OUR VIEW: State universities should reveal more

By Daily News • Last Updated 7:31 pm on Friday, March 23, 2012

Academic freedom, economic strife and responsible stewardship.

Michigan State University, Wayne State University and the University of Michigan have all come under scrutiny for allegedly stepping on some state legislative toes.

MSU and Wayne State apparently exceeded state guidelines in increasing tuition rates last year, and U-M was accused giving an inadequate explanation of its stem cell research.

The state has a right to question the size of state college tuition increases as it determines the amount of state aid it will distribute. Nevertheless, as a percentage of college and university budgets, state aid has dropped dramatically and schools have been forced to hike tuitions.  The real sticking point in this dollars debacle is that by constitutional fiat, Michigan colleges do not have to open their books to the legislators. In addition to actual classroom teaching, these schools are also in the food, lodging, health care, sports and recreation, parking and policing business. All are revenue producers. It seems like these learned institutions would have plenty of savvy to show us all how to get more bang for our bucks.

We do not advocate the schools’ losing their independence; it’s just that as they stake a claim for more taxpayer dollars, they might be a little more revealing about their efforts and successes in cutting their costs, and of the sacrifices their institutions have made in order to help students and their families struggle with college expenses. At the very least, it would make for better public relations.

U-M’s apparent transgression is of a different nature. The university is accused of “thumbing its nose” at legislators because it did not provide a one-sheet answer to five questions about its human stem cell research. Aside from the fact that the matter is of religious nature and politically charged, it is ludicrous to presume that the complexities of a stem cell research program could be adequately explained on one sheet. Have you ever gotten one of those political party “surveys” in the mail?  All the “questions” are so black and white and obvious you’d think that all the country’s problems would have been solved by now. U-M’s state appropriation accounts for about 8 percent of the school’s $3.2 billion budget.
Nevertheless, U-M bears the same responsibility as the other schools for proper stewardship of state and student dollars invested with its operations.

American society often implies or assigns extra responsibilities to those who enjoy the most success.
These days, higher education and health care providers are booming industries. In their efforts to meet the demand for their services, it is incumbent upon the purveyors of those services to have eyes and ears for their customers, and not lose track of who makes their success possible. The same should apply to our elected officials.

Editorial opinions are the consensus of The Daily News editorial board.

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