Fourteen months into her tenure as
president of the University, Mary Sue Coleman has an agenda.

Kate Green

She spent the first fourteen months finishing up where Lee
Bollinger left off – literally left off – for an Ivy League
presidency.

With Bollinger’s unceremonious departure, the two scientists
Bollinger signed up to head the Life Sciences Institute, Scott Emr
and Jack Dixon, decided they didn’t want the job without Bollinger,
and two executive officers – the vice president for development and
chief financial officer – figured they’d rather be at Lee C.’s
Columbia than stay here.

So upon taking over in August 2002, Coleman had to find
replacements for those positions, as well as the job of provost
(vacant since April 2001), and soon after she had to fill the LSA
and Law School deanships.

And then there was defending the University against the
admissions lawsuits – no small task.

But now the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled, the undergraduate
admissions system has been modified and Coleman’s team has been
assembled.

So, what to do?

During a meeting last Thursday with Daily editors, Coleman
seemed to have a found an area in which to take the initiative.

“Do we want as a nation to have public universities as equal as
good private universities?” she said. “I think we do.”

“I want to shift the conversation from people saying, ‘What is
the cost of going to university?’ and shifting it to, ‘What is the
cost of letting this go?’ “

Coleman is right in that declining financial support from the
states and the feds has meant schools have had to cut back on
programs and raise tuition. But tuition raised at rates higher than
increases in inflation, as has been the practice, will cause
enrollment to drop – and the University will suffer.

Recent projections that the state will have to cut $700 to $900
million out of the current 2003-4 budget is bad news for the
University, Coleman conceded.

State Rep. Mike Pumford (R-Newaygo), who sits on the House
subcommittee charged with recommending state funding for
universities and community colleges, said that if the state does
not change its tax system, Michiganders will suffer.

“If we were to balance that budget on a 5-percent cut” – without
raising new state revenues – “we’d have to cut $127 million out of
health, $81 million out of corrections, $81 million out of higher
education, $70 million dollars in revenue sharing, $12 million from
state police, $14 million from community college,” Pumford said
(read: fewer indigents receive health care, prisoners released
early, fewer cops on the beat and fewer troopers on the road).

“The list just goes on and on,” Pumford said. “There’s no fat
left to be cut out there.”

A deficit of that size guarantees that the University will see
some cuts. That means students can expect higher tuition, larger
class sizes, more graduate students and adjunct faculty teaching
courses and, oh yeah, some programs might be cut.

“It’s hard for me to imagine with everything we’ve gone through
to think we can hold everything harmless,” if the state cuts
University funding, Coleman said.

As we all know, politicians don’t like raising taxes, and taxes
will have to be raised on at least some people if the state – and
maybe even the feds – are to give more support to the
universities.

So this is an opportunity for Coleman to “show real leadership,”
as they say, and she has vowed to do that. One of her ideas is to
get corporations to lobby lawmakers for more support of the
universities, similar to the way in which the University solicited
amicus briefs to support its arguments before the Supreme Court
this year.

And it’s her job to do that, not to handle day-to-day management
issues, but to look out for the long-term interests of the
University. In other words, this is what the University Board of
Regents hired her to do.

Coleman has some convincing to do. Now let’s see if she can pull
it off.

Meizlish can be reached at
“mailto:meizlish@umich.edu”>meizlish@umich.edu.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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