In November, the Goldwater Institute, a libertarian think tank based in Phoenix, released a telling case study of the rise of one of the nation's premier public universities, the University of Michigan.
In the 1980s, the university found itself in much the same position as the UA does today. With state funding rapidly shrinking, the school struggled to find the revenue it needed to grow into an internationally renowned research institution. As our university prepares for a historic changing of the guard, it should bear in mind the policies that transformed Michigan into one of the top schools in the nation and increased its general revenues from $1.8 billion in 1991 to $4 billion in 2001.
When president Peter Likins introduced his Focused Excellence initiative in 2002, he recognized that "there is no defense for the view that the University of Arizona should attempt to be all things to all people. This would be for us a vain pursuit at any cost, and, with Arizona's resource constraints, it would be a formula for uniform mediocrity at best."
However, under enormous political pressure, Likins drastically scaled back the reforms he proposed for the university. If we are to continue on the path of financial responsibility, we must see through the aims of Focused Excellence by objectively analyzing the worth of programs that remain far from financially self-sufficient, just as Michigan has via its "spires of excellence" strategy.
Before Likins made waves with Focused Excellence, the Arizona Board of Regents introduced Changing Directions, a new model for the development of higher education in Arizona. As the Goldwater study describes, the plan mirrored similar measures in Michigan aimed at decentralizing control over the state's university system, giving more autonomy to individual institutions to set policies such as tuition.
It would be in the university's best interests to continue in the spirit of Changing Directions by relegating more control to individual schools and departments, with the eventual goal of a decentralized, financially modular institution. Doing so would have the enormous benefit of allowing subunits of the university to set differential tuition, as the Eller College of Management did in 2003, thus more closely aligning tuition with the cost of education in specific fields.
Though last year the UA completed Campaign Arizona an unprecedented $1 billion fundraising effort and ranks high on the list of recipients of corporate donations, the university still has room to improve in the arena of private funding. The UA should exploit the enormous base of donors created by Campaign Arizona, as well as its more than 224,000 alumni with the aims of increasing its rate of alumni donations and more importantly, growing a healthy endowment.
As the Goldwater Institute's study reveals, programs similar to these at the University of Michigan were instrumental in propelling it from a respectable regional university to a national powerhouse in a matter of 20 years. If the UA wishes to follow suit, administrators should carefully consider the Michigan example as the UA heads into a new millennium with a new president.