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Thursday, June 14, 2012

Michigan versus Virginia?

It is well known among us proud Michigan alumni that the university's overall condition and prospects have exceeded those of the state itself over the last several years, in large part due to a weaning of the institution off of public support - a hybrid privatization as it were.

Michigan, Virginia, Wisconsin, Texas, University of California.  Pretty elite public universities.  So no surprise that former Michigan provost Teresa Sullivan got the president's job at Virginia.  I have no special insight into her recent resignation, and take at face value that this was a terminal difference of views as between the Board of Visitors at Virginia, which governs the institution, and President Sullivan.

I wonder if this is an instance in which differences in legal and political structure really mean something. Members of Virginia's Board of Visitors are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the General Assembly.   Members of Michigan's Board of Regents are elected directly by the people.  According to the Wikipedia page I just linked, Michigan is only one of four states in which the governing bodies of public universities are so constituted (Colorado, Nebraska, and Nevada) being the others.  

Clearly, such direct election is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for public university eliteness, but did it make a difference here?  In other words, in my 40 year association with the University of Michigan, I don't ever remember a kerfuffle like this one.  That is, during that period, the Regents appointed Presidents Robben Fleming, Harold Shapiro, James Duderstadt, Lee Bollinger, and Mary Sue Coleman, and they are simply not beholden to anyone except the voters in their oversight of what the president does.

Posted by Jeff Lipshaw on June 14, 2012 at 02:03 PM | Permalink


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