. He spoke about a number of developing projects around the University. He brought up construction projects at the medical center, including the new Ford Wing and upcoming Cancer Center, then spoke about the planned UHS Center near Susan B. Anthony Halls and the new Biomedical Engineering and Optics Building that is nearing completion.
Seligman went on to discuss the unexpectedly large freshman class, which numbers 1,100 as opposed to the normal 970-990.
“This was not planned,” he said. “It was definitely a surprise.” Seligman stressed that the plan for next year was to bring the number of admitted students back down to the normal number. However, he mentioned that on a list of 19 private universities that are similar to Rochester, all but one, Brown, has a larger student body.
Seligman then spoke about recent advancements in strategic planning. The current campus layout has been used for over sixty years, and he thinks that it is time for a change. The University has hired a firm to design a new plan.
“We are very fortunate in being more land-rich than many universities,” he said. He finished his prepared remarks by mentioning how proud he is of UR’s connection with the community.
“Rochester is in the middle of making a shift from a manufacturing economy to a knowledge-based one,” he said. He said that the University, as the city’s largest employer, will play a big part in the future of Rochester’s economy.
The first question posed to Seligman was from a student concerned about the 6% increase of tuition and room and board since last year, and where that money goes. Seligman stressed that all of the money from tuition goes to The College. 52% of The College budget derives from tuition, and much of the increasing cost of tuition goes to personnel, libraries and laboratories. He also pointed out that the University has a certain standard to maintain.
“We could do things a lot less expensively, but you wouldn’t want it like that,” he said, addressing the students. He also stressed that the average student receives a 40% tuition remission.
The next question regarded Seligman’s plan for technology commercialization. The student was referring to the fact that the university can receive royalties for patents that are developed within their walls. Seligman said that although UR currently receives over thirty million dollars a year from patents, most of that money comes from two patents that are about to expire. However, he pointed out that he already appointed a committee to deal with this, and the committee was in the act of submitting their report. He also stressed that he was “not trying to turn the university into a commercial exercise.”
Seligman then fielded a question about the new UHS building. He said that the building’s projected cost had inflated from $4 million to over $20 million as other renovations were included in the budget, but they were eventually dropped and a slightly more expensive UHS building was agreed upon.
Another student asked about what the administration was doing to improve independent student enterprise. “We are trying to stress becoming as entrepreneurial as possible,” he said. He pointed out that student enterprises tend to be small but incredibly important, and he mentioned a story about a student at Michigan whose small business investment in college jumpstarted his career.
A student brought up the possibility of having a student representative on the Board of Trustees. Seligman recognized that the initiative has worked at other schools, but that the Board is currently caught up in other matters and would bring that into consideration later.
Next, he fielded a question about the Ghandian University, an anti-war organization, moving to Rochester.
“It would be a wonderful thing to have here,” he said, before deferring to Richard Feldman.
“Negotiations have been moving along,” Mr. Feldman said. “I am very optimistic.”
The last question regarded the interaction between the different schools of the college. Seligman said that it is important for the schools to work together to solve problems.
“Interdisciplinary activity is likely to increase over time,” he said.
Seligman finished with a story about his Berkeley days in the height of the Vietnam War, when the protests got to such a point that the military had to occupy the entire campus. He said he was happy that he could hold a quiet meeting.
“Let’s keep the conversation going,” Seligman said. Wrobel is a member of the class of 2010.