Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Monday, January 21, 2013

Regents focus on future of higher education in strategic session

Members of the Board of Regents said they came away from a two-day strategic session with a deeper understanding of the challenges facing higher education today.

Regents and top university officials met Thursday and Friday in Los Angeles with several national leaders in higher education. The informal session represented a unique opportunity to engage California-based thought leaders who would not be available in Ann Arbor. Regents also met with donors.

Board Chair Laurence B. Deitch said the conversations with Robert Birgeneau, chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley; John Hennessy, president of Stanford University, and Robert Berdahl, chancellor emeritus of UC-Berkeley, were immensely helpful.

"This has been one of the best experiences I've had in 20 years as a member of the Board of Regents," Deitch said. "It's been fascinating to find out that, at Michigan, we've done a lot of the right things, yet also to learn more about how others are addressing the same tough issues we face."

Deitch said it was important for the board to be able to collectively look 10 years down the road and begin to think about things like presidential transition, affordability, access and other critical issues facing higher education.

"We talked about how to go about bending the cost curve, the implications of technology, online learning, the vital role of philanthropy and the opportunities and risks of operating an academic health system."

President Mary Sue Coleman, Provost Phil Hanlon and Sally Churchill, vice president and secretary of the university, joined regents for the meetings. Jerry May, vice president for development, participated in the donor events.

Deitch said having the opportunity to explore issues in an unstructured, more relaxed atmosphere was especially important as the board welcomed two new board members, Mark J. Bernstein and Shauna Ryder Diggs.

"Our meetings have been extraordinarily productive," Bernstein said. "It's been important to me, as a new member, to think about issues that affect the university and do that in a setting that allows for a relaxed and contemplative approach."

Bernstein said that any "high-functioning board … has to work well together. Spending time together in this type of setting helps to set the stage for highly productive, collaborative work that will benefit the university for years to come."

He said he found it reassuring that the leaders of UC-Berkeley and Stanford were struggling with many of same critical issues that U-M faces: affordability, access, shrinking state funding, adoption of new technology.

"It's important to see that we are not alone facing these issues and that we can learn from each other," Bernstein said.

Regents met with one of Google's top research scientists and strategic thinkers, Dan Russell. He offered his thoughts on the growing presence of massive open online classes — MOOCs — such as those offered through Coursera and other online platforms.

They also met with key supporters of the university in a state that is second only to Michigan in the number of U-M alumni. U-M has more than 41,000 alumni in California.

"Our meetings with donors are critically important to the future of the university," Deitch said. "There's a great deal of support here in southern California for the University of Michigan."

The board will resume its regular schedule of informal and formal sessions in Ann Arbor on Feb. 21.