By Jai’Michael Anderson

President Kim Schatzel hosted her latest listening session last Wednesday, April 10th, in the Chao Auditorium. Don’t worry if you missed it. I was able to attend to gain a student’s perspective of the meeting.

A gift for her to learn from

Schatzel opened the session with an introduction and a quick statement describing how previous listening sessions at U of L have been beneficial since she arrived last February. She described previous listening sessions as gifts that helped her learn about the U of L community and the specific issues students care about.

Schatzel was attentive and, at times, playful. She welcomed students to engage her in discussions about anything they deemed important to the university. She even joked that she would give $20 to one student for asking a good question.

Though attendance was much smaller than one may expect (less than ten attendees) there were still several key issues brought into discussion by students and faculty.

Perhaps one of the more pressing concerns among attendees was the school’s stance on Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) which has been under attack recently in the state legislature with HB 9 and SB 6.

Schatzel’s responses to these concerns were straightforward, stating that UofL strongly opposed the new bills and has lobbied to fight against their passing. She stated that Aaron Thompson, President of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education, played a pivotal role in fighting against state DEI restrictions.

She reaffirmed that the university plans to remain diligent in its effort to combat state DEI bans and restrictions.

Open, honest, and engaging

The meeting flowed much like a natural conversation. Schatzel offered her insights into U of L’s plans moving forward while taking note of the key issues students and faculty brought up. There was even a point in the event where, when the conversation had died down, the President called on inactive attendees, including myself, to encourage participation.

The president was open and honest about what she did and didn’t know saying that she would follow up with students through email. Other times she would direct attendees to the proper staff to help with their needs.

Other concerns from attendees included campus disability accessibility, campus food options, online programs, engaging older students with the rest of the community, support for graduate students, and IM recreation fields.

One student-parent questioned Schatzel about Cardinal Park, a disability-accessible park on Floyd St. that according to them has been nonoperational for three years due to broken equipment. The president was surprised to hear this, stating that she was unaware of the situation despite riding past it many times.

Schatzel’s response reiterated the importance of gaining insight through the listening sessions.

U of L’s overarching goals in increasing community engagement were also a key issue in the discussion. She says the plan is to provide some of the same resources we have on campus to the surrounding community.

Schatzel mentioned that the university worked with Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers to place $1.5 Million in the university’s budget to support immigration lawyers, of which the state is experiencing a shortage. U of L would assist lawyers with paperwork to help refugees gain citizenship. The initiative is just one of several programs and partnerships the university plans to implement and expand.

The university doesn’t have a strategic plan for community engagement but we can expect to see one this year, Schatzel said.

She described U of L as one of the most decentralized universities she’s been to. The president plans to continue communication with students and faculty through events like the Fireside Chats, featuring other senior leaders.

The next Fireside Chat with Doug Craddock and Lee Gill is on May 8 and will focus on DEI issues. Her next listening session for Health Sciences Campus (HSC) students is from noon to 1 p.m. in the School of Nursing on April 24th.

Photo Courtesy // Matt Stone, The Courier Journal; U of L Libraries