With a historic summer that saw the University achieve a landmark victory for affirmative action at the U.S. Supreme Court now coming to an end, University administrators should now turn toward the task of improving one of the University’s most persistent shortcomings: undergraduate education. Many of the challenges the University will face in the coming year concern the experience of the University’s undergraduates. With over 24,000 undergraduates studying at the Ann Arbor campus, they are central to the University’s financial viability and its daily life. But undergraduates are largely overlooked at this massive institution where many professors and administrators are geared toward advanced research and graduate education.
One of the prime concerns of University undergraduates is the runaway tuition costs which have plagued campus in the last several years. This year’s 6.5 percent increase is excessive, all the more so when piled on top of the 7.9 percent increase of the previous year. University officials continually stress their concerns with current tuition rates, but they have yet to tame this beast. Thus far, candidates running to serve on the University Board of Regents have only been able to offer empty platitudes and symbolic votes of opposition against the steady upswing in tuition. Tuition has been so unaffordable for many families that the University’s efforts to defend affirmative action and create a diverse student body may have been compromised. A great number of the students the University has worked so hard to recruit simply can no longer afford to attend the school.
Despite the University’s tight budget in recent years, it has devoted a tremendous number of resources to Life Sciences at Michigan, making an important contribution to the state’s Life Sciences Corridor. The first building, the Life Sciences Institute, of the planned four building complex will be unveiled to the media on Sept. 15. While the initiative is generally on course, administrators must keep a close watch on Life Sciences at Michigan to assure that it indeed becomes a world-class research initiative offering undergraduates the educational resources and opportunities worthy of its steep price tag.
Gov. Jennifer Granholm and the state Legislature must also live up to the state’s commitment to the entire corridor so that the University’s efforts can contribute to a vibrant statewide research program. This state investment is necessary in order to revitalize Michigan’s economy and lure hightech jobs to an economically troubled state. State officials promised $50 million a year to the corridor, but recently have failed to even approach this figure, putting the success of the corridor and the state’s future in jeopardy.
While administrators work to assure the success of the Life Sciences at Michigan, they must involve undergraduates in the initiative and many of the other prestigious research initiatives the University undertakes. Improving undergraduate education has to be a priority for administrators, as it is often forgotten in the race to be awarded the latest patent and to publish the most up-to-date research. Many of the University’s most prominent researchers often do not teach undergraduates. This responsibility too often falls on the backs of overworked graduate students.
August marked the one-year anniversary of President Mary Sue Coleman’s tenure at the University. She could make an encouraging overture to the University’s undergraduates by teaching a course just as her predecessor Lee Bollinger did during his tenure at the University. Coleman has yet to teach a course since she took the reins last year.
Her failure to teach a course is representative of one of her major faults: a lack of presence on campus. While her work behind the scenes to promote the University and Life Sciences at Michigan is admirable, she must develop a connection with students in the upcoming year. Arranging to teach a course would be a beneficial experience for both Coleman and her students, offering her an opportunity to intellectually engage with the student body and apprise herself of the concerns that animate student life at the University.