It is of critical importance that America focus its attention on the future of public research universities, said Mary Sue Coleman, president emerita of the University of Michigan, during the McBee Lecture in the Chapel Dec. 2.
Coleman, who served as the University of Michigan president from 2002 until July of this year and is co-chair of the Lincoln Project: Excellence and Access in Public Education, said the U.S. needs to protect its legacy in higher education.
“American higher education, particularly public higher education, is one of the monumental achievements of this country,” she said. “No other nation can rival the innovation, creativity and intellectual fervor of American universities.”
That distinction, Coleman said, enhances America’s well-being by improving medicine, businesses, national security and more. When it comes to income inequality, Coleman said, higher education is well suited to provide solutions.
Unfortunately, public higher education is threatened, Coleman said, by trends of decreased financial support from state and federal governments and by public skepticism about the value of higher education.
To work toward preserving and improving public universities, Coleman offered three goals on which public universities need to focus: making a better case for state and federal financial support; building stronger partnerships with private enterprise with the goal of better funding; and getting better at multitasking the other challenges facing universities in the 21st century.
This multitasking, Coleman said, includes establishing partnerships between universities in research, finding ways to lower costs and focusing on need-based scholarships to make education available to all.
“I trust that together we will see that America’s public research universities are powerful, productive and able to grow in the 21st century,” she said.
Sponsored by the Institute of Higher Education, the lecture honors Louise McBee, a former UGA vice president for academic affairs and a former state representative from Athens.