The University Record, May 24, 1993

Provost Whitaker: we need to turn our special skills of critical analysis inward

By Mary Jo Frank

Faculty, staff and administrators must come to grips with the multiple issues confronting the modern university, an institution whose mission has changed dramatically since its founding in the Middle Ages to train male clergy.

Acknowledging an “undercurrent of unease” that permeates today’s campus amid the quiet pursuit of the everyday tasks of teaching, research, service and administration, Provost Gilbert R. Whitaker Jr. said, “Universities, including this one, face multiple threats to our well-being, indeed, to our survival.”

Speaking to Senate Assembly May 17, Whitaker said faculty work has become broader and more complex. He cited the Merrill Act, which instituted land grant colleges and added service as a major new responsibility for universities. The post-World War II agreement that charged American universities with responsibility for basic research added and enlarged the research mission and expanded graduate work, Whitaker added.

More recently, society’s recognition that all members of society—women, minorities and those with disabilities—should have the opportunity to pursue advanced education has brought another set of responsibilities to universities.

Rapidly rising higher education expenditures—prices that are rising faster than those in most other sectors of the economy—are a source of criticism, he noted.

Tuition increases to cover those costs have come during a period of slow growth in family disposable income, “making the cost of attending college an even more substantial proportion of family income.”

Although the U-M will get some capital funding help from Lansing this year for building projects, next year the University will experience its third straight year of no increase in state appropriations, Whitaker said.

“This taxpayer reluctance to support higher education as well as other institutions is one more strong signal that we are not fulfilling social expectations,” the provost added.

The University can continue as usual or “turn our special skills of critical analysis inward and begin to try to understand where society views us as failing and either prove them wrong or take positive steps to improve,” he said.

Whitaker believes that appropriate application of M-Quality principles of managing by fact, respecting people and ideas, satisfying those we serve and pursuing continuous improvement have much to offer the academic side of the University as well as staff and support areas.

Whitaker cited a number of recent initiatives resulting from joint faculty and academic administrative actions to improve the University’s performance. They include:

  • The new Medical School curriculum, which may lead more graduates to non-specialty practice.

  • The new M.B.A. curriculum, which emphasizes public service and practical application of theory.

  • Improvements in undergraduate education in chemistry and mathematics in LS&A and in the College of Engineering.

  • Expansion of the Undergraduate Library to house all science collections on Central Campus in one location.

  • Renovation of East Engineering Building, Angell Hall and C.C. Little Building, and expansion of Randall Laboratory.

  • Construction of the Integrated Technology Instruction Center on North Campus.

  • Release of funds from the student infrastructure maintenance fee to do essential repairs to pipes, chillers, roofs, fume hoods and other “invisible” parts of the University.

    Whitaker said the administration also is exploring with deans and faculty the idea of reinstituting an on-going review process of all academic and support units on campus.