The University Record, November 13, 1995
Machen urges faculty to tell him what's important
By Rebecca A. Doyle
As interim provost and executive vice president for academic affairs for even the outside estimate of nine months, J. Bernard Machen says he would not have felt compelled to provide an agenda for the University's academic affairs. But when President James J. Duderstadt announced Sept. 29 that his retirement would be effective June 30, everything changed for Machen. The search for a provost was suspended, and he accepted a two-year appointment as provost and executive vice president for academic affairs.
Addressing the LS&A faculty at their monthly meeting last Monday, Machen asked for their help in determining "the things I should get involved in and the things I shouldn't get involved in."
In one of his first opportunities to address a group of faculty at the University, he outlined several areas in which he hopes to make progress during the two years he will serve.
Machen said the Michigan Mandate and the Agenda for Women, both pro-jects that began during Duderstadt's tenure, were "important parts of the future of the University."
"We should examine these initiatives and make them our own. It is important for us as a faculty to engage the intent of these initiatives and make them University initiatives that will continue."
He described several areas he is interested in and plans to review.
Multi-disciplinary research and teaching. "This is a very important part of our success at Michigan. I am interested in and committed to facilitating and advancing those activities during the time I am in the provost's office. I think they are very important."
Undergraduate education. "Undergraduate education is an important part of the mission of this University. We have done some very important and positive things about undergraduate education in just the six years since I have been here."
Machen noted that most of his knowledge about undergraduate education is as a parent---he has a son who recently graduated from the College of Engineering and another who is a junior in English and psychology. Both of their experiences have been very positive. "We need to keep supporting this effort, [to] ask questions about whether we have devoted enough of our resources to undergraduate education."
Graduate education. "This may be the real key to our future," Machen said, because graduate education is the gateway to both undergraduate teaching and research.
"An effort is being formed to begin a systematic examination of the context of what the future of graduate education needs to be at Michigan. Our intent is to look at the nature and size of graduate education and adapt to the future---not to reduce our resources or our commitment to graduate education," he said.
VCM (value centered management). "I have been involved in the development of the concept, and I am committed to implementing something different next year than the budgeting system we now have.
"I fully realize there are a lot of people who don't know a lot about VCM. There is a lot I don't know about VCM, and I think we need to talk about it. But it is clear that the budgeting system we used in the last decade won't work in the next decade, and we need to do something about it."
Medical Center re-engineering. "There is a revolution going on in medical education and health care, and our Medical Center is right in the middle of that." Machen says he is committed to helping that revolution develop "in a way that will help our whole University be positioned for the future."
In a question-and-answer period following his prepared remarks, Machen re-emphasized that he was very interested in undergraduate education but admitted that he didn't know very much about it.
"I would hope that people who do know and care about it would help me understand what we have to do to make Michigan undergraduate education what it should be.
"There are significant positive aspects to a Michigan undergraduate education," he continued, "and I bristle when people try to tell us how bad it is here, because my two sons do not feel that way, and I do not feel that way relative to their education."
But that does not mean that he thinks we are doing everything we ought to be doing for our undergraduates, he cautioned.
Machen also fielded questions from faculty members about VCM and budget reductions in LS&A.
Maris Vinovskis, professor and chair of the Department of History, asked about budget reductions over the past three years and whether Machen would review what Vinovskis called "a very uneven cut."
"I was with you and I still am with you," Machen answered. "How much more can we do this? It seems to me that it is a pretty dull knife that we are using to make cuts. While I have no real idea what our budget is going to look like, I don't believe that process can work for us at this University. Yes, we are going to reconsider that."
Asked about the reallocation process under VCM, Machen said that it had not yet been decided, noting that under VCM the University retains the ability to reallocate central funding. A 2 percent "tax" would secure approximately $35 million for redistribution if all units are participating, he said.
"I think it is more important when we start this that we have what I call a soft landing into VCM. There is so much unknown about it that I think we have to be very careful," Machen noted.
Responding to further questions about VCM
and anxiety those people
in units operating at a deficit might feel,
Machen said that there is
no unit that is completely self-sufficient.
"Every single unit will
need a resource
allocation from the University in order to make their budgets." He sees this as a good thing, he says, because it means all units need to have some allegiance to the central values of the University.
"So I reject the notion of `tubs on their own bottoms.' I don't think it fits the model that we're looking for."
James Teeri, professor of biology and director of the Matthaei Botanical Gardens and of the Biological Station, asked whether the U-M's part in "re-writing a contract between American research universities and Congress" was going to continue.
Machen responded that Vice President for Research Homer A. Neal is planning a symposium or dialogue within the next year to address that topic.
"In one sense, the University of Michigan has the most at risk. The good news is we are the pre-eminent research university of the 20th century.
"The bad news is that the 20th century is over."
Machen noted that he was enjoying two parts of his new job---meeting with students and meeting with faculty.
"Going out and talking to people about what is going on is very positive," he said.