New U-M Provost Phil Hanlon: A balancing act between academics and budget
Phil Hanlon is quick to rattle off the depth of the University of Michigan’s academic programs - more than 90 are listed in the top 10 of U.S. News and World Report’s annual college rankings.
But he’s also got more sobering figures at the ready - more than $130 million has been hacked out of the university’s budget since 2003.
Balancing quality education with budget cuts will be a major challenge for Hanlon as he enters his first academic year as U-M’s provost - the position in charge of both academics and the budget.
He’s not unfamiliar with the challenges. Hanlon was promoted to his current position after spending five years as the vice provost for academic and budgetary affairs when Teresa Sullivan left at the end of June to take over as president of the University of Virginia.
It was that experience that led U-M President Mary Sue Coleman to appoint Hanlon to his new post, she said when she made the appointment.
“Phil Hanlon has been exceptional in guiding academic programs and initiatives affecting all facets of the university,” she said. “In particular, his command of budgetary issues has been critical to the university’s financial stability during challenging economic times. His appointment as provost reflects his distinct strengths as a teacher, scholar, administrator and leader.”
In an interview with AnnArbor.com on Monday, Hanlon discussed those challenges and his hopes for his tenure at the university.
“(The breadth of program excellence) is an University of Michigan signature,” he said. “It’s not something we’ll give up easily.”
Keeping that means making sure faculty has access to the needed resources for teaching and research and attracting the best students possible, Hanlon said.
That, in turn, will attract the best faculty.
“The competition for top faculty is ferocious,” he said. “To maintain our ability to attract those top faculty is partly a financial challenge.”
To direct financial resources at academics, many of the recent cuts have been made in the operational support areas, Hanlon said. He added that would continue, with particular attention being paid to the areas of IT and purchasing in the near future.
“We’ve worked really hard to make sure we are avoiding a lot of devastating impact on our programs,” he said. “We’re committed to reducing 1-Â½ percent to 2 percent of our operating budget every year. We are truly focused on operations rather than academics.
“What we don’t want to do is to attack academic quality, to increase class sizes, to not give the faculty the tools they need.”
Hanlon also said the university will continue to increase the money slated for undergraduate students to do research and for students to develop entrepreneurial efforts.
Overall, Hanlon said he doesn’t feel the need to steer the university onto a new course. Instead, he’ll concentrate on making some tweaks.
One area he’s particularly interested in looking at is “effective academic visioning for the future.”
“We’re in a time of profound change for higher education,” he said, citing increasing globalization and the change in “people’s attitudes towards information and how they get it.”
Hanlon said he hopes to come out of that period still producing students that those outside the university, including employers, value for their ability to problem solve and think critically about the world’s problems.
Of course, doing all of that takes money - and that means broader change needs to come, Hanlon noted.
“The current path we’re on can’t be continued,” he said. “The funding model for higher education is broken.”