|MSU Sets Example in How to Lead|
Tuesday, September 29, 2009/The Detroit News
When Michigan State University officially opens its Detroit Center on Thursday, there won't be a showy ceremony or a block "S" looming over Woodward.
Instead, there will be something more subtle -- a lesson in leadership and smart management, how to decide what's important and do it, how to move forward amid terrible financial times because looking backward and guarding the status quo is not a path to emerging on the other side.
"If you're going to go through all this pain and anguish" of recession and budget cutting, Michigan State President Lou Anna K. Simon said in an interview, "You better decide on what you're going to be. You have to sort of move forward. The crisis doesn't define who you are or where you're going."
Opening the Detroit Center, a 22,000-square-foot facility, is a bricks-and-mortar symbol of MSU's deepening commitment to Detroit despite difficult times for both. It also exemplifies a leadership style sorely lacking elsewhere in Lansing -- understand what you are and want to be before making politically charged decisions to dismantle parts of what you have.
"I've still got to do things," Simon said. "Once you've slashed the budget without a vision of where you're going ... you're not sure you have the building blocks to move forward."
She's got that right, because it's getting worse. Michigan ranks dead last among the 50 states for government appropriations to public colleges and universities, according to data from the State Higher Education Executive Officers association. Between 2003 and 2008, inflation-adjusted spending for higher ed in Michigan dropped 22.7 percent while Alabama led the nation with an increase of 37 percent.
Also near the top of the pack are Tennessee and Louisiana, yet more evidence that Southern right-to-work states are adding higher education to their lengthening list of value-added industries (like auto- and auto-parts making) they aim to expand to boost per-capita incomes, improve quality of life and attract talent.
Which is why Michigan State is approaching the most serious financial crisis in decades in a refreshingly different way -- comprehensively, collaboratively, publicly and head-on.