You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Sun, Sep 19, 2010 : 5:36 a.m.

University of Michigan doesn't always act in the best interest of the state and nation under its current corporate governance model

By Guest Column

I would like to respond to the Sept. 12 guest column written by Michael Boulus, executive director of the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan, titled “Entrepreneurial autonomy better than bureaucratic system to manage Michigan's universities,” in which he argues against more centralized governance of state universities.

First, you should keep in mind that this column is written by the chief lobbyist for Michigan universities. Second, the word “corporate” should be substituted for the word “entrepreneurial” because that is the structure we really have had for the last 20 years at the University of Michigan (since President Bollinger). This is in contrast to the “shared governance” academic model that built this great university.

The shared governance model gives the faculty and to some degree students a substantial voice in the major decisions of the university. Corporate governance gives nearly all decision making power to the administration, often with a “captive board” that only listens to the wishes of the university president.

An example of how the corporate structure has replaced the shared governance structure is what the U-M refers to as the “rule of two” in the election of each colleges executive committees, which are supposed to advise the deans on major decisions. The U-M administration made a rule that, in all such elections, the faculty must forward the two top vote-getters to the dean and he will pick which of the two will sit on the executive committee. This way the dean can keep faculty members off the committee who he does not like and who might give him advice he does not want to hear. In addition, all executive committees are advisory and the dean can ignore any advice he doesn’t like.

The U-M administration has also consolidated its power by stripping away grievance rights (almost no faculty member has ever won in a grievance). Yet the university has paid many millions of dollars in settlements, court verdicts and legal fees for faculty and students who were wrongfully terminated. Every million dollars paid in settlements costs the students $80 in tuition. The administration uses its own police force to intimidate and occasionally arrest faculty and students on false allegations that they are “threatening.”

The U-M police do exactly what they are told to do, without any independent investigation, because the U-M administration has made sure that the Department of Public Safety Oversight Committee is toothless.

U-M Board of Regents nominations must be made by the political parties and it cost about $50,000 in contributions to the Democrat or Republican parties to buy a nomination. Each member of the board has a vested business interest for being on the board so they do not want to rock the boat. Thus, they are largely a captive board, doing what they are told by President Coleman.

Mr. Boulus points to the acquisition of the Pfizer property as a great accomplishment by U-M that would not have occurred if the decision were made by a centralized Board of Education. In fact, if U-M was seen by Pfizer as an important strategic partner, helping them develop new products, they would not have left, even if they had to pay high corporate and property taxes. U-M President Coleman coveted the Pfizer property, so she had no interest in keeping them in Ann Arbor. That property will never bring as many jobs to Michigan under the university’s direction as were lost with Pfizer’s departure.

Speaking of jobs, U-M has been a huge source of technology transfer to China that has transferred jobs to China and rapidly improved their military power. U-M graduates and visiting scientists have given China, anti-satellite technology, nose cone technology (for their ballistic missiles), B-1 bomber technology, neutron bomb technology, etc, etc.

President Coleman proudly wrote in Forbes magazine “the University of Michigan enrolls more Chinese students than any other American university.” That includes more than 1,300 students and visiting scientist in the College of Engineering alone. Those Chinese students replace American students, decreasing the opportunities for American students to get U-M degrees in engineering. Those potential American engineers could start companies or strengthen companies in Michigan or America.

The newest agreements that U-M has made with Shanghai Jiao Tong University allow for Michigan inventions to be commercialized by Chinese companies. The choice will be entirely up to U-M officials without anyone looking out for the interest of Michigan or America.

This lobbyist dismisses increased tuition at U-M as being due to the lack of state appropriations but that is really a minor force behind rising tuition. Tuition has risen 60 percent since 2002, nearly three times the rate of inflation. State support in 2002 was $351 million and it was cut to $310 million in 2003, but it is still $310 million today (that is the state appropriation but there are other sources of state support since the U-M budget report says that support last year from the state was $374 million). The real driving force is the general fund budget that has risen at a rate of 40 percent since 2002.

The major components of the general fund are salaries and capital expenses. Most faculty and staff will tell you that their raises barely keep up with inflation, so the increases in the salary component of the general fund are driven by increases in the salaries of the university’s highest paid employees.

The university “saved” money this year by shifting some of the cost of health insurance to employees by increasing the employee contribution from 20/80 to 30/70 (a tax most heavily felt by the lowest paid employees). There are also discussions underway to reduce healthcare benefits to retired employees.

At the same time that tuition has been rising, the national ranking of U-M has fallen since 2002 from 24th to 29th in the U.S. News & World Report survey and U-M is not even ranked in the top 25 most desirable universities in the Newsweek rankings.

Centralized Boards can also have their problems but given the existing problems, I think that the example set by world class California universities like Berkeley, UCLA, Cal and USC, which operate under a central board, are not bad.

Dr. Douglas M. Smith is a former (2006-2009) professor in the College of Medicine, Department of Pathology at the University of Michigan, where he was director of the Clinical Histocompatibility Laboratory. His former former appointments have been at the University of Nebraska, University of Oklahoma, and Baylor University Medical Center. He lives in Pittsfield Township.


Abe Thurtell

Fri, Sep 24, 2010 : 3:43 a.m.

"The U-M administration has also consolidated its power by stripping away grievance rights (almost no faculty member has ever won in a grievance)." Numbers? How many grievances have been brought? How many have been won? How does this proportion compare to other universities? The way you phrase this, it sounds like you know a few faculty who have brought grievances and lost them. "Every million dollars paid in settlements costs the students $80 in tuition." That works out to 12,500 students. "The administration uses its own police force to intimidate and occasionally arrest faculty and students on false allegations that they are threatening." Have any examples? I've never heard of anything like this happening. "U-M graduates and visiting scientists have given China..." U-M is not responsible for the actions of their graduates. Don't blame the U for the Unibomber. Now, visiting scientists maybe, but I assume you wouldn't have included the graduates if it didn't pad your list. "Those Chinese students replace American students, decreasing the opportunities for American students to get U-M degrees in engineering." Unless you can show me more-qualified Americans who were rejected while less-qualified Chinese were accepted, I don't see why I should be interested in this statement. "The real driving force is the general fund budget that has risen at a rate of 40 percent since 2002." A rate of 40% compounded over seven years (assuming the most recent available data are for 2009) yields a total increase of more than a factor of ten. If you meant the total increase, rather than the rate, was 40% for that period, that's a much less impressive number; more than half of it is accounted for by inflation. Which is to say, it's an increase, but you're also scaremongering. Your responses to other commenters have amounted to saying "I have ways of knowing these things, but I can't tell you how", in other words, "Just take my word for it", in other words, "I'm just making it up as I go along".


Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 8:40 p.m.

This is a poor article, especially in regard to the criticism of the police department. The oversight committee is charged with reviewing complaints filed against officer conduct. The members of the committee are elected. There is your independent investigation. It should be noted that this is an asset that college/univ's provide that you do not get anywhere else. It's a level of independent investigation that you do not get with other police departments. Is it toothless? Who cares? As with any other PDs, you make a complaint. At UM you can get two investigations. One internal at UMPD and a second with the oversight committee. If you don't like the results, get a lawyer. To say the police department does what they are told is baseless without some examples with some real facts.


Mon, Sep 20, 2010 : 5 a.m.

Excellent article, Dr Smith. Regarding your comments about the DPS at UM, parents and students at UM and other public schools should be very concerned. We can only assume there have been no cover ups....because any information flows directly to the administration first, not to the public. It's not been that long ago that EMU DPS was implicated in the cover up of a murder. When information flows to the administration, it leaves open the possibility that the reputation of the school is top priority. Whether that happens here, who knows? But why leave open the possibility?

Noble Springer

Sun, Sep 19, 2010 : 10:38 p.m.

I think there is some misunderstanding regarding the California universities referred to at the end of the article--"Berkeley, UCLA, Cal, and USC." In fact, Berkeley and Cal are the same school, the University of California at Berkeley. USC is the Unicersity of Southern California, a private university that has no relationship to either Cal or UCLA. Comparing UofM to USC is like comparing apples to oranges. Comparing UofM to the UC schools, which include more campuses than Berkeley or UCLA, is probably not valid because of the complexity of the UC system that includes many other highly ranked schools, including UCSD, UCI, UC Davis, and UCSC--to name just a few.


Sun, Sep 19, 2010 : 12:42 p.m.

@ERM Ghost- you ignore the point that it was the state legislature that gave us the oversight responsibility. for which I gave you the primary source. This argument about sources seems a bit silly. You have none. I have many but I cannot post them in this discussion because I cannot attach documents. If you are interested in an informed discussion, why don't you get the facts.


Sun, Sep 19, 2010 : 12:08 p.m.

@ERM Ghost- According to your figures, the state appropriation should have gone up about $115 million to keep up with inflation (given 2002 as the starting point instead of 2003) but the General fund budget has gone up about $400 million. Thus, although inflation plays a part in higher tuition it does not play a large part. In recent years, every state agency has gotten less than they wanted from state government. We have to control our budgets to deal with these financial times and quit relying on ever increasing tuition.


Sun, Sep 19, 2010 : 11:32 a.m.

@ERM Ghost- Here is a verifiable fact. The state legislature gave the "professoriate" (along with staff and students) the right and responsibility to oversee the campus police. The University of Michigan has largely ignored the state law. Thank god you are not in the state legislature or we would not have that right.


Sun, Sep 19, 2010 : 9:20 a.m.

@ERM Ghost- I have spoken to MCOLES and their response is that they accredit individual officers not police departments. They also respond to charges that UM police dept. violates state law by saying "there are many state laws that no one enforces". Thus, the lack of response by MCOLES is no evidence that UM does not fail to investigate charges made by University administrators. I have told editors the source of my facts if asked and if you would like further documentation, write me an email c/o one of the editors. I think they will probably forward it to me if you ask. The $50,000 may not be the only requirement for the nominations but it is necessary. That is from many insiders in both parties. Some other service to the party or personal relationship with party insiders may be necessary but if you look at the qualifications of the Board of Regents you will not find experience as educators and even their "business" experience is primarily not technical but is as a lawyer (7 of 8 are lawyers). The $50,000 also means that most of them are rich and don't identify with families struggling to pay UM tuition. The statements regarding Pfizer are partly based on logic but are also based on statements made privately by Pfizer executives but I was careful not to attribute it to their statements because I did not hear them directly. The neutron bomb technology is documented by the conviction of the UM graduate who provided the technology to China, the B-1 bomber and trident missile technology comes directly from UM professors with direct knowledge. The anti-satellite technology comes partly from UM faculty and partly from documentation available on the internet. The SJTU agreements are available through FOIA request. All budget and tuition statistics are available on the internet from UM and state documents (I took the time to dig out the accurate numbers). Inflation is important but that is why I compared the budget and tuition statistics in relation to inflation. You can't possibly deny that tuition and budgets are going up much faster than inflation. Some of the construction does appear on the General fund budget but much of it appears on the auxillary budgets for the medical system and federal grant overhead. The constructin that does appear on the General fund budget should be evaluated carefully if it is going to cause tuition to increase during a time of severe economic downturn when it is difficult for Michigan families to afford increased tuition. I think if you take the time to research the issues I have raised, you will find that my facts are well researched.