The Workforce Investment Needs proposal, recently unveiled by Republicans in the state House, seeks to change the way funds are distributed to the state’s 15 public universities. Last week, this page criticized the unfinished plan for using funding formulas to prod university administrators into making decisions that may be counterproductive to academic excellence, and further details released since then have revealed that both Wayne State University and Northern Michigan University would suffer 5-percent cuts under the proposal. Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s office recently expressed concern over this aspect of the plan, noting that universities in conservative districts fare better under the Republican plan than those in liberal districts like Detroit. Whether or not Republicans are playing politics with university dollars, it would be a mistake to reduce funding to Wayne State. Such a move would damage one of Detroit’s few bright spots; the Legislature should recognize and take into consideration Wayne State’s important and badly needed role in the city before making such a decision.

While Detroit continues to falter under the leadership of Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, Wayne State is one of the few institutions that economically, intellectually and socially invigorates the city. As the only university in Detroit, Wayne State provides many services that otherwise would not be available. The university’s psychiatric centers, located throughout Detroit, provide psychiatric services to all patients, regardless of insurance coverage. The Detroit Medical Center, affiliated directly with the university, runs several health clinics and camps at various times of the year that provide crucial health services free of charge. Additionally, the law school provides free legal representation to the poor. These services are vital given Detroit’s high poverty rates, but they may be threatened if Wayne State’s funding is reduced.

The resources Wayne State brings to Detroit are too many to list. The Wayne State School of Medicine is the fourth-largest medical school in the country and brings in many talented students from top undergraduate institutions. Put to use in the DMC, its research benefits patients while furthering the state’s efforts to become a leader in life sciences. Wayne State’s College of Urban, Labor and Metropolitan Affairs was established in 1985 as part of an effort to carry out the university’s urban mission, to fulfill what the university calls “a special commitment to address the social, economic and political issues facing urban areas generally — and Detroit particularly.” It is already in danger of being dismantled due to funding constraints, and further cuts will likely seal its fate.

By drawing young, college-educated people to Detroit, Wayne State has the potential to initiate population and economic growth in the city. In recent years, the university has focused on building its on-campus community, and the effort has enabled its students to see Detroit as a livable city and brought new vitality to the area around its campus. These students bring business to Detroit’s stores and traffic to its empty sidewalks; their presence plays an important role in rebuilding a sense of community within the city.

Wayne State’s very direct benefit to Detroit must be taken into account when determining state funding. The university’s reach extends beyond the city limits as well; with 90 percent of the university’s alumni living and working in Michigan, Wayne State can help the state build a more highly educated workforce. Recent years have already brought significant budget reductions to the university, and it would be unwise to disproportionately reduce its funding even more. Slashing funds to Wayne State, as Republicans propose, would harm not only Detroit but the entire state. In order to rebound economically, Michigan must not overlook Detroit, and reducing its investment in one of Detroit’s most important institutions would be an unfortunate step backward.

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