[This article originally appeared on March 1, 2005.]
The Van Andel public museum, the DeVos convention center, the Van Andel Research Institute, and now the clamor for Michigan State University to re-locate its lackluster College of Human Medicine in town. And so the march of the white elephants continues.
The Ambassador, Peter Secchia, is the most recent champion of this $600 million medical school boondoggle. In the Saturday edition of the Grand Rapids Press, the MSU alumnus encouraged us to "go for it!" He argued that there's not just the dollars that MSU's medical school would (without explanation) contribute to the local economy, but also MSU's "plant research grants are big" and its veterinary school is one of the best "with increasing research dollars available". The Ambassador also enticed us with the prospect that if the re-located medical didn't get bogged down with training new doctors it could subordinate itself to the Van Andel Research Institute for clinical research trials to bag "large federal grants". [My emphasis throughout.]
Of course, if a medical school would be as lucrative as all that, one wonders why private investors are not lined up to make it happen. The Ambassador neglects to mention either the school's likely price tag or how it would be paid for. But then the Ambassador was salesman in his previous life, and going from huckster to booster isn't a great leap. Both require mastering the art of accentuating the positive, especially when the positive is positively not there.
So, our modest request of the Ambassador is to answer two questions about bringing MSU's College of Human Medicine to Grand Rapids:
 Who pays?
 Who benefits?
Recall the white elephants we already have here in town. They are enshrined as shining examples of the Grand Rapids "way" -- i.e., public-private partnerships that make things happen. What gets missed in all this feel-good frippery is that those who pay are not those who benefit. The private partner collects the cash while the public partner (a.k.a. the taxpayer) picks up the bill in exchange for the dubious consideration of holding title to the white elephant.
Let's not get suckered again.