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January 19, 2006 - Image 14

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 2006-01-19

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U In her fourth year as president, Mary Sue Coleman
works to establish her image on campus
By Jason Z. Pesickfl Editor in Chief
he University of Michigan has an identity problem. As a large public university, it serves the state of
Michigan and its residents. It relies on hundreds of millions of dollars from the state each year and
cannot raise its tuition rates as high as its private peers. Unlike the private schools, the University
has a broader and more complex mission than just grooming a few thousand of the nation's most
elite students.

gree but who has spent plenty of time in the
In the spring of 2002, when the University
Board of Regents announced that Coleman
would be the 13th president of the Universi-
ty, among the University community and its
alumni there was a collective, "Who?"
"When Mary Sue came in, I didn't know
who she was," said political science and pub-
lic policy Prof. John Chamberlin.
She was the first president since Rob-
ben Fleming took the position in 1968 who
had not previously worked at the University
- and she was from Iowa. Wasn't there an
administrator somewhere on the East Coast
we could have picked off?
Although Coleman has since won him
over, when University alum and "60 Min-
utes" star journalist Mike Wallace heard
of the regents' choice, he was skeptical. He
didn't have any idea who she was, he told me
over the phone.
It's not difficult to understand why the
regents chose Coleman. After former Presi-
dent Lee Bollinger left to become president
of Columbia University shortly after finish-
ing second to Lawrence Summers in the race
to become Harvard's president, the regents
were looking for someone who would stick
around for a while. Ann Arbor is full of peo-
ple who will say they felt used by Bollinger,
that he used Michigan as a stepping stone to
the East Coast.
One of Bollinger's most ambitious - and
most controversial - ideas was to pour hun-
dreds of millions of dollars into the life sci-
ences. The centerpiece of that project was
the Life Sciences Institute, which four years
ago was not taking off quickly - to say the
least. Regent Olivia Maynard said that four
years ago LSI was getting started "but had
no direction yet." As a former scientist her-
self, Coleman seemed to stand a chance of
saving the project.

Coleman says the regents were blunt about
which issues they wanted her to tackle. The
men's basketball program was mired in the
aftermath of a booster scandal, the affirma-
tive action cases still had not been resolved at
the Supreme Court, many of the University's
top administrative positions were empty and
its large medical system was facing financial
It also didn't hurt her candidacy that she
is a woman, the first to serve as University
Coleman was the last candidate to be
interviewed. "She was spectacular," Regent
Andrew Fischer Newman told me.
And so the regents made their surprise
selection, despite the popularity of interim
President B. Joseph White, a former Busi-
ness School dean whom even members of
the leftist Students Organized for Labor and
Economic Equality liked. When The Michi-
gan Daily was listing its endorsements for
the November 2002 elections, the editors
slipped in B. Joseph White for University
president, months after Coleman had already
taken over as president.
Coleman, now 62, started the job just
weeks before this year's seniors started
moving into their dorm rooms to begin their
freshman year.
As they were just starting to jump into col-
lege life, Coleman was jumping into her new
job. She had the tough dual assignment of
addressing the issues the regents wanted her
to tackle and getting to know the University
- all without a full team of vice presidents
in place. She decided to keep Paul Courant,
then the interim provost, on board for three
more years; she did not know the University
well enough to pick her own provost - the
University's second-highest ranking offi-
cial. Since becoming president, Coleman has
appointed four other vice presidents in addi-
tion to a new provost, Teresa Sullivan, who

will likely assume the position in June.
Coleman skillfully handled most of the
issues bothering the regents - either the
work Bollinger started but did not have
time to complete or the mess Bollinger left
behind, depending on whom you ask. She
told me she is happy with the way she dealt
with the basketball scandal fallout and that
the Life Sciences Institute is "booming,"
although Maynard said, "We're probably not
out of the woods yet." Under Executive Vice
President for Medical Affairs Robert Kelch,
the health system has been making money
- and a lot of it. Coleman has also proven
herself a successful fundraiser during a time
of declining state support; her Michigan Dif-
ference capital campaign is well on its way
to raise its goal of $2.5 billion.
After almost two years of tackling those
issues and learning the ropes, Coleman out-
lined her vision for the University in the
Pendleton Room of the Michigan Union in
2004. Coleman wanted to maintain the Uni-
versity's high academic quality, engage the
University in the challenges facing American
society, promote collaboration and increase
access to the University. She announced ini-
tiatives on team teaching, ethics, health care
and residential life.
"As I told you at the outset, sometimes
issues choose a president, and sometimes a
president can choose her own issues," she
said near the end of the speech.
The speech presented many good ideas,
but it did not present a clear vision for the
University or define who Coleman is.


he day I spent with Coleman in
December started with break-
fast at her house (the big white
one on South University Ave-
nue) before most of the campus
was awake. She served us cof-
fee, juice, fruit and muffins that

TOP: Coleman prepares a meal in her kitchen at home. MIDDLI
Michigan's Men's Glee Club. BOTTOM: Coleman working in h
the Fleming Administration Building.

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