In State of 'U,' Coleman to talk cost cuts, faculty hiring

By Kyle Swanson, Daily News Editor
Published October 26, 2010

Mirroring themes from past addresses, University President Mary Sue Coleman is expected to focus on the core topics of cost containment, faculty hiring and academic excellence in her annual State of the University speech later today.

Coleman will deliver her speech at a special ceremony in the University of Michigan Museum of Art auditorium at 3 p.m. Details surrounding exactly what she will say during the speech have been tightly guarded, but core topics were shared with The Michigan Daily yesterday. In the past, the speech has been used to launch major initiatives in a variety of areas, including those Coleman is expected to talk about today.

In a statement issued to the Daily, University spokesperson Kelly Cunningham shared the three areas Coleman will focus on and explained the purpose of the annual speech.

“President Coleman uses the State of the University address as an opportunity to update the community and engage in conversation about important University topics,” Cunningham wrote. “She looks forward to it every year.”

While Coleman focused a great deal of her speech last year on environmental sustainability, the themes expected to be featured in her address today have been staples of previous State of the University addresses.

Last year, Coleman announced she would require University officials to continue extensive cost containment efforts, saying she wanted to eliminate $100 million in recurring expenses from the University’s General Fund over the next three years.

“Now we must double our intensity. Double it,” Coleman said sternly in her address last year. To date, the University’s ongoing cost-cutting measures have helped to eliminate more than $135 million in annual recurring costs.

But last year, Coleman’s address came after the sobering news of a $1.6 billion drop in the University’s endowment.

“No organization can absorb a 20-percent loss in investments and not feel it,” Coleman said last year. “But we are slowly recovering because of an investment strategy that is conservative and yet focused on long-term performance.”

The University’s endowment has seen significant improvement in the past year, regaining $600 million of the prior loss this year. Despite this gain, Coleman has emphasized in numerous public appearances and interviews with the Daily that she believes cost containment is necessary to prevent tuition increases from skyrocketing as state appropriations continue to fall. State legislators voted last month to cut funding to public universities by 2.8 percent.

In addition to finances, faculty hiring — another topic Coleman is expected to address in tomorrow’s speech — has been a prevalent theme in past State of the University addresses.
In her 2007 address, Coleman announced a plan to hire 100 interdisciplinary junior faculty members over the course of five years. The initiative included allocating $30 million of central funding — $10 million for salaries and benefits of the new hires and $20 million for start-up costs.

The program put the University in a situation that is somewhat unique among peer institutions by allowing officials to seek new faculty members for the past several years as the economy took a tumble. At the same time, other institutions across the country have implemented hiring freezes to cope with losses in endowment revenue and cuts in state funding.

University Provost Philip Hanlon told members of the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs last month that he would like to see the student to faculty ratio decrease in the future — something that would only be possible if the University enrolled fewer students or continued to increase the number of faculty members.

Coleman is also expected to address the University’s academic excellence in her speech today.

No details about what she will say on the topic have been released. However, University officials boasted about the freshman class’s high academic performance in a release about enrollment on Monday.

According to the press release, 30 percent of the students in the freshman class scored between 31 and 36 on their ACT test — a feat achieved by only four percent of students nationwide.

Additionally, 13 percent of the 2010 incoming class earned a perfect 4.0 grade point average in high school, while the average grade point average was 3.8.

University officials also highlighted the success of students once they reach the University in Monday’s data release. According to the same press release, the University has “one of the country’s best” six-year graduation rates, with 89.4 percent of students graduating within six years.