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President Haenicke pans higher ed funding proposal

March 2, 2007

KALAMAZOO--"A bad idea whose time has come."

That's how Western Michigan University President Diether H. Haenicke characterized part of the governor's budget proposal that would permanently separate the funding for Michigan's three largest universities from that of Michigan's 12 other public universities.

Speaking at a hearing of the Michigan House Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education today at the University of Michigan-Flint, Haenicke was blunt in his assessment of how such a move would lead to greater funding disparities between the two groups of universities, ultimately damaging Michigan's higher education system and hurting Michigan students.

The move is being promoted by Michigan State University, Wayne State University and the University of Michigan who say they deserve more state support because of the economic impact they wield as a result of the scope of their research. The scheme, Haenicke said, was triggered by the state's current economic woes, and a desire by some to carve up scarce resources. He urged the subcommittee to resist falling prey to "a bad idea."

"It's like driving a car into the future and deciding to maintain only the cylinders," he told the panel. Such a move, he said, would jeopardize the state's ability to increase its number of college graduates, two thirds of whom earn their degrees in what Haenicke jokingly dubbed "the other 12." Michigan's future, he said hinges on maintaining the quality of all 15 of its public universities that make up a system, he said that is the envy of many other states.

"We have created something that is still magnificent, although we've had difficult financial times recently," Haenicke told the panel. "We as a state will reap great benefits if only we can find a way to make it through this period. We need to maintain the quality and grow in focused strategic ways."

Haenicke recounted his history as the provost of WSU and Ohio State University, both large research universities with medical schools, as well as his time as president of WMU, a smaller research university. He noted his background gives him a healthy respect for the roles of all types of state universities.

"I know what it's like to be the 800-pound gorilla in the room," he said. "But there are always lots of other gorillas, and there are only so many bananas, so pretty soon someone is trying to cut them up. That's what's happening here."

Haenicke said undergraduate education is critical to Michigan's success and he asked the subcommittee not to shortchange or overlook the majority of Michigan students. The solutions he suggested to subcommittee members were twofold: find a way to increase resources and resolve to put Michigan students at the heart of their decision-making.

"You have to be mindful that all of the kids in our schools are Michigan citizens, and they will be the people who replace us," Haenicke said. "And they better be well and fairly treated.

Responding to questions about where WMU is experiencing the greatest need for new resources, Haenicke said more full-time faculty would enhance classroom instruction by decreasing class size and allowing more faculty-student interaction.

"The classroom is where you meet the students and where you really shape the quality of their minds," he said.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, (269) 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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