What if, what if: What if University President Lee Bollinger”s name had been in the Harvard presidential search committee”s envelope? Crimson-blooded economist Lawrence H. Summers” name was announced as Harvard”s next president yesterday, culminating weeks of a three-man fraternity rush where campus has waited to see if Harvard would pick Bollinger and if he would pick them back. After all, can you turn down the presidency of Harvard?

Nobody would want Bollinger to leave the University, but there”s a tiny part of us that wanted him to get picked because he”s a winner, a leader and the best, and we at Michigan not only like winning but demand it. Bollinger”s courting by Harvard has resulted in coffee-group and study-group therapy as campus tries to solve its sudden identity crisis:

Is Michigan Harvard, or at least Harvard-esque?

Now Mom always told us to just be ourselves and not draw comparisons to the pretty, popular girl with new Guess? jeans, but a little narcissistic analysis is always fun (and inevitable). And so some people are puffing out their chests, pointing to the business and medical schools, chanting “Harvard: the Michigan of the East.” Others register on the opposite end of the self-esteem scale, wondering what we could do to be a better school the kind where when choosing between Harvard and Michigan, turning down Michigan”s presidency would be debatably nuts.

Why be so obsessed with becoming or proving we already are Harvard?

Yes, competition breeds excellence, but I find the hang-up to be completely pathetic.

It”s simple: Money creates opportunity and develops prestige and we”re a public school that will never have the endowment of a top private school, let alone that of Harvard”s, the nation”s richest school. Because we rely on state funding, roughly three-quarters of the University”s students have to come from Michigan. And as bright as the top students from the state may be, there”s no comparison to being able to draw entirely from an international pool. We are not, and cannot, be Harvard. And then it gets more complicated: Defining “best.” So we might not be the “best,” but let”s not forget that the “best” education is found at the school where the student is most enlightened and challenged. That might be at Harvard, that might be at Michigan, it might be at Oberlin or Swarthmore or Washtenaw Community College.

Even if Michigan is not the “best,” it is clear that our president is. The Bollinger-fan smarm disclaimer: I”m not looking for a law school recommendation, I have never taken his class and I serve on zero committees (a certain search committee included). I”m a big Bollinger supporter because he deserves admiration for being the president he is now and the legacy he will leave, be it next year or a decade from now. There”s a small but reasonably vocal minority that dislikes Bollinger, mainly because their opinion narrow-mindedly rests on his handling of the Nike deal perhaps forgetting that changing international labor laws, although noble, is not the primary role of a college president.

We are a great public school. Emphasis on public.

Harvard is a great private school. Great for Harvard.

We have a fantastic president (next year”s pay increase will be significant, hmmm?) who could have been offered a position more prestigious than the presidency of the University. Ouch? Let”s get over it. I hope Bollinger wouldn”t have stayed just to make us feel better about ourselves. Michigan is Michigan, not Harvard. And there”s nothing wrong with that.

Emily Achenbaum”s column runs every other Monday. Give her feedback at http://www.michigandaily.com/forum/ or via e-mail at emilylsa@umich.edu.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *