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Engler, Schlissel, and Wilson tout research clout, talk sexual assault at annual gathering

University Research Corridor
via Facebook

The presidents of Michigan’s three major research universities talked about state funding and campus sexual assault, and touted their combined research contributions and economic clout at the Detroit Economic Club Wednesday.

This is an annual gathering for these university leaders, who collectively form Michigan’s University Research Corridor. This year, they highlighted anew studythat pegged their contributions to the state’s economy last year at $18.7 billion—“more than twenty times the state’s funding for these three universities,” according to the report.

The URC can stand “shoulder to shoulder” with any of the country’s great university research clusters, said University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel.

Schlissel was joined onstage by Wayne State University President M. Roy Wilson, and for the first time, Michigan State University Interim President John Engler.

State funding for higher education, or the lack thereof, was a big topic of discussion. All three university heads said they’re doing what they can to keep college affordable and accessible to students from all backgrounds.

Schlissel touted U-M’s new Go Blue Guarantee,which provides free tuition to undergraduate students from families making $65,000 a year or less.

Schlissel says the university is still crunching the numbers of this year’s admissions data, but he’s confident the program will help diversify the student body.

“I predict what we’re going to see is a big increase in interest from parts of the state and parts of the economy that never used to think of a Michigan education as being accessible or affordable for them,” Schlissel said.

Schlissel suggested it would help if the state did a better job funding universities, saying universities receive roughly the same levels of state funding as they did in 1997.

Engler said MSU is also doing its best to stay on firm financial footing, while implementing a two-year budget that includes undergraduate tuition freezes. But he acknowledged the $500 million legal settlement between the school and imprisoned former sports doctor Larry Nassar’s sexual assault victims will make for tighter budgets and fewer big investments, even though MSU’s insurers should pay out a good portion of that settlement.

“If somebody showed up as a donor and said here’s a check for $500 million, you’d probably have a lot you could do with that,” Engler said. “We won’t have that ability.”

But Engler says the quick settlement is ideal because it allows both the school and Nassar survivors to “move on.” And he said that MSU would announce its “largest single gift” in school history Thursday, suggesting the school has found its footing after the fallout surrounding Nassar’s crimes.

Engler has been criticized for his handling of that fallout. Last month, he scrapped an edition of MSU’s alumni magazine focusing on stories about Nassar victims, campus sexual misconduct cases, and the university’s handling of them. In its place was a new edition with a focus on how MSU has emerged from a litany of sexual misconduct and assault scandals to become, as the new cover states, “stronger, safer, and more competitive than ever before.”

Asked Wednesday if he had anything to say about the magazine’s overhaul, Engler said “Not really.”

“The magazine was in production over a period of time,” he added. “And the magazine that came out’s the magazine we published.”

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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