The University Board of Regents’s approval of the plans for the new Ross School of Business last Friday has shed light on the University’s critical need for more funding. The $145 million plan will tear down and replace the B-School’s current building, primarily using funds from last year’s generous donation by alum Stephen Ross. Although the new building is hardly the most essential addition to campus, the University should be grateful for Ross’s gift. Able alumni and lawmakers must recognize the importance of investing in higher education as Ross has and step up to provide the University with the funding it needs.
The new building will be a great resource for B-School students, but it is disappointing to see the rest of the University suffer from drastic funding cuts. Consistent reductions in state appropriations have forced the University to hire fewer professors and increase class sizes. Although the boost to the Business School’s image may trickle down to the University, it will not even begin to fix the larger, more pressing problems.
Governor Granholm and state legislators need to fund higher education as promised. This year, average tuition at Michigan’s public universities increased by the third-highest rate in the nation – a direct result of the state’s neglect of universities. The only way universities can cope with these substantial cuts is to choose between raising tuition and lowering academic quality. The state’s failure to sufficiently fund higher education runs in direct contrast to Granholm’s goal to bolster Michigan’s floundering manufacturing-based economy by doubling the number of college graduates in the state.
In addition to pressuring the state to prioritize higher education, University President Mary Sue Coleman must continue her efforts to reach out to alumni for donations and emphasize the continuous importance of higher education. Alumni should be encouraged to make donations to the general fund, allowing the University to fund programs and University initiatives that are most in need. Coleman should also emphasize donations to financial-aid programs like M-PACT that provide need-based assistance and directly help students from low and middle-income families afford a college education. Alumni donations will best help the University maintain its quality and integrity in the face of state cuts if the University has the discretion to put them to the most effective use.
Although the state of higher education in Michigan faces far more pressing issues than the state of the University’s B-School facilities, Ross has the right idea in prioritizing higher education, and the state and other alumni should follow his lead. Nevertheless, justifying the construction of an opulent new building is difficult when, by the rest of the University’s standards, the current building hardly seems worthy of the wrecking ball. It is unfortunate that the new building could not be located elsewhere and its predecessor spared. The College of Literature, Science, and the Arts would likely be more than happy to take the former building off the B-School’s hands – it might even save on demolition costs.