The University Record, November 5, 1996

PRESIDENTIAL SEARCH

Larry R. Faulkner

Photos by Bob Kalmbach


By Jared Blank, Bernie DeGroat and Jane R. Elgass

 

On why he wants to become president of the U-M and the challenges facing the University:
Faulkner told the Regents that the U-M "is absolutely at the crest" of higher education, adding that he feels the opportunity comes at a "slightly awkward point" in his career, as he is heading major budget changes at Illinois and has deep commitments to that and other projects.

In Faulkner's view, "there is no more favorable, more effective presidency in higher education in the public sector" than at the U-M. "One can't fail to understand that if you spend time in higher education, and I felt that I ought to talk about it."

He says the challenges facing the U-M are no different than those facing higher education in general. Higher education requires considerable rethinking nationwide about the role of large institutions with undergraduate, graduate, research and outreach activities and how to fit these elements together in an effective manner.

"There is a great agenda out there and people will have to step up to deal with it. I'm interested in those challenges."

 

On his management of change:
Higher education is facing "a change-filled future," with many quarters lacking confidence that it can adapt to these changes, Faulkner says. "I'm not one of them. Universities are loaded with smart people, people who have perceptions, people who have ideas, people who have the ability to meet those challenges."

He notes that change should not originate at the top; rather the president must help the community understand the challenges, the things that must be addressed and refine the agenda "so things can be done."

He would "recruit talent from the campus into the process. Anyone who is likely to be affected by a decision deserves to be consulted about it before the decision is made," he says, adding that students should be included when appropriate.

 

On the reorganization of the Medical Center/Health System:
There is a clear realization, Faulkner says, that development of a strategy "is absolutely critical and has to be done soon." He is aware of the changing medical care environment and the stresses that are produced and has studied the U-M situation. He says it must be addressed by individuals with expertise in this area. He feels the U-M has the time and resources to do this, adding that he agrees with the establishment of a vice president for health affairs post, because it brings together the educational and service aspects of the field.

 

On what his role as president would be:
The president's role is not one of operating the University, Faulkner notes, but rather "to help the community understand the challenges and to try to state those challenges in the clearest possible terms, and to persuade people that there are stresses that have to be addressed, that there are issues that are real, to try to keep a relatively confined agenda in front of the campus so that progress can be made realistically."

He also notes that a significant amount of time has to be spent "communicating to the outside what the university is and is trying to do and what value it holds for society, and for segments of society specifically."

 

On maintaining excellence in an era of dwindling resources from traditional sources:
"This is the heart of higher education for the next decade," Faulkner says, with stresses coming from reduced federal funding of research and the managed-care environment, as well as the fact that the U-M's tuition is "at the top" and no longer a reasonable place to look for additional funds.

To maintain its standards and traditions, the U-M "will have to look at the cost side carefully. This is not popular. It is also not easy. The way to address issues is simply to try to place them forcefully in front of the community and persuade [the community] that the issues are real."

 

On development and working with legislators:
There are five sectors that require different approaches, Faulkner explained.

 

Policy issues, which are mainly internal.

 

The federal sector, in which we could "see a substantial retreat" in the funding of research. The value of research to the national future must be stressed and university presidents and officers need to be forceful in explaining the value of research to society.

 

The state sector, in which Faulkner feels the U-M "is in some sense isolated from the citizens of the state." Illinois addressed this by taking great pains to organize outreach, which "paid off tremendously with more energy on campus. The U-M must pay more attention to this."

 

The health care sector, which depends on the competitive environment. Faulkner doesn't have a solution for this but feels that it is essential that the U-M "not get locked out."

 

The development sector, in which, Faulkner notes, the U-M has a continuing capacity to get support from a large body of extremely loyal alumni.

 

On the role of athletics:
Noting that Illinois "rarely talks about the Rose Bowl," Faulkner says the school has had very positive reactions in sending faculty to meet with alumni groups on topics that are deliberately not sports-related.

"The athletic program does serve a value in unifying a community that is large, diverse and worldwide. You're lucky to have such a successful one."

 

On Value Centered Management (VCM):
The officers of an institution, Faulkner says, frequently have no idea of the impact doing things differently might have, and that the VCM process provides better guidance for budgetary decision-making.

"Much of the criticism has to do with fear that other values of the university are going to be jeopardized, particularly interdisciplinary activity and things that aren't ever going to pay for themselves, but still may be widely perceived to be valuable in the institution.

"Something like this has to be done in universities. They have to have a more direct understanding of the consequences of decision that are made, and I think the alternative, which is to continue the past, is essentially to assume independent wealth. I don't think that can even be assumed at the University of Michigan."

Faulkner fielded questions from faculty and staff at the afternoon session.

On tenure:
Faulkner believes in tenure and feels it is "what has made American universities leading institutions," because of the freedom of spirit it supports. Students and faculty, he says, have vitality and adaptability that are derived from that sense of freedom, which is "intimately coupled with tenure policies."

There are abuses, and tenure policies need to be reviewed. He believes in the system, which, he adds, can't "be sustained unless it is shown to be operated responsibly."

He notes that the removal of mandatory retirement ages has put the issue on the table and that universities "are defenseless to abuses by someone with tenure." Revisions of tenure policies will make it easier for universities to adapt to change. If faculties can't address tenure issues raised by the public, legislation will likely remove tenure.

 

On public service and outreach:
Illinois, Faulkner explained, has had success in focusing service activities through a council. Outreach efforts are targeted and there is a method for evaluating them for continued investment. In the past, he notes, "people did what was appropriate but there was no method to test it to see if it was effective. We must move to a coordinated approach," he says, and schools should work together on communication to present a united front.

 

On how undergraduate education fits into the other things a research university does:

"A university without a lively undergraduate program is a decimated institution. Undergraduates receive educational preparation equal to the best," he says, adding that it is important "to recruit students who can benefit from being at this kind of place."

Recruiters shouldn't try to convince students that the U-M is a warm, cuddly place, but rather "explain the opportunities and tell students they have to take some responsibilities for that. The faculty is very busy, but it doesn't mean it's too busy for you. Students need to ask, knock on doors."

These things, Faulkner adds, should be coupled with a strong advising system and student services that enhance a sense of community.

 

On working with the legislature:
Faulkner says he would not want to see the U-M be a privatized institution because its heritage could not be sustained. Access to education must be available to any qualified citizen.

The relationship with Lansing and other leaders "needs some work," he says, adding that it is trickier now than it once was since there are now term limits.

The U-M should not lose sight that it is a public university and is delivering value for value.

 

On society's view that research with no immediate payback should be cut:
Universities are heading into an environment in which there will be a greater emphasis on social research, Faulkner explains. The U-M has a pre-eminent position in this arena and will be able to sustain itself in a tough world.

There is a rethinking of national research strategy, a national debate, he says, in which the U-M is a major player.

 

On the 'social compact' between universities and society:
Faulkner says that the "unraveling of the social compact" is a major problem for the country. "I am deeply concerned that we're about to talk ourselves out of any sense of community at all in this nation. However, I have a faith that our nation will pull back from this and re-establish a sense of community that includes obligations to a shared view of the future."

This view of the future includes universities, he says, because universities are "about the future. It's not about the past or present. [They] exist because people, students, and parents and teachers believe that there can be a better future" for their children. He adds that university presidents have an obligation to address the future and the university's role in it.