The University Record, November 19, 1996

U-M prepares state appropriation request

Strengthening undergraduate and faculty relationships through research is one of the pivotal elements in the University’s 1997--98 budget request to the state government.

"We recognize," said Interim President Homer A. Neal, "there will be many competing demands for the state’s resources and difficult choices must be made. There is no activity more critical to our state’s future than the development of its human capital, and the state-supported university system, including the U-M-Ann Arbor, is vital to that task."

The University’s request emphasizes three elements, he noted: "first, the critical importance of an increase in the appropriation at least equal to the rate of inflation; second, the University’s intensive programs designed to increase efficiency and control costs; and third, a major expansion in our programs designed to bring undergraduate students and faculty closely together in a research setting with special mention of the costs of undergraduate education in the hard sciences."

In recent months, Neal continued, "we have re-emphasized our vision of an undergraduate education that extends beyond the formal classroom. We believe faculty who are active in research and creativity bring insights and perspectives to students that cannot be provided from any other source, and it is this contact with outstanding faculty that can make an undergraduate education at Michigan a uniquely valuable experience. The U-M-Ann Arbor has committed itself to ensuring that all students who wish to will be given the opportunity to pursue faculty-directed research or creative projects on a one-on-one or small group basis."

Neal noted that "our highly successful Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) provides our model for this commitment. It now engages over 800 first and second year students each year in a wide range of faculty-led research projects throughout the University, including faculty from our professional and graduate schools.

"To meet our goal of expanding such opportunities for all students, the University will have to expand existing programs, provide for the further development of upper-class student research programs, support the development of additional senior theses and other capstone programs, and identify additional faculty mentors who can help undergraduates to design and carry out individually rewarding projects.

"It is important to note, however, that this kind of intensive mentorship and teaching is very costly, and we are struggling to find the resources necessary to support this mission." The U-M-Ann Arbor is seeking a $3 million increase in state funding next year for this mission.

Not only that, Neal added, "improved science and technology education for undergraduates is expensive. Student interest in the sciences has been exploding, placing extraordinary stress on our capacity to offer basic and intermediate biology and chemistry courses. Giving all of our undergraduates a firsthand exposure to the sciences is a top priority for the U-M, but it is a priority that is straining our resources." The U-M-Ann Arbor is requesting a $1.5 million increase in state appropriation for this priority.

"The high and rising costs of our expanding undergraduate research program and of science instruction generally pose a serious challenge to the U-M-Ann Arbor as we attempt to address these demands along with those coming from other directions."

Neal also spoke of "bootstraps":

"The U-M-Ann Arbor has been actively engaged in a variety of cost-containment efforts. One of the most notable has contained a requirement for significant cost cutting in each of the last 15 years. In the current year, for example, we imposed a 2 percent reduction on all units, forcing each of them to reassess their priorities, to eliminate some of their lowest priority activities, and to find less expensive ways of carrying out their highest priority activities. The total amount reallocated over this period exceeds $50 million.

"Another example is that we have shifted this year from our old incremental style of budgeting to a new structure we call Value Centered Management (VCM). It places more control over resources in the hands of deans and similar officials, but it also delegates to them more responsibility. We believe that, while overall policy decisions will continue to be made centrally, this increased reliance on management decisions at the local level will substantially increase our ability to focus resources where they are needed most and to provide the highest possible quality of instruction, research, and service, to our students, to the citizens of the State of Michigan, and to society as a whole."

Finally, Neal said that "we have been heartened during the last two budget cycles by the state’s recognition of the importance of an appropriations increase at least equal to the rate of inflation. But while the concept of a rate of inflation is useful, it is necessarily an average, and hence cannot reflect the circumstances affecting a particular institution.

"For example, the U-M-Ann Arbor, as a major national research university, faces intense competition for its faculty, and it must compete for those faculty with salaries, equipment, and facilities, each of which tend to drive up our costs at a rate greater than inflation.

"Yet, it is precisely our ability to succeed in this competition that makes the University so valuable to the citizens of the state, first as a source of education for their sons and daughters, second as an economic engine supporting the state’s economy, and third in its outreach activities designed to improve our schools, our communities and our society."

Neal concluded, "We urge our state officials to continue the recent tradition of enhanced support for universities, and we renew our pledge to serve as responsible stewards of all the resources entrusted to us; to strive simultaneously to improve the overall quality of our instructional, research, and service programs, and to provide those programs at the lowest possible cost."