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Regents fly to California for meetings

By Jennifer Calfas, Daily Staff Reporter
and Sam Gringlas, Daily Staff Reporter
and Peter Shahin, Daily News Editor
Published January 15, 2013

Instead of their monthly meeting in the Michigan Union’s Anderson Room, the University’s Board of Regents will trade the cold Michigan winter for the sunny warmth of California.

Beginning on Thursday, seven members of the board will join University President Mary Sue Coleman and other University officials for a two-day trip to Los Angeles. In place of the regularly scheduled, public Regents meeting, the delegation will engage donors as well as meet with California’s top academics to discuss the future of higher education.

In order to grapple with issues currently facing universities, the ensemble will meet with Robert Birgeneau, recently retired chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley; Stanford University President John Hennessy; Robert Berdahl, former president of the Association of American Universities; and Dan Russell, one of Google’s top research scientists.

Coleman said in a December interview the primary goal of the excursion is to learn about issues facing other universities across the nation and how these institutions have responded.

“We’re very interested in issues related to the future of education, particularly public higher education — the challenges, the opportunities — and we have an opportunity in meeting out there,” Coleman said. “They all have a perspective that is very interesting. There is no way I could get those people to come out here.”

In addition to Coleman, the group includes University Provost Philip Hanlon; Jerry May, the University’s vice president for development; and Sally Churchill, the vice president and secretary of the University. This trip will be the first semi-official board duty for newly inaugurated Regents Mark Bernstein (D-Ann Arbor) and Shauna Ryder Diggs (D-Detroit). Regent Katherine White (D-Ann Arbor) is the only regent not attending.

As part of the trip, University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said the board plans to take time to strategize and have broad conversations about the future of the University, a goal often overshadowed by the usual scripted agenda of monthly board meetings. He added that this experience will assist the University in staying at the forefront of higher education.

Regent Denise Ilitch (D-Bingham Farms) wrote in an e-mail interview that the regents plan to discuss issues such as affordability and access, the changing nature of how students learn, changes in health care at campus medical centers and the increasing competition for research dollars.

“I look forward to more meetings that allow us to learn, exchange ideas and promote the virtues of the University of Michigan,” Ilitch wrote. “It is vitally important to be an ‘ambassador’ of our great institution.”

University representatives also hope to glean insight into how UC administrators have coped with the economic catastrophe that has crippled the system over the past decade.

According to UC-Berkeley spokeswoman Dianne Klein, the state of California contributed only 37 percent of the cost required to educate a student for the current school year.

Nathan Brostrom, executive vice president of business operations for the UC system, told the New York Times in June that though the system is one of the most prestigious higher education systems in the nation, its campuses are facing one of the worst financial crises since the Great Depression.

May, Regents to solicit donors

While the conditions have been especially difficult in California, public universities across the nation, including the University, have faced formidable fiscal challenges. More than 40 states decreased their higher education budgets this past year, spending one-fifth less per student compared to a decade ago.