It’s been ten days since the University of Michigan announced that Mark Schlissel would be the school’s new president.
I did not comment then, because I did not know enough to have an opinion, and because I knew Michigan Radio’s news department would do a superb job covering the selection and the new president himself.
I should say, by the way, that while Michigan Radio is a part of the University of Michigan, I am not an employee of the university, and I neither speak for the university or the station management.
But I can tell you that in the 10 days since the new president was announced, I have talked to, or been talked to by a lot of people about it. Roughly speaking, they had two main areas of concern.
The biggest was the rising cost of an education.
Current estimates show the cost of four years at Michigan as more than $108,000 for students who live in this state, and close to $220,000 for out-of-staters.
Clearly, the cost of an education at Michigan’s best public university is now beyond the means of many of its citizens.
This has happened largely because the Legislature no longer supports public education the way it used to.
Once, Lansing covered about 70% of university costs.
Now, they need to get that much through tuition.
Recently I found an old tuition receipt from my graduate school days at Michigan in 1978. I was enrolled for nine credits, and paid $554. That’s about $2,000 in today’s money - still far less than today’s students pay.
How much any university president can do about that is a big question. Other people have told me that they were stunned by the size of the new president’s salary, which, with deferred compensation and other perks, approaches $900,00 a year.
The fact is, however, that the job of a university president today is far different from what it once was.
Essentially, it involves running a multi-billion dollar global corporation under government scrutiny. It is a job at least as hard as that of Alan Mullally at Ford, who made $21 million last year.
One of my own concerns was best illustrated by a woman wearing a Michigan sweatshirt in a gas station in a town called Dansville.
She had a definite opinion about the new president.
“He better do something about fixing the football and basketball teams,” she said.
For her and many other Michiganders who never went to college, the university is a place where major college sports are played, with some sort of school attached. Keeping athletics in their proper place is always a challenge.
African American enrollment has been dropping alarmingly, which is another concern.
Finally, it gives me pause that prior to his final job interview. President-elect Schlissel had never set foot in this state, let alone on the Ann Arbor campus.
Michigan is a fairly complex place. And we sometimes forget that this university was created – nearly 200 years ago -- to serve all Michigan residents.
If the U of M’s new president can somehow continue and deepen that mission, his presidency will be successful indeed.