Incoming University of Michigan president Mark Schlissel appears to have the vision U-M needs to build on Mary Sue Coleman's successful run. (Charles V. Tines / The Detroit News)
Mark Schlissel has big shoes to fill. As the incoming president of the University of Michigan, he will take the reins from retiring Mary Sue Coleman in July. Coleman has set a high bar as a fundraising powerhouse and university leader. U-M’s new president seems prepared for the challenge.
Schlissel earned the unanimous support of the Board of Regents when they named him president on Friday.
Coleman had announced her retirement last April, after serving as president for more than a decade.
Schlissel’s background is well suited to lead one of the largest research universities in the country.
Like Coleman, Schlissel has a strong academic record. He graduated from Princeton University, and then earned his M.D. and Ph.D. degrees at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Schlissel is currently provost at Brown University and is a recognized biomedical researcher.
His vision for the university is expansive, and he wants students to leave Ann Arbor prepared to make a lasting impact.
“The mission of the university is to educate the best and the most hard-working and talented of the rising generation of students,” Schlissel said.
To further that mission, Schlissel is calling on the state of Michigan to invest more in higher education.
Plenty of other groups have made the same pitch — including Business Leaders for Michigan — and it is the responsibility of the university presidents to continue to press for higher education to be a greater priority in budgeting.
Schlissel says greater state support will help him address a growing challenge: the dwindling number of Michigan students at U-M.
Though funding has lagged, universities still get a significant sum from the state.
This school year, Michigan invested about $1.4 billion in higher education, with U-M receiving nearly $280 million — roughly 17 percent of its operating revenue.
Michigan students should have a greater opportunity to attend the state’s top university.
“As a public university supported by all taxpayers, the university has an obligation to try its best to look like the state it is serving,” Schlissel correctly says.
A few of the state’s 15 universities have seen record enrollments, including U-M. Those numbers are boosted by students from out-of-state, who pay much higher tuition rates.
A report from the Senate Fiscal Agency found that out-of-state students comprised about 47 percent of the student body at U-M in 2011.
Schlissel also must be prepared to handle situations dealing with diversity.
Most recently, the Black Student Union has made some demands on the university, including upping its percentage of black students.
And by June, the U.S. Supreme Court will rule on whether a voter-approved Michigan law banning affirmative action in higher education admissions is constitutional.
If Michigan’s law is upheld, Schlissel must figure out how to comply while maintaining a richly diverse campus.
A newcomer to Michigan, Schlissel has much to learn about the university and state, but he seems as if he will be a powerful advocate for U-M, and for higher education in general as the state retools for more 21st century jobs.