It takes a lot of work to operate the
“Harvard of the Midwest.” The University, without a
doubt one of the best in the nation, has an operating budget
measured in the billions of dollars and a student population close
to 40,000. To make this education behemoth function smoothly, the
University Board of Regents hire, a president, as well as a complex
tree of deans, vice-presidents and provosts. Recently however, many
administrators have left the University in order to pursue
positions in the Ivy League; others have left for higher posts at
institutions on the same tier as the University. It is becoming
clear that the University needs to take action to prevent this
trend from continuing.

Mira Levitan

In recent years, the University has lost President Lee
Bollinger, Law School Dean Jeffrey Lehman, LSA Dean Shirley Neuman,
Provost Nancy Cantor and several faculty members from other areas
of the University. Now, the dean of the Rackham Graduate School,
Earl Lewis, is leaving to become provost of Emory University.

Without an experienced core of administrators, no university can
function properly. Lee Bollinger returned to the University in 1997
from Dartmouth University, only to leave within five years to
accept a position at Columbia University in New York. Following his
departure, many key administrators, including virtually every
high-level Life Sciences executive, left. As a result, when
President Mary Sue Coleman joined the University in 2002, many
permanent as well as interim positions were left unfilled. As a
result, many of the important issues facing the University, such as
the massive budget crisis and affirmative action cases, were
handled by a temporary and incomplete group of administrators.

Some administrators’ departures have merely signified a
natural advancement. If an administrator at the University is
offered a more prestigious job, there is a clear incentive to
leave. It is understandable that Bollinger left for Columbia and
that Lehman left for Cornell. But while it is possible to
rationalize these departures, the fact remains: They still hurt the
University. Furthermore, the tendency of administrators to leave
for higher positions raises a concern: Is the University a mere
stepping stone for enterprising executives seeking elite Ivy League
positions?

The high rate of turnover for administrators should serve as a
lesson to the University. The regents should strive to hire
administrators who have a serious dedication to the school and are
prepared to remain at the University for an extended period of
time, not merely until they are beckoned by the Ivy League. As the
University begins the search to replace the dean of Rackham, it
should emphasize criteria such as dedication and commitment to the
University. Additionally, if the University provides special
incentives, like additional pay conditional on remaining in Ann
Arbor for longer periods of time, to make executive jobs more
appealing, administrators might stick around longer.

When looking for Lewis’s replacement, it would be wise for
the search committee to examine whether the candidates are as
dedicated to the University as they are to their career
advancement.

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