October 6, 2011/Detroit Free Press
By David Jesse
Restructuring plan could mean end to autonomy
DETROIT - Although Michigan's universities are working together more than ever, there's no need to consolidate them into one statewide system, the presidents of the state's biggest three said Tuesday.
"I think we are some of the most responsive (higher education) institutions to the state's needs anywhere in the country," University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman told the Detroit Economic Club. She added she didn't think that would be the case if all the universities were grouped under one system.
Coleman's comments came as a new bill started working its way through the Legislature to establish a commission to look at restructuring the university system. Under the state's constitution, each of Michigan's 12 public universities are autonomous.
The three biggest - U-M, Michigan State University and Wayne State University - have publicly elected governing boards, while the others' governing boards are appointed by the governor.
The commission would be made up of 11 people appointed by the governor, the Senate majority leader and the speaker of the House.
The commission would be tasked with analyzing the current governing system and then making recommendations, which could include consolidating some universities.
The bill has been referred to a committee for study.
The university presidents said keeping the universities autonomous would be best for the state.
"We are market driven," Coleman said. "If we are offering a degree that nobody wants, we drop it."
The universities have done a good job of cutting budgets and being fiscally responsible, Coleman said.
Lou Anna Simon, MSU's president, agreed with Coleman. She said the autonomy allows for decisions to be made that are best for each campus.
She said both MSU and U-M have made changes to save money on health care, but U-M's solutions are different because it is structured differently and has its own medical center.
Simon also played down the notion that consolidation would save money: "If you add layers, you add cost."
WSU President Allan Gilmour said he doesn't think there's much clamor for consolidation.
"The alternative (to autonomous universities) is a czar, a commission in Lansing," he said, adding he didn't think any of the business leaders in the audience would want politicians running their companies.
Despite wanting to stay autonomous, the universities do want to work together, the three said, especially in terms of the University Research Corridor.