University Provost Philip Hanlon forwent the formal podium and microphone and addressed the approximately 50 members of the Senate Assembly at its meeting yesterday from a more informal seated position in front of the audience in a Palmer Commons auditorium.
“I guess it’s traditional that the provost gives a speech on this occasion, but in fact, I just want to have a conversation,” Hanlon said, as he sat on a stool facing the crowd.
Hanlon touched on four main topics during the lead faculty governing body’s meeting including some autobiographical information and his thoughts on University issues, faculty matters and budgeting plans. He also discussed his interest in increasing the the tenure probation period for faculty from eight to 10 years.
Hanlon said he wanted those present to know more about him before he began to go into detail about other topics.
“If you know me, you know that I am very committed to our education mission, and I understand that education takes place in many venues, not only in class,” Hanlon said.
He said he thinks it is an important time for higher education because it is crucial that universities train students to operate in the world they enter after graduation. Speaking as a former calculus professor, Hanlon said there are “tremendous forces” exerted on students for advancements in global engagement, specifically with Asia, in the area of information technology, among others.
Hanlon also discussed the University’s current budget concerns, saying that while technological advancements need to be made to produce skilled students, the University’s “funding model is unsustainable.”
He said that solving budget issues is currently a challenge for all universities.
“This is not a University of Michigan problem so much as it is a higher education problem,” Hanlon said.
Technology drives much of the University’s costs, Hanlon said, so it is necessary that the University examines its technology expenditures.
In addition to more prudently determining what drives costs at the University and reallocating funds, Hanlon said it is essential to figure out how to remain competitive with other universities. Such competition and certain distinguishing factors will help the University garner alumni donations and investments in University endeavors, he explained.
The University’s breadth of intellectual wealth and academic enterprises, Hanlon said, as well as its position as the second-largest research university are some characteristics that separate the University from its fellow institutions.
“We are uniquely positioned to take on some of the world’s complex, multifaceted problems,” he said.
A meeting attendee expressed concerns about whether distinguishing the University from other schools is as beneficial as exploring commonalities. Hanlon said that both likenesses and differences should be considered.
Hanlon listed Harvard University, Princeton University, the University of California-Berkeley and others as the University’s main competitors for research funding and faculty.
The University can appear unattractive to some professors and instructors because there is a larger student-to-faculty ratio than similar institutions, Hanlon said. But the University offers better learning opportunities and professional training which attracts faculty, he said.
The University needs more faculty members because the current body is spread too thin, Hanlon said.
“By any measure we are a highly successful university,” he said. “We just need more faculty on the ground.”
Some Senate Assembly members asked Hanlon how he plans to keep the University accessible to students of all income ranges and how he will quell rising tuition rates. Hanlon said he thinks the University has done well to keep costs for students manageable by increasing the University’s central budget for financial aid over the last five years.
“We’ve been able to actually weather this storm quite successfully,” Hanlon said.
Despite careful financial planning over the past few years, Hanlon said he does expect a substantial reduction in state funding appropriations for the upcoming fiscal year.
“We are preparing for that,” Hanlon said. “We are making contingency plans.”