The University Record, February 25, 1998

President pleads case before higher education appropriations subcommittee

Legislators attending last week's appropriations hearing at the Michigan League were (from left) Rep. Elizabeth Brater; Sen. Alma Wheeler-Smith; Ellen Jeffries, deputy director of the Senate Fiscal Agency; committee chair Sen. John Schwarz; Sen. Jon Cisky; and Rep. Kirk Profit. Photo by Bob Kalmbach


Editor's Note: Presentations made by the Dearborn and Flint chancellors will be reported in the March 11 issue of the Record.

By Jane R. Elgass

With a potential allocation that seems to be "somewhat squeezing"--Gov. John Engler's budget calls for only a 1.5 increase in appropriations for state universities--President Lee C. Bollinger presented the Ann Arbor campus's case for continued and increased state support last week.

Speaking at a hearing called by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education and also attended by two members of the House of Representatives who serve local constituencies, Bollinger took those present on a brief tour of "what it's like to be inside a great university."

The legislators made the U-M the first of four stops at state universities for hearings on higher education as they begin this year's appropriations process.

Stops on the president's tour:

 

In the last decade, use of the University's "treasure house," the Library has increased 50 percent. The costs of books and journals have increased 8 percent to 9 percent per year in the same period. While there is hope that the use of technology will slow rising costs, that has not yet happened because of the high up-front costs associated with moving into the technological age.

"We all worry about a steady, slow decline of a great library and a library is at the core of a great institution," Bollinger said.

 

It is difficult to engage in recruitment battles when salaries for full professors are an average of 16 percent lower than the salaries their cohorts at peer institutions receive. "It is my belief that you create a great institution around a great faculty and if we lose our faculty of distinction and we cannot recruit them, we will have lost something extremely important."

 

Great strides are being made in enhancing undergraduate education. The number of seminars offered for beginning students has doubled in the last 10 years. Senior faculty have been enlisted into teaching. Living-learning programs are taking education to the residence halls, removing divisions between the social, residential and educational lives of students. Two years ago, 17 percent of incoming students used computers on a daily basis. This year, that number stands at 41 percent. Equipment that once was state-of-the-art now needs upgrading.

 

Within the life sciences, the new biochemistry major in LS&A will take students into the genetics revolution. As the nation and both parties at the federal level appear ready to commit to increased support for life sciences and basic sciences, "we must be prepared at the state level, at the University level, to take advantage of this and to build it," the president said.

Concluding his remarks, Bollinger said: "There is always something that is easy to ignore when you are in positions like we are, that is, in some sense responsible for a truly great institution. It's very easy, in fact too easy, for us to let something that has taken 150 years to create at this magnificent level be eroded by very small acts year after year.

"Throughout the time that I have some responsibility here, I want to make absolutely sure that for the successors that come later they will have as much as we have, and that means not just meeting the status quo but really improving at every level."

The president was asked by subcommittee chair Sen. John Schwarz for a "ballpark" estimate of what the increase in the base appropriation should be, assuming that the University could continue at its present level while keeping tuition increases, especially for instate undergradutes, at an "acceptable level."

Bollinger told the subcommittee that he thinks of appropriation increases for higher education in terms of personal disposable income, how much more people have to spend this year than they did last year.

That number was 3.7 percent in 1996. "If we were to track what the general fund increase would be to that," Bollinger said, "with a 1.5 percent increase from the state we would have to raise tuition by 5.6 percent."

Last November, the University asked the state for a 5.4 percent increase in its annual appropriation. That includes $12.6 million in the base appropriation and an additional $4.5 million to fund two new initiatives: undergraduate learning communities ($1.5 million) and promotion of interdisciplinary education and research in the life sciences ($3 million).