In a statement released Friday, University President Mary Sue Coleman hinted at her disapproval of a letter sent last week to a state legislator with her name on it, but would not go as far as to denounce it.
The letter, which bore Coleman’s name without her explicit approval, advocated for the passage of a state budget plan that would eliminate the Michigan Promise Scholarship.
The letterhead included Coleman’s name along with 70 other business and political leaders from the Detroit-based Business Leaders for Michigan. It was addressed to Dave Hildenbrand (R–Lowell), the Republican floor leader for the state House of Representatives. It is dated Oct. 6.
Coleman and three other state university presidents — Jerry Noren of Wayne State University, Gary Russi of Oakland University and Lou Anna Simon of Michigan State University — are members of the organization, but only Doug Rothwell, the group’s president and CEO, signed the letter.
“I belong to dozens of organizations where the membership isn’t always in full alignment on all issues, and this is no exception,” Coleman wrote in the statement.
“The issues surrounding this year’s budget are very serious, and they will continue to be so next year and beyond,” she continued. “It is in the best interests of the state to look to the long term and focus on the highest priorities — including higher education — as we lay the groundwork for the future.”
In an e-mail to the Daily, University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald wrote that Coleman “did not know about the letter before it was sent.”
The letter expresses disappointment over the legislature’s failure to pass a budget for the fiscal year 2009-2010 by the Oct. 1 deadline, and recommends the adoption of a budget agreement reached between Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop (R–Rochester) and House Speaker Andy Dillon (D–Redford Twp.), according to a copy obtained by The Associated Press.
Under the terms of that agreement, the Michigan Promise Scholarship would be eliminated.
The Promise Scholarship program provides money to more than 96,000 Michigan college students that can total anywhere from $500 to $4,000 over four years.
A merit examination given in high schools determines students’ eligibility for the grants.
Fitzgerald told the Daily last month that an estimated 6,096 students at the University of Michigan would benefit from the program this academic year.
As lawmakers race to pass a budget already more than a week overdue, quarrels over how to close the deficit gap leave the Promise Scholarship hanging in the balance, with the Republican-controlled Senate moving to cut programs and the Democrat-controlled House looking for ways to increase revenues, like raising certain taxes.
In the letter, Rothwell is more sympathetic to the Republican philosophy. He writes, “we discourage the adoption of any revenue enhancements or tax increases, including the closure of ‘tax loopholes,’ to solve the budget deficit. Any tax increase would be another temporary solution to the long-term structural budget problems we face and would continue to prevent Michigan’s economic revival.”
The letter first surfaced in a Detroit Free Press report Thursday afternoon.
Noren told the paper that the letter did not reflect Wayne State’s position and was not approved by him. The report also said Simon “sent a letter indicating she also was opposed to (the letter’s) contents.”
— Daily News Editor Kyle Swanson contributed to this report.