M. Roy Wilson, the 12th president of Wayne State University in Detroit, has been in office just over a month, but already envisions numerous improvements for the institution, including a possible new home for the business school. During an interview Thursday, Wilson answered a wide range of questions, covering future plans for the university, improved student-faculty relationships, and balancing program needs with available funds.
“With the business school, we should consider it not be located on campus, but downtown where the businesses are,” Wilson says. “There’s precedent for that around the country. For example, Northwestern University has a business school in Chicago while Johns Hopkins is in Baltimore. I don’t think our business school is as connected with the business community as it needs to be, but we are getting there.”
Having arrived to Detroit in July, Wilson moved into an apartment on campus and hit the ground running. Rather than meet with various deans and cabinet members at his office, Wilson visited each department as a way to get better acclimated to the main campus as well as the medical campus at the Detroit Medical Center. For the new school year, the university has an enrollment of close to 30,000 students.
“I’ve been travelling to other parts of the city, and I am not naïve that Detroit has a lot of problems where you see blighted neighborhoods and abandoned buildings,” he says. “And while I’ve been to a lot of campuses, I would say Wayne State surprised me with how nice it is. There are people walking the sidewalks, the coffee shops and restaurants are full, and there’s not a piece of trash anywhere. We have some great architecture and sculptures, but we have our challenges.”
Citing the need to be a better service provider, Wilson says he will push for more active relationships between students, faculty, and the administration. “My vision and hope is to make Wayne State a premier urban research university, and that means we can’t keep cutting our way to prosperity. It’s not sustainable. We need to grow.
“One way we do that is to instill a culture that the university will do everything possible and bend over backward to help our students. Our retention rate is low. But I don’t see a sense of urgency that we will keep every single student on campus before they graduate. If we don’t, it’s a failure on our part. I’m not saying we do a bad job, but if there is a rule interpretation, it should be in the student’s favor.”
On other fronts, Wilson says TechTown, the university’s business incubation center, should look to work more closely with other departments, including the Tech Transfer Office (now under way). He also supports the development of more mixed-use developments, especially residential (a new project will be finalized soon), and the boost of synergies between Wayne State, Detroit Medical Center, and Henry Ford Health System.
“I think we do a very good job with public safety, and we will continue to promote public safety,” he says. “But we will take a look at all of the programs on campus and see what is working and which programs will be looked at more closely. We have some programs that only five or six students participate in. We’ll be taking the next nine to 12 months to access everything, and then make strategic moves to get to that premier status.”