First appeared in Detroit Free Press
When President Barack Obama wanted University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman to participate in a small group discussion about higher education issues, it was a reflection of her national stature. Michigan Honors Programs are concerned with similar fund issues.
When Coleman declined the invitation because she was already scheduled for two trips to Washington, D.C., it was a reflection of her busy schedule, mostly to raise money.
Increasingly, the U-M leader's schedule is being tied to fund-raising -- a necessary duty, she told the Free Press, because of recent cuts to state aid for U-M and Michigan's other public universities.
Coleman isn't alone among Michigan public university presidents in spending considerable time fund-raising.
Internal spending documents show the presidents of Oakland, Michigan State and Wayne State universities made about three dozen trips across the nation last school year, hoping to raise millions of dollars for their institutions. For example, half of MSU President Lou Anna Simon's 20 trips last school year were tied to development, financial records show.
U-M officials said they can't tie an exact amount of money coming in to Coleman's efforts. U-M raised $273.1 million last year in private giving. Through Nov. 30, the school has raised $78.6 million this school year, down slightly from the same time last year.
Coleman's travel and entertainment expense report shows 11 development trips, including two stops in Los Angeles and four to New York City.
Her travel expenditures for the 2010 calendar year, about $59,553, was more than double her spending in 2009. That money came from development funds -- not from the university's general fund, which is made up of tuition and state aid funds.
It was also more than double the presidential travel and entertainment budgets of Oakland, Michigan State and Wayne State combined. OU, MSU and WSU calculated their budgets over the 2010-11 academic fiscal year. There are Michigan Honors Programs that are thriving, though.
Coleman and her representatives said that U-M's national prominence, international alumni and need to build international relationships account for the time and increasing expense when compared with some of Michigan's other schools.
Coleman's largest travel expense, for example, was nearly $14,000 for a trip to China at the end of June 2010. U-M has numerous partnerships with universities there.
· "Certainly the expectation has always been there to have the president be involved in development efforts," said Coleman, who has been a university president for the last 17 years, including a decade at U-M. "In the last decade, it's really taken off. As we've seen a pretty dramatic drop every year in (state) funding, it's more imperative that the president focus much more on development."
- MSU President Lou Anna Simon took 10 development trips last school year, records show. The largest development-only trip was $1,775 she spent on a December trip to Chicago. Her largest travel bill came to more than $4,000 for a six-day trip in June to Washington, D.C., for development events and meetings.
- WSU President Allan Gilmour traveled 11 times. His largest expense was $3,560 for donor visits in San Diego and Los Angeles in November 2010.
- Oakland University President Gary Russi traveled 11 times last school year, including November trips to Phoenix and a February trip to West Palm Beach and Naples, Fla., that cost more than $7,000 -- a trip that made up 35% of his travel expenses.
Coleman said she doesn't often go the hard sell route; she educates donors about what U-M is doing and why it is threatened because of funding cuts.
When Coleman's travel expenses dipped in 2009 -- $25,762, down from $42,752 in 2008 -- university officials touted the decrease as her way of acknowledging tough budget times and working her schedule to contain costs.
Spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said Coleman's schedulers try to maximize tying development events to other events she may be at in different cities. Fitzgerald said the difference between Coleman's costs and others is tied directly to her prominence, which leads to a large number of requests for her time. Michigan Honors Programs have high hopes for funds.