Bienen, Banis, Sunshine answer questions at forum

Becky Olles

“Challenging.” “Excellent.” “Great.”

These were the words used by Eugene Sunshine, senior vice president for business and finance; William Banis, vice president for student affairs; and University President Henry S. Bienen, when asked to describe Northwestern in one word. The three administrators answered students’ questions at the McCormick Tribune Center on Thursday night in an Associated Student Government forum.

About 50 students attended the event, asking questions about diversity, sexual assault and safety, sustainability and other issues of importance to them. Over the course of an hour and a half, Banis, Bienen and Sunshine responded to questions based on their areas of expertise.

The forum was originally scheduled to take place during Winter Quarter, but Banis and Bienen were unavailable at that time, said Maggie Jim, the organizer of the event and a member of ASG’s finance board.

The SESP junior said she considered the event to be a “success.” Students were “a lot more engaged” compared to previous forums held during Winter Quarter, she said.

Kate Funkhouser, a Weinberg senior, attended the event and said she was grateful to be able to ask Bienen a question.

“I think the students all had really great questions,” she said. “I thought that it was great that Dr. Banis, Dr. Bienen and Dr. Sunshine all volunteered their time.”

Funkhouser’s question brought up the issue of the Sexual Assault Hearing and Appeals System. Two other students followed with questions about the system’s transparency and consistency, and Banis responded in defense of the process.

“The university’s hearing and appeals system operates independent of the courts as an internal process,” he said.

Students also mentioned concerns about campus diversity, inquiring about the university’s role in supporting and recruiting minority students.

“I think the commitment has been great; the actual results have not always been,” Bienen said. “I believe that things have been expressed that the university cares a lot about a diverse student body.”

The subject eliciting the most response from the three administrators was the university’s relationship with Evanston. Sunshine said he supported NU’s decision to not pay a fee in lieu of taxes, and he and Bienen said Evanston has forgotten what the university has done for the city in the past.

“A map that makes me pretty ill is a map that shows land that over the last 30 or 40 years has been sold around Ryan Field or around the main campus itself,” he said. “It was done for the reason that the university wanted to put the land back on tax rolls.”

The forum came to an end with the three administrators providing advice to the students.

Banis and Sunshine said students need to make an experience out of their years in college and appreciate all NU has to offer.

Bienen ended the forum – his last discussion with the student body.

“Sometimes I have students say to me, ‘You haven’t heard me,'” he said. “I’ve heard you. I might not agree with you, or I might even agree with you and not be able to do what you would like done. That’s part of the complexity of all of the constituents you’re dealing with.”

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