The University Record, May 22, 1995

Legislators tell Senate Assembly to 'market this University'

By Rebecca A. Doyle

The University needs to show legislators--and the rest of the state of Michigan--what they can provide in knowledge, research and technology.

That was the message delivered by state Sen. Alma Wheeler Smith, D-Salem Township, and representatives Elizabeth Brater, D-Ann Arbor, and Mary Schroer, D-Ann Arbor.

"You need to make yourselves available," Schroer told faculty at a town meeting following the Senate Assembly meeting last Monday. "You have the knowledge, and we need to get it out to the people who are going to serve this state."

Legislators, she maintained, need information that U-M faculty, through their research and scholarship, have available.

But legislators are not the only people in the state who think of the U-M as unreachable, she said.

"People who live outstate see only that their children can't go here. That is the perception of the University of Michigan in other areas of the state," she said. "You need to show you are a valuable institute to them.

"We need to socialize this university, market this university."

Smith noted that other universities have established a rapport with legislators and the U-M could learn much from them.

"Michigan State University does a PR job that makes us look impoverished," she said. "And they do it well. They have contact with every legislator."

Brater said that the "atmosphere in Lansing is shockingly hostile" toward the U-M, and called the Legislature's withholding of appropriations "shenanigans," but agreed that the University could do much to polish its skills in public relations.

All three legislators expressed some level of frustration with the University's inability to communicate clearly to them and to their colleagues both its needs and the resources available. When the U-M's out-of-state enrollment figures topped the 30 percent mark, the legislature reacted by saying it would withhold the 1996-97 state appropriation until the University submitted a plan to reduce the figure.

But Smith said that no plan has been submitted to resolve the imbalance, and no one came to the Legislature to explain how reducing out-of-state enrollment numbers might affect tuition for Michigan students.

"It is a mark of this institution that the administration didn't feel it had to go to the Legislature and tell what was going to happen, what the problem was or what would happen to tuition," she said.

"There was no approach from the University to explain. Perhaps they thought that their friends would save them--but that didn't happen in the House."

Faculty members who spoke after the meeting with Brater, Smith and Schroer told about research in their own areas, ways to communicate better through electronic messaging and listened while the legislators explained their areas of interest.