For centuries, scores of immigrants, writers, artists and entrepreneurs have journeyed to New York City in search of opportunity or inspiration.
Hoping to draw their own insights from a selection of the East Coast’s premier academic institutions, the University’s Board of Regents gathered in New York City late last week to discuss a range of topics, including the future of academic health centers and digital education.
The sessions, which were closed to the public, were held in place of the board’s regularly scheduled monthly meeting. This is the second time this board has opted for an out-of-state, January trip. Last year, the regents flew to Los Angeles to meet with leaders from Google, Stanford University and University of California-Berkeley.
In an interview with The Michigan Daily before the trip, University President Mary Sue Coleman said the excursion provides a time for the regents to get out of their normal environment and think broadly about issues facing institutions of higher education.
Members of the board were joined by Coleman; Provost Martha Pollack; Tim Slottow, executive vice president and chief financial officer and Sally Churchill, vice president and secretary.
Ora Pescovitz, executive vice president for medical affairs and University Health System chief executive officer; E. Royster Harper, vice president for student life and Jerry May, vice president for development also contributed to some of the sessions.
Leaders in higher education on the East Coast facilitated sessions in New York with the University’s attendees. These leaders included Bill Bowen, Princeton University president emeritus; Peter Salovey, president of Yale University; Edward Miller, retired executive vice president for medical affairs at Johns Hopkins University and Mike Johns, retired executive vice president for health affairs at Emory University.
In addition to these sessions, the board attended two development events, one at Lincoln Center and a breakfast Friday morning designed to engage younger alumni. Both were paid for by Office of Development funds, totaling about $90,000, according to University spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald.
Bowen led the regents in a session centered on digital learning —which was one of the chief talking points during the California trip last year as well.
In an interview with the Daily, Bowen said institutions like the University should not be concerned with online courses — like Massive Open Online Courses — threatening traditional residential approaches to higher education.
“The situation is very different at a place like the University of Michigan,” Bowen said. “Michigan is going to be just fine whatever they do or don’t do in this area over the few years. I have no doubt about that.”
Bowen, who co-authored “Crossing the Finish Line: Completing College at America’s Public Universities,” said online courses have the potential to increase college completion rates and decrease the time it takes to earn a degree. However, Bowen said the benefits of online courses might be greater for institutions struggling to bump up completion rates than mature institutions like the University.
Aside from discussing MOOCs, Bowen said his conversation with the regents included a variety of topics on the frontier of digital education, including methods for harnessing technology in the University’s classrooms. Bowen and the board talked at length about taking advantage of the large amounts of data that will be assembled from university courses with online components.
Bowen added that the board and administrators asked good questions, especially in regards to pressing challenges such as intellectual property or preventing the privatization of data collected.
“There are people at Michigan who are working very creatively on how to use this data appropriately,” Bowen said.
In the fall, Pollack initiated a series of town halls to seek input on the University’s approach to digital and engaged education.
Regent Andrea Fischer Newman (R), chair of the Board of Regents, said the University is most concerned with integrating technology into learning. Newman added that she agreed with Bowen’s assessment that MOOCs might not be as much of a priority for the University.
“I think we will look at all opportunities, but initially we are most concerned with the best use of technology for our current students on campus,” Newman said.
Last year in California, the regents met with Dan Russell, a Google research scientist leading Google’s MOOC portfolio. He recommended the University begin with a small investment in MOOCs and see where it goes, before deciding whether or not to adopt the platform in full force.
“Historically, once upon a time, universities were threatened by the introduction of low-cost printed books,” Russell said in a January 2013 interview. “They survived that. That seems inconceivable now. When we look back at this time 20 years from now, universities, I predict, will still be around and we’ll have the same sort of ‘you’re kidding’ response. ‘How could they think this could destroy the University?’”
If the regents expressed uncertainty about MOOCs in their meetings with Russell last winter, questions regarding the future of MOOCs have not yet been fully answered.
“What stood out to me the most is we really don’t know where it’s headed,” Newman said. “There’s a lot of experimentation going on. The University is heavily engaged in that. I don’t think anyone has the answers at this time. Obviously everyone is looking for the magic bullet, but it’s just not there.”
In what Newman described as “the best session we had,” the board also met with Miller and Johns Thursday.
Though the board did not meet with any hospital officials last year in California, Coleman said the conversation became especially pertinent as the implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act takes place this year.
“Everybody is curious how the ACA is going to impact academic health systems,” Newman said.
Miller said the influx of patients would be more gradual than many people think, as sign-ups trickle in more slowly than expected.
“People thinking there was a tsunami of patients who were going to come into the system — that’s not going to happen,” Miller said.
Miller said academic health systems must try to control costs and potentially move away from the fee-per-service model, which emphasizes quantity rather than quality of service.
He added that the board was most interested in exploring the differences accounted for by geographic region between the University of Michigan Health System, Johns Hopkins and Emory based on regional differences.
The board used the session to consider the reputation of UMHS, particularly in relation to the merits or downsides of acquiring or aligning with other hospital groups.
“We are interested in alliances with other hospitals and practice groups and these are all things both Hopkins and Emory are also doing,” Newman said.
In December, UMHS announced an agreement with Allegiance Health, a health system based in Jackson, Mich. While UMHS will initially serve as the system’s parent company, it will eventually absorb the system.
Miller said though he has seen a trend of consolidating community hospitals into larger health systems, an academic health system should only pursue acquisitions or agreements when the institution is financially stable and an agreement could bring benefits to both institutions.
“You strengthen the core,” Miller said. “You strengthen the main hospital, recruit great leaders. That’s how you improve your overall reputation.”
In a separate meeting, the board also met with Salovey for a session themed “Excellence in Higher Education.”
Through Yale’s Office of Public Affairs, Salovey declined an interview for this article.
In an interview before the trip, Coleman said Salovey’s talk would focus on a range of broader issues, including affordability and educational quality.
Though diversity on campus was a part of Salovey’s talk, it did not surface on the agenda of other sessions. According to University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald, Salovey’s conversation focused on broader themes of diversity in higher education, rather than specifically related to the University.
While Newman said she was not present for the last portion of Salovey’s talk, she did not think the #BBUM campaign was discussed during the trip.
In an e-mail sent to students and faculty during the trip, Pollack announced a list of initiatives designed to combat the concerns raised by the #BBUM campaign.
Rather than pinpointing initiatives or methods the University should be copying, Newman said the trip’s sessions were designed to allow the board to learn what’s going on at institutions outside of the University.
She also said these types of conversations are especially important as the board searches for the next university president.
“I think as you are searching for a new president, it always informs your thinking and knowledge base as you’re talking to people,” Newman said. “This was a learning session. This was an opportunity to explore and learn. It’s kind of like going back to school. You never want to be too insular.”