As the Presidential Search Advisory Committee concludes its series of public forums, the search continues for University President Mary Sue Coleman’s successor. The University’s next president must maintain not only Coleman’s excellent track record with regard to fundraising, community engagement and involvement with Detroit, but also as a leader with a vested interest in increasing the school’s socioeconomic diversity.

Throughout Coleman’s 12 years at the University, she has brought in many large donations; in the past year alone, donations from Stephen M. Ross, Charles Munger and the Zell Family Foundation have totaled $360 million. These donations contributed to the Ross School of Business and the Athletic Department, established plans for new graduate-student residence and supported the Masters of Fine Arts in creative-writing program. Coleman’s drive to find new funding is no accident: State appropriations for higher education declined by more than 26 percent between 2002 and 2012. The previous decade’s fundraising campaign, called The Michigan Difference, focused largely on facilities, including the various residence hall renovations. The next campaign, The Victors for Michigan, set to launch on Nov. 8, is focused on extending financial aid to University students. It’s critical that Coleman’s successor prioritizes fundraising that benefits a wider variety of students than some of the recent large-sum donations.

Many students have recently taken issue with policies and campaigns implemented under the leadership of Dave Brandon, the University’s athletic director, who assumed his position in 2010 and will remain through 2018. Although the Athletic Department is governed by its own written policies, the position is monitored by and accountable to a chain of command ending with the University’s president and the Board of Regents. Under Brandon, the Athletic Department has enacted unpopular admission protocol regarding student football and basketball tickets without informing students ahead of time, denying them the opportunity to respond prior to the decision becoming policy. Even though the future University president won’t have direct control over the Athletic Department, he or she should not treat it like an entirely autonomous body with goals separate from those of the University’s mission. Coleman’s successor should put pressure on Brandon to communicate with students before making significant changes and to make more well-prioritized expenditures.

Under Coleman, the University’s relationship with Detroit has flourished. The Detroit Center, a home for Detroit-based student and faculty projects located in the heart of downtown, opened in 2005. In 2008, Semester in Detroit began, and the Detroit Partnership volunteering initiative was re-focused to include more long-term service projects such as tutoring and mentoring. These programs provide excellent opportunities for students to experience and contribute to Detroit, and the future University president should use funds to maintain and expand what has already been achieved under Coleman. But giving current students an opportunity to connect with Detroit isn’t enough. The upcoming president needs to prioritize recruiting students from Detroit to the University.

Coleman has been a staunch supporter of affirmative action and minority enrollment, which is essential to the University’s mission. Despite this, minority enrollment has stagnated in recent years, and as of 2011 was approximately 14.5-percent and 13-percent lower than the national averages for both black and Hispanic students, respectively. A new president should be innovative in his or her ways of increasing minority enrollment and should develop more programs that foster a diverse and inclusive community. He or she should also focus on larger socioeconomic diversity, which can be achieved in part by devoting more fundraising to the creation of scholarships and financial aid. In general, the next University president should be sure to advocate for continued quality undergraduate education. Hiring of top-tier professors is key to maintaining an accurate reputation for educational excellence and attracting a continuous and diverse group of students and donors.

The University’s next president will need to work hard to match Coleman’s fundraising prowess and maintain and expand the University’s. Emphasis on increased financial aid and reasonable control of the Athletic Department are crucial. Above all, students should be involved in the processes that shape their University experience.

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