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ISSUE 116 VOL 18 PUBLISHED 5/2/2003

Forum gives arena for discussion of opinions

By Jane Dudzinski
News Editor

Friday, May 2, 2003

When the members of the re-accreditation team visited campus earlier this week, they were not only interested in finding out how administrators felt about St. Olaf.

They were also eager to learn students’ opinions, and gave them an opportunity to speak freely about the college.

An open forum for students took place on Monday in Buntrock Commons, along with faculty and staff open forums.

Two members of the re-accreditation team, Dr. Mike Edmonds, Colorado College dean of students and Dr. Neal Sobania, director of international education and history professor at Hope College, presided over the discussion.

To the four students in attendance, Edmonds and Sobania initially made it clear that they wanted to know the students’ honest opinions about the college, both positive and negative, so that the re-accreditation team as a whole could consider these ideas during their study and assessment of St. Olaf.

Edmonds began the forum by asking how the college has fulfilled students’ expectations, as well as how has it failed them.

Karin Sharpe ’03 said that her main concern with St. Olaf was its reluctance to change as an institution, an issue she encountered particularly in her position of Board of Regents Student Observer.

"I had to work hard to initiate change [in regards to the College’s sexual assault policy]," Sharpe said. "It is difficult in a traditional Lutheran school for change to occur."

Another point of contention that students brought up was that of diversity, particularly in the political sense.

"There is a definite lack of political diversity," said Seth Heringer ’05. "As a [student in the minority opinion], it is always difficult to find professors and students to agree with me, and back me openly."

Other issues that students brought up included tenured faculty positions, the restrictions of certain majors and registration—a specific issue that Edmonds found numerous students were dissatisfied with during his random, unofficial polling in Buntrock Commons earlier that day.

Edmonds and Sabaney also asked about students’ interim, off-campus, and service learning experiences, all of which were unanimously positive.

The final question that the re-accreditation team members asked was why students think diversity is so important.

"It’s about perspective and acceptance," said Janine Wetzel ’05. "Diversity is vital to developing a well-rounded opinion."

The forum then went on to examine the varying degrees of diversity in the arenas of ethnicity, socio-economic status, and religion.

"I don’t see religious diversity being taught, the way Christianity is handed to you in the classroom," said Brooke Adamus ’03.

The open student forum was just one part of the re-accreditation process that took place Monday through Wednesday.

Re-accreditation occurs approximately every 10 years by an external non-governmental organization. This year’s re-accreditation team from the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association focused on the College's proposal for a special emphasis self-study.

Further information about the re-accreditation process as well as the special study can be found on the St. Olaf website.

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