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University News

Simmons still liked, UCS still unknown

Staff Writer
Monday, November 15, 2010

President Ruth Simmons and the Undergraduate Council of Students have largely maintained their approval ratings from past semesters, according to The Herald’s poll this month. The vast majority of students — 74 percent — still approve of Simmons, while undergraduates’ views of UCS remains split between those who approve and those who don’t know.

About 35 percent of students responded that they strongly approved of Simmons and about 39 percent somewhat approved, with under 6 percent expressing disapproval. Freshmen were much more likely to state strong approval than non-freshmen, who were more likely to somewhat approve. Freshmen also had a higher rate of unfamiliarity with her handling of the job than non-freshmen.

According to Stephen Nelson, a senior scholar at Brown’s Leadership Alliance who studies university leadership, Simmons’ popularity is due to several factors — including her charisma, her representation of both women and minorities as a leader and her ability to navigate successfully through an economically and politically turbulent decade.

Nelson said current trends in how students value authority also account for Simmons’ popularity on campus. As opposed to the 1960s and 1970s, when students were “automatically jaded” toward authority, students now are more likely to value their leaders, he said.

College presidents then were “damned if they did, damned if they didn’t,” Nelson said, especially in regard to their stances on contemporary political affairs. Today, Nelson said, students are more likely to value the work it took for a leader to be in a position of authority.

The student mentality is “you got to where you are because you worked for it,” Nelson said. “Go ahead and lead me.”

In the nine years Simmons has been president, she has faced the small recession following 9/11 and the bigger one that started in 2008. In her tenure, Nelson said, the endowment has performed erratically, but Simmons managed to “offset” cuts with reconfiguration of academic departments, so the overall loss was not as bad as it could have been.

“Simmons has navigated Brown enormously well,” Nelson said.

“Ruth seems like a good president,” said Colin Schofield ’14. Schofield cited her charisma as a source of her popularity, especially among freshmen.

“I don’t know much about her” because she does not have “much of a presence on campus,” said Zach Rothstein-Dowden ’13.

Just as in past semesters, about as many undergraduates approve of UCS as those who said they did not know about its job performance. A total of 43.5 percent approve, with 35.3 percent somewhat approving and 8.2 percent strongly approving. The most popular response was “don’t know/no answer,” which was chosen by 46.1 percent of poll-takers.

UCS Communications Chair Molly Lao ’13 said she was surprised that 67.7 percent of freshmen — about 30 percent more than other undergraduates — do not know about the council’s job because “there are actually a lot of freshmen on UCS.”

“We definitely try our hardest to reach out,” Lao said.

Lao said the council is involved in multiple efforts to increase its role in campus life. The council is planning “Fireside Chats,” a Stephen Colbert-style news show that will be streamed online in the spring. The show will interview campus figures such as Dean of the College Katherine Bergeron, who will appear in the first episode.

UCS has also expanded office hours to reach students in the Blue Room and the Gate in addition to the Sharpe Refectory. The group also allots a half hour at the beginning of each of its Wednesday meetings for “community time,” when students can come in and voice their issues to UCS.

Still, the council remains unknown to many students. “UCS is mostly an e-mail agent to me,” said Jason Reeder ’11.

As for the 10.4 percent of undergraduates who disapproved of UCS, Lao said, “Sometimes, people just don’t approve of institutions in general.”

The Herald poll was conducted Nov. 1–2 and has a 3.0 percent margin of error with 95 percent confidence. For the subset of freshmen, the margin of error is 6.0 percent. For non-freshmen, the margin of error is 3.5 percent. A total of 915 students completed the poll, which The Herald distributed as a written questionnaire in the University Mail Room in J. Walter Wilson and the Stephen Robert ’62 Campus Center during the day and the Sciences Library at night.

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