As the year draws to a close, and as the
University ends another chapter in its history, it is worthwhile to
look back and reflect on this past semester. When students returned
to Ann Arbor in September, they returned to an institution in flux
—forced to adapt after a summer of landmark court cases and
impending budget cuts, the University was in a state of change as
it attempted to work within these new legal and financial
constraints. Now, as students prepare to head home, and as fall
2003 gives way to winter 2004, it is time to analyze the events of
the past few months and see what can be done in the future.
When school ended last April, a cloud hung
heavy over the University. Within a few months, the Law School and
LSA affirmative action cases would be over, and the
constitutionality of using race in college admissions would be
firmly established. In July, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that
affirmative action was constitutional, but that the LSA admission
system was not. The system, which granted an extra 20 points (out
of a possible 150) to underrepresented minorities, was too close to
a quota system. Consequently, LSA was forced to develop a new
admissions policy and undergraduate application.
The result is a more comprehensive, but less objective,
admissions process. In addition to making a letter of
recommendation mandatory, the new application requires three new
essays on topics relating to diversity, personal experience and
personal opinions. These changes create a much more comprehensive
admissions system, as individual personality can be accounted for.
The ultimate goal, of creating a well-rounded and diverse freshman
class, should be greatly aided by this revised application.
Unfortunately, this application is also much more rigorous than
the previous edition, discouraging many potential applicants from
applying. At this point, the number of applications received is
less than at the same point last year. Many high school officials
oppose the new application because it increases their workload.
However, all the pros and cons of this application will not be
known until next year, when the admitted students take their places
at the University. Right now, despite the extra work involved, the
new admissions process appears to be a positive change, but only
time will reveal its true nature.
Another grave challenge that the
University has faced this semester is the massive budget cuts
imposed by the state. The State, in an effort to balance its
budget, dug heavily into funding for higher education: for the 2004
fiscal year, the University will have to absorb more than $50
million in cuts.
In a Nov. 20 address to the University Board of Regents, Provost
Paul Courant highlighted many of the ways in which the University
cut costs this semester. Efficiency increased, as the University
took unprecedented steps to reduce material and labor inefficiency.
Hundreds of open job positions were closed in an effort to save
money. Additionally, the executive officers of the University
turned down any pay increases for themselves. Unfortunately,
students also had to bear a significant portion of the cost, as
tuition was increased yet again. Furthermore, class sizes were
increased, and fewer sections were offered for many classes.
Fortunately, despite some sacrifices, core academic services and
facilities continued to serve students, and the University was able
to avoid many of the more drastic consequences of these tough
Mary Sue Coleman, entering her second year
as president of the University, also made significant attempts at
improving her image on campus. In an act of extreme generosity,
Coleman returned nearly $500,000 of her annual salary to the
University. Coleman also agreed to participate in a mentorship
program in taking four freshmen under her wing.
This is a marked increase in her campus involvement, but is
unfortunately not enough. Coleman still has not followed in the
tradition of many former University presidents, in that she has yet
to teach an undergraduate class. Coleman, with her doctorate in
biochemistry, is more than qualified to teach a class at the
University. Even though it is too late to incorporate a class for
winter term, it would behoove Coleman to consider the idea of
running a course sometime in the future.
The past semester also saw another series
of labor disputes in Ann Arbor. While some, such as the Borders
labor dispute have indirect, but significant effects on students,
others threatened the student body directly. Just in the past
month, the Graduate Employees Organization, a union representing
graduate student instructors, threatened to go on a grade strike to
protest an increase in its healthcare premiums. This strike was
narrowly averted when the University and GEO reached a
The Life Sciences Institute was also
completed this semester. The LSI, part of a state initiative to
create a life sciences economic corridor, has been in the works for
several years. Other life sciences facilities are under
construction to join the LSI, and should be major assets to the
University. Unfortunately, since Life Sciences at Michigan is not
complete, the LSI has had thus far very little significance for
students and undergraduate education, and its true potential
Surprisingly, for a semester filled with
change, one of the high points was a Michigan tradition. On Nov.
22, the 100th football game against Ohio State was played in the
Big House. On that day, not only did Michigan pull off a solid win,
the Wolverines clinched the Big Ten title. As a result, Michigan
secured its 18th Rose Bowl appearance, more than any other team in
Overall, this semester was tough — it presented the
University with many simultaneous challenges of significant
difficulty and importance. These challenges, while well met, are by
no means conquered. The upcoming semester will bring with it
additional budget crises, further tests of the new admissions
policy, and other unforeseen problems. But until then,
there’s a break. After a week of exams, and a semester of
challenge, it is time for the University community to relax, and
smell the roses.