The University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Wayne State University announced last week the creation of the University Research Corridor, a collaboration that they hope will help transform Michigan’s economy and solve the state’s economic woes. The corridor’s website even says the partnership will “lead us all to a better future.”
That certainly sounds promising – everyone wants a better future. But what is the University Research Corridor? As it turns out, not much. The name refers to the partnership between these universities, but that relationship is nothing new. There is a longstanding tradition of cooperation between the three schools, and it is unclear what, if anything, will change under the new name. The University, for instance, is not dedicating any new staff or funding to the initiative. This union of the state’s research universities signals a change in rhetoric, not a change in policy.
Despite its superficial nature, the corridor already has done something by attracting public attention. Getting more Michigan residents and legislators to recognize the role the state’s research universities can play in turning around Michigan’s economy is a worthy end in itself. The formalization of this partnership also could translate to increased cooperation between the schools, helping them earn grants and form partnerships with the private sector.
Research and development at the state’s research universities can create jobs and contribute to the growth of high-tech industries like alternative energy, nanotechnology and life sciences. Although the partnership may appear to be little more than a PR strategy, it can help the public and the state Legislature understand the unique role the state’s research universities play. In an era of declining state support for higher education, any effort that can increase public awareness of the importance of Michigan’s research universities is welcome. Still, simply giving a name to the existing relationship between these universities can’t produce the much-needed change Michigan’s economy needs to diversify beyond its decaying manufacturing base.