The University Record, January 23, 1996

New president should appreciate multi-campus environment, U-M-Flint says

By Bernie DeGroat
News and Information Services 

While members of the University of Michigan-Flint campus and Flint community would like the next U-M president to be a person of high integrity and impeccable character, many say that the University's next leader also should understand and support the mission of the U-M-Flint and its relationship with the Ann Arbor campus.

Speaking at a presidential search forum before Regents last week on the Flint campus, more than a dozen U-M-Flint faculty, staff, students and alumni voiced their views on the qualities the next U-M president should possess. Overwhelmingly, most said that U-M-Flint must be recognized for its mission as a regional campus serving older, working students and where teaching is a top priority, while receiving administrative attention from Ann Arbor as an integral part of the U-M system.

"It is my hope that in the choice of a new president, the Regents will place high value on the commitment and capacity of that new president not to neglect nor constrain the potential of the University of Michigan-Flint, but rather promote its development and see it as a full and participating partner in the University of Michigan system," said Richard E. Darnell, U-M-Flint professor of physical therapy.

Walker E. Fesmire, U-M-Flint professor of accounting, agreed that the new president must have an appreciation for the U-M's multi-campus system and should understand the different environments and resources of the Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint campuses.

"He or she needs to recognize that U-M-Flint is a regional campus located in a blue-collar city and appreciate the unusual composition of our student body, composed mostly of first-generation students, minorities and non-traditional students, many with families," he said. "The mission of U-M-Flint differs significantly from Ann Arbor and Dearborn. He or she needs to assist U-M-Flint by providing us, the faculty, with the resources and support needed to help us improve our contribution to the University and to the Flint area."

Jan Worth, coordinator of the U-M-Flint Adult Resource and Women's Center, agreed with Fesmire that the new president should not only understand the unique make-up of the Flint campus student population, but strive to provide additional educational resources.

"The students at the Ann Arbor campus, those frequently touted valedictorians, need the world that U-M offers," she said. "I submit to you that U-M-Flint's constituents offer an equally compelling equation. The world needs them. They know a lot. They can't go to M.I.T. because they have a mortgage and three kids. They can't take classes during the day because they are on first shift or they can't go full-time. Yet they keep working it out because they have to.

"Think what it could mean if the University of Michigan solved this problem---how to educate, not the ones who make it easy, but the ones who make it hard. The ones who need it most. Our new president must understand these are people we cannot afford to squander."

Like Worth, U-M-Flint students Chris Martin and Rob Arbogast expressed their desire for a president who will be visible to and concerned about the needs of students on the Flint campus.

"As students, we need to know that our president cares about us," Martin said. "Will we have a president that will come to this campus and see about our needs? Will we have a president that we can see? Will we have a president that will talk back? Will we have a president that will work to unify our three campuses, rather than have us feeling like we're all separate, individual units, when we're really not?"

Arbogast added that the next president should have an open-door policy in which students could make appointments to talk one-on-one. "I would like someone who is on the same level as the students and not a figurehead."

U-M-Flint student government president Victoria McKenze, who described herself as the "typical returning student over 40," believes that the Flint campus is stagnating due to its lack of student housing and limited graduate program offerings.

"There are students here who feel as if they are a step-child to Ann Arbor, a step-child without the resources of the life of a full-time student," she said. "We need a president who can secure a life for a student that is exemplified as the University of Michigan."

While other speakers also referred to a perception that the U-M-Flint is often regarded as "a poor, distant cousin" or a "step-sister" by the Ann Arbor campus, there was emphatic agreement among those expressing their opinions that the Flint campus faculty, students and alumni have no desire to sever their ties to the U-M system.

U-M-Flint math Prof. Robert A. Bix said that it is of great importance that the Flint campus remain a part of the University of Michigan because that "identification lets us set much higher standards of academic quality than we otherwise could.

"Not only do we need a president who believes strongly in the academic values that we share with the entire U-M system, but we need a president who allows us the independence to pursue those values in a manner appropriate to this campus," said Bix, who pointed out that teaching is the highest priority and best way to serve students at a regional, commuter campus like Flint's.

"It has been the freedom to set our own priorities that has let us establish an identity worthy of the University of Michigan. We need a president who understands and values the relationship between this campus and the University as a whole."

In addition to supporting the unique mission of the U-M-Flint, its faculty and students within the framework of the overall U-M system, the next president must have strong scholarly credentials, according to Thomas A. Wrobel, U-M-Flint chair and associate professor of psychology.

He said that many faculty with whom he has spoken indicated that this should be the primary selection criterion.

However, Douglas E. Miller, U-M-Flint associate professor of art and of German, believes that highly qualified candidates who may not be scholars also should be considered by the Regents.

"I feel that there might be a place for someone outside academe who would bring into the University strong allies from the world of commerce or politics or other areas and who could bring a breath of fresh air to an institutional setting that has become somewhat routine, maybe even stuffy at times," Miller said. "Open-mindedness, as you go into this search, I think would help the University a great deal."

Several speakers reiterated that the U-M's next president must possess great integrity, in general, and unparalleled sensitivity to ethnic diversity, in particular.

"We desire the next president to be a person who possesses a sincere desire for equality and justice for all humankind, and someone who will actively embrace and pursue people of all racial, cultural and gender backgrounds," said Lillian P. Henry, senior executive secretary for the College of Arts and Sciences.

Alice C. Garrison, coordinator of sales and promotion at the University's public television station, WFUM, may have summed up best all of the qualities the Flint campus speakers believe are needed in the next U-M president.

"Whether the new president comes from the academy or the corporate world, is Black or white, male or female, conservative or liberal, that person must be capable of synthesizing the gloriously disparate voices of the institution so that the sound we make to the nation and to the world continues to be the sound of one word---excellence."

U-M-Flint Chancellor Charlie Nelms moderated the forum. Regents Deane Baker, Daniel D. Horning, Shirley M. McFee, Andrea Fischer Newman, Philip Power and Nellie M. Varner were in attendance. A videotape of the forum will be made available to those Regents unable to participate.