Four years ago, the Michigan Legislature promised the four universities composing the Michigan Life Sciences Corridor $50 million in grants for 20 years. Unfortunately, as a result of the state’s financial crisis, the annual grants have been decreasing in size to $40 million and $30 million. The grants given to the University this year on May 28, totaled $7.28 million. While Gov. Jennifer Granholm and the Legislature are facing acute funding problems, it is important that the Life Sciences Corridor remain a priority for state officials and that it not be allowed to wither away as a result of stringent fiscal policies.
The four universities joined together to form the corridor consist of the University, Michigan State University, Wayne State University and the Van Andel Institute in Grand Rapids. The benefits to learning created by the teaming of these institutions and the joint prestige garnered from the large grant promised from the state are now threatened without the money that was once promised. The University has invested almost a billion dollars thus far on the Life Sciences Initiative, and if the state doesn’t provide the resources to allow the program to flourish, the University’s contribution would be in danger of appearing to be a misappropriation based on a false faith in the state. The selection of Mary Sue Coleman to be the University’s president was likely largely based on her strong background in the sciences and the expertise and strong connections she has developed in the field. Her selection was intended to strengthen LSI; the University’s commitment in the corridor is beyond question.
The Life Sciences Initiative does extremely important work that not only promises to enhance the prestige of the University, but will also help improve the quality of lives and the length of lives for people around the world. The program studies ways to fight and treat diseases, quite possibly the most important and humane developments for the scientific community to be pursuing. Even with the decreased funds, the grants received will be used to research such important tasks as fighting cancer and brain lesions. There are budget cuts that need to be made, but policymakers must be cognizant of the important work that the Life Sciences Corridor does before they make cuts to the program. Science and important medical research should not be the victims of a poor economy.
Another major motivation behind the Life Sciences Corridor is to revitalize the state’s economy. When young people graduate from college, they often migrate out of the state to regions in the country where jobs for young people are more plentiful. One of Granholm’s stated objectives as governor is to revitalize Michigan so that it is no longer seen as a dying Rust Belt state. Each year, the University graduates thousands of bright, young individuals. Many of them have degrees in the sciences and are currently having trouble finding work in the state. These graduates depend on a strong life sciences industry, which must be enhanced by the corridor. Granholm also recently gave a speech on Mackinac Island to the Detroit Regional Chamber explaining her desire to make Michigan a more “hip” state for young people. This goal will be much more difficult to achieve without a robust Life Sciences Corridor to attract these young people.
Not only does the corridor provide an opportunity to make tremendous medical advances and to improve the University’s prestige, but its success is vital to the revitalization of the state.