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On Monday, the University of Michigan Senate Assembly met in the Michigan League, where Provost Martin Philbert discussed the fiscal context of general higher education as well as budget demands and changes and investments to expect at the University. Elections for the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs were held after nominees gave short remarks to the group.

Senate Assembly Chair Neil Marsh called the meeting to order and welcomed Philbert who began his presentation by acknowledging recent attitude shifts regarding educational spending and the scrutiny of institutions of higher education.

“We in Ann Arbor and other campuses around the country are constantly accused of being the last bastion of liberal thought and of actively propelling diversity of thought,” Philbert said. “There’s a pervasive perception both inside our walls as well as outside that spending is wasteful, extravagant and not transparent.”

Philbert countered these arguments by defending the value a bachelor’s degree holds in our society, along with research and the pursuit and accumulation of knowledge.

“Research certainly advances knowledge; the whole point of scholarship in many regards is to uncover new understanding, new insight or new knowledge itself, and hopefully if not immediately, at some point they will become useful to society,” Philbert said. “Certainly, the University has been, and for the foreseeable future will be, one of the major conservatories of history and culture.”

Philbert continued, articulating how the University receives funding from a range of sources, both private and public, and a careful equilibrium of finances must be maintained in a changing fiscal landscape. He also outlined budget goals and priorities, which included furthering academic excellence through a commitment to community engagement, access and affordability for a U-M education to all and enforcing fiscal discipline.

“Compared to many of our peers, the University receives a modest amount of state support per student, meaning that we must rely on other sources to deliver excellence and to provide the wealth of opportunities that we do,” Philbert said. “What are the goals of our budget here at the University of Michigan? Always, first and foremost is increasing academic excellence — enhanced access and affordability is something that Mark Schlissel has spoken about over and over again, and then it has always been there in our mission, but Mark has begun to talk more forcefully and more openly about societal engagement and societal impact.”

Philbert elaborated on the University’s investment in these goals, referencing the Biosciences Initiative, infrastructure development with the Michigan Research Cores, the potential of augmented-, virtual- and mixed-reality technology and research on poverty solutions. He also reiterated the success of programs such as Wolverine Pathways, the HAIL scholarship and Go Blue Guarantee, which provide access to higher education for low-income students.

“This is not ivory-tower research — faculty and students are deeply connected with communities working with local and state governments, public schools, health care providers and organizations,” Philbert said. “With augmented, virtual and mixed reality in the changing landscape of higher education, we’re investing in new ways to shape instruction and the undergraduate experience for the future.”

Philbert remarked specifically on the University’s continued investment in programs that make a U-M education more accessible to in-state and low-income students.

“Based on the success of HAIL, we’ve transitioned to the Go Blue Guarantee, which is free in-state tuition for all with a family income of less than $65,000,” Philbert said.

Philbert concluded by looking ahead to future challenges, like a dip in high school graduates in Michigan, and acknowledging the University’s successes thus far.

“Clearly, we have a national and international brand that has been able to attract the brightest and best,” Philbert said.

Following the provost’s presentation, the 10 nominees to competing for three open spots in SACUA gave short remarks before voting commenced. The winners of the SACUA election were Sara Ahbel-Rappe, professor of Greek and Latin; Elena Gallo, associate professor of astronomy; and Annalisa Manera, professor of nuclear engineering and radiological sciences.  

In her statement, Abhel-Rappe spoke of the importance of faculty governance in carrying out the mission of the University.

“I was asked to run for SACUA as the only humanities candidate on the ballot, and I do think that here at U of M we are extremely fortunate that the humanities continue to flourish and faculty continue to produce world-class research,” Abhel-Rappe said “We have to defend the idea that our values, our cultures, our civilizations are not for sale.”

Gallo expressed her belief in the importance of academic freedom in institutions of higher education and working to decrease skepticism and distress in these values.

“If elected, I will promote and advocate for efforts to facilitate and institutionalize the full inclusion of excellence in STEM fields,” Gallo said.

Manera spoke on the importance of communication between faculty and administration and ensuring that faculty opinions are heard.

“… I will work hard to make sure that we as faculty have strong input on the policy decision-making,” Manera said.

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