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Posted on Thu, Sep 2, 2010 : 5:59 a.m.

New U-M Provost Phil Hanlon: A balancing act between academics and budget

By David Jesse

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.”


University of Michigan Provost Phil Hanlon

In an interview with 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 1-½ 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.”

David Jesse covers higher education for He can be reached at or at 734-623-2534.



Thu, Sep 2, 2010 : 2:58 p.m.

Perhaps my experience is a little different than in LS&A since my experience is in the College of Medicine but it is primarily the NIH grants with their 55% overhead that is the tail wagging the dog.


Thu, Sep 2, 2010 : 10:21 a.m.

@trespass: You really must have a lot of time on your hands to go through all those effort certifications - a pain that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. And I'm not surprised that you found "0% undergraduate teaching" - undergraduate teaching is typically reported as "general academic instruction". And most star faculty teach outstanding courses, and also often mentor top undergraduate students personally in their labs, take them to archieves, etc. This kind of education is invaluable, and puts them on track for a lifetime of achievement at the very highest level. And it's those opportunities for students that are unique to UM and other top-notch research universities, provided by outstanding (and admittedly expensive) faculty, as opposed to colleges that focus just on turning out a high number of graduates at the lowest cost. And there is a place and a need for both.


Thu, Sep 2, 2010 : 8:08 a.m.

@MjC- if it's true, it is the exeption. Most funded researchers do little teaching, outside their labs. I have been through a lot of their "effort" reports, 0% effort for undergraduate teaching, 97% effort on research grants (also a fraud intended to maximize government reimbursment). "Michigan can't afford to lose any more top scholars". The truth is that we can't afford to keep increasing tuition at the rate it is rising. What we really can't lose is more of the brightest Michigan students who can't afford to go to their states flagship school. What good is a top notch university if the only people that can afford to go are Chinese, supported by the Chinese government and committed to return to China to start their businesses in China or continue their military careers(as President Coleman proudly wrote recently "the University of Michigan enrolls more Chinese students than any other American university". Perhaps that is what Andrea Fischer Newman meant when she said she "also would like to see more outstate students to bring in more tuition money" and "Among the approaches she would explore...seeking private endowments, including those from foreign sources".


Thu, Sep 2, 2010 : 8:05 a.m.

I agree with MJC. There are the usual gripes--usually just repetition of the same rumors--but the fact is that things at a university the size of UM are quite complex. Top scholars do not always attract big research grants; in the humanities and much of the "humanistic" social sciences, and these are the backbone of a university, there are no big grants to be had. Many complain about the salaries of professors, which are hardly excessive compared to what the administrators are receiving, but the point is to have a great faculty. What is the use of a university that does not have topnotch teachers? The fact is that people who are not actively engaged in research are rarely good teachers--they maybe less popular, but the grandstanding non-scholars who often entertain usually are behind the times and are not up on the latest accomplishments of scholarship. This does not set a good example for students. The point is not to get a UM degree at any cost, but to learn and to learn how to learn in the future. Football and all that silly stuff will not do much for graduates in this age.


Thu, Sep 2, 2010 : 7:32 a.m.

"The ferocious battle for top faculty is not about teaching." I have to disagree. Our department lost two outstanding faculty members who were not only top-notch research scientists, but excellent instructors (student ratings were always high). The Professors I know mentor, encourage, and enjoy teaching. Yes, they bring in research dollars but that's because they are THAT brilliant. We do not want to continue losing research professors of this caliber, but the competition is fierce out there. Michigan can't afford to lose any more top scholars. Mediocre doesn't cut it if we want our children taught by the very best.


Thu, Sep 2, 2010 : 5:59 a.m.

The ferocious battle for top faculty is not about teaching, it is about research grants. "Top faculty" don't teach except in their research labs and seminars. What good does it do to have these top faculty if tuition increases deprive the best students of the opportunity to attend UM? The Regents and the Administration always use decreasing state funding as an excuse for raising tuition but since 2002 (the term of the Regents up for re-election) state funding has gone down from $351 million to $316 million ($35 million) or about $700 per student. In addition, the entire cut occurred between 2002 and 2003 and state funds have been pretty steady since 2003. Tuition hikes since 2002 have been, In-state $4,174 to $4,705 (lower level to upper level LS&A tuition) and out of state $11,572 to $12,384. Clearly the state funding cuts are a minor part of tuition inflation. The General Fund budget (the core cost of educating students) has increased from $1.113 billion in 2002 to $1.553 billion in 2010. This is an increase of 40% while inflation has been 22%. Tuition has increased 60%. Thus, the General fund budget is going up at twice the rate of inflation and tuition three times inflation, so the fact that state appropriations have not kept up with inflation is only part of the problem. Also keep in mind that they kept the general fund down a little by transferring some of the health care costs to employees by increasing their healthcare insurance contribution from 20/80 to 30/70 (impacting lower paid employees much more than highly paid ones). The two largest components of the General Fund budget are salaries and capital expenses. The salaries of most employees go up at about the rate of inflation or less, so the increases in salary above inflation have to do mostly with recruiting the most highly paid employees (mostly for faculty with research grants and administrators). Much of the capital expenses for buildings and equipment are also related to recruitment of research faculty. Thus, tuition inflation is driven by competition to recruit faculty and administrators that have been successful at obtaining federal grants. That may contribute to graduate education but has almost nothing to do with undergraduate education. The UM likes to say that the state funds covered 78% of the General Fund budget in 1960 but only 22% in 2009 but that has more to do with the UMs run away budget than with cuts in state funding. Despite all of this tuition inflation the UM's national ranking is falling (down to 29th this year). The Board of Regents has not made affordability a priority. In 2009, Illitch and Darlow voted against tuition increases but Richner and Fischer Newman voted for 5.6% tuition increases, so they had the votes to defeat the increases if they wanted to. Both Richner and Fischer Newman ran on platforms to keep tuition costs in line with inflation (fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me) Let us vote out the incumbent regents until they get the message that the citizens of Michigan want the opportunity for their brightest children to attend UM without going into debt for the rest of their lives.