President Mary Sue Colemans Inaugural Address
Address from Professor James S. Jackson, Inaugural Speaker
President Mary Sue Colemans Inaugural Address
Look to your roots, to discover your future
President Mary Sue Coleman
University of Michigan
March 27, 2003
Thank you Regent Deitch, and all our Regents, for inviting me to lead this remarkable University, its three campuses, and its many schools and colleges. Greetings to all of you who traveled here today, whether your journey took you across the campus or across the globe. I come before you today to pledge my commitment to expand the excellence of all the endeavors of this magnificent community.
This is a day both to cast a look backward and to reach forward contemplating our valued traditions along with the future aspirations of the University.
One of the joys for me today is to be able to surround myself with my own history. Joining us are many members of my family, whose love and dedication have been without boundaries. Many of you know my husband Ken, who has joined the ranks of students here at Michigan, and who is experiencing the intellectual challenges and exhilaration that are shared by so many whose lives have been touched by our university. My mother, Margaret Wilson, has enjoyed the delights of winter in Ann Arbor with us. Our son Jonathan and his wife Aimee are here, and my family has another cause for celebration today: Jonathans 32nd birthday.
I am deeply grateful that so many friends and colleagues from our lives at the Universities of Kentucky, North Carolina, New Mexico, and Iowa have traveled here to share this celebration. Their support and camaraderie have nurtured and sustained us in both good and trying times. We have been blessed beyond measure by their modeling of the notion of an intellectual community. I delight in their collective presence today.
And of course, I am surrounded by my future as well the magnificent community of students, faculty, staff, Regents, and alumni of the University of Michigan. Your talents are large, and your ambitions even larger. Every day, you inspire me and instruct me. It is a privilege to join you.
The formal installation of a new president is a moment when an entire institution reflects upon its mission and its priorities.
All of us associated with the University of Michigan are constantly assessing priorities. Such moments can never be fully enumerated because they occur simultaneously throughout every minute of every day across a complex and diverse campus. Whenever a student is choosing a major, a department is choosing a new faculty member, or I am appointing a vice president, this university is making choices.
All of you who are long-time members of the University of Michigan community have made a multitude of decisions that contribute to our current stature. Todays university represents the accumulated choices of almost two hundred years of history, of hundreds of thousands of individuals who have studied here, taught here, done research here, or provided service here. This rich history has built us an enormous web of alumni and external supporters that sustain all of us.
It is easy to think of this place as an aggregation of buildings and a congregation of faculty. But a university is so much more ethereal than that a university is a concept more than a place.
And we bring that concept to life every day, at every hour of the day, in the classrooms, the laboratories, even the hallways.
One of the great marvels of a university is that it provides a culture where the dialogue of scholars can flourish. These dialogues range from the interaction within freshmen seminars to the collegial arguments that last long into the night and persist across decades. This life of the mind is the quintessence of a university, and soars beyond our physical walls.
But today, we find ourselves in the midst of a troubling time. Our country is at war, and many in our community are concerned for the welfare of our nation and of all involved nations, as well as for family members and comrades directly affected by this military action. In addition, our nation and our state are struggling economically. As a result, we are dealing with unfamiliar budgetary constraints every day.
How will we keep building and cultivating this university that we hold in such high regard?
I believe we can provide strength to ourselves and to the world by upholding the two notions I suggested at the outset: highlighting the traditions we value, while at the same time advancing our aspirations.
There is a symbol from Ghana, known as the sankofa, which embodies a message relevant to us today. The sankofa is a bird that is moving forward, while its head is turned backward. The proverb associated with the symbolism of the bird is:
Look to your roots, in order to reclaim your future.
The glory of the University of Michigan resides in its ability to re-invent itself continually, to cherish its roots while inventing the future.
I have now had time to contemplate the past of this great institution, and to consider our future. As I stretch out one hand toward our unlimited possibilities, I want to reach back to our past with my other hand.
We are not just a great university we are a great public university, and that entails responsibilities to many constituencies. The University of Michigan was established in Detroit in 1817 to educate the young men of this state, with a generous gift of land from three Native American tribes. But within a few decades, it had been translated to this campus in Ann Arbor, and transformed into a university dedicated not just to teaching, but to the discovery and creation of knowledge.
Then, and now, public universities have had a contract with society, a quid pro quo. Because the state benefits from having an educated citizenry, the state supports it with public funds. The universities, in turn, have a reciprocal responsibility to the states. In this regard, our roots are not only deep, but also broad, extending hundreds of years and hundreds of miles.
One of the earliest proponents of public universities was Thomas Jefferson, who was determined to create what he termed a natural aristocracy an educated, egalitarian population that would not rely on the older social order of inherited wealth, or of birth into aristocracy.
No one knew better than Jefferson how difficult it would be to negotiate a social contract of public support for public universities. It took him decades to convince Virginia to fund such an enterprise in fact, the University of Michigan had already been in operation for eight years before the University of Virginia opened in 1825.
Jeffersons attempts to shape a publicly supported university reveal the tensions of funding and priorities that we still face today. When confronted with a proposed Legislative budget that was not adequate to his vision, Jefferson, a former Governor of Virginia himself, wrote repeatedly to state legislators, imploring them with this request: I think the Legislature might be induced to make a further appropriation towards the completion and endowment of [the university]. Some part of the money appropriated to the primary schools might be more usefully [applied to the university].
Some tensions have not changed in two hundred years!
Like Thomas Jefferson and Virginia, the State of Michigan established an ambitious plan for a new type of university a public university, and one dedicated to new types of education, especially in the sciences, that would serve the public interest.
The University of Michigan established a curriculum and hired a faculty, but did not make provisions for hiring a president. But somehow, the University of Michigan managed to operate very well without a formally appointed president for its first thirty-five years! But the Regents finally did hire a president, who set the University on an ambitious course that we still attempt to sustain and surpass. In his inaugural speech of 1852, our first president, Henry Philip Tappan, promised to bring distinguished scholars to the faculty, to enlarge the library and laboratory, and to establish an art gallery. He wanted the University to move from mere dissemination of knowledge to research. With declaratory strokes of the pen, he set down our roots: concisely stated, yet broadly conceived.
Think of what he described, and what we enjoy today: he wanted distinguished scholars, a marvelous library, world-class laboratories, and a home for the arts. And underpinning all of these: a university that continually expands the boundaries of knowledge. We have attained President Tappans vision, and much more than he ever could have imagined.
Two decades later, President James Angell began his long and illustrious term by reinforcing the mutual benefit of state and university, when he said in his inaugural address: The State and the University should feel that their interests are identical. The prosperity of the University is bound up in that of the State. Michigan cannot grow stronger, wiser and happier, without strengthening her principal seat of learning.
Every new president of any organization has previous presidents peering over her shoulders. On our campus, they look to me from the great halls which bear their names: Tappen, Angell, Fleming, and more. Six of them hover as gargoyles that scrutinize me when I enter the Law Quadrangle. Two of them are peering over my shoulders right now.
As we consider our history, I want to recall the contributions of my predecessors who are here today, Presidents Emeriti Lee Bollinger and James Duderstadt. All of us owe them an immense debt of gratitude.
Contemplating their legacies, and reflecting on the core ideals of this University, has revealed to me the enduring strengths that this university has valued. These are historic values that we must enrich.
To start, we must substantially bolster the multi-disciplinarity that the University of Michigan has long nurtured in departments and colleges throughout the campus, in the humanities, arts, sciences, and professional schools. I have seen the benefits that result when scholars cross the boundaries of their disciplines to forge new alliances and ideas. I want to encourage the productive synthesis of ideas and cultures at the boundaries of academic disciplines to create new models of learning and discovery.
Consider this: our engineers and our dentists are devising ways to re-engineer the tissues of our mouths; our mathematicians and physicians are discovering ways to model, diagnose, and treat epidemic diseases; and our geneticists and our ethicists are establishing a new world of medical care in the age of genetic information. These are creative syntheses launched before my arrival. My intention is that we shall see many more.
President Angell proclaimed: [The University] enriches and strengthens and adorns the whole life of the State . . . every appropriation to the University sows seeds in the most fruitful of all soils.
The research and creativity of the University of Michigan have a global impact, unfolding in this state and beyond its borders. As you will hear again at the symposium this afternoon, we are indeed a University of the World.
Americas great universities must think about an array of issues. How do we reconcile preservation of our environment with economic growth? Businessmen in cities around our state are thinking about such topics. We should be, also. How do we maintain privacy and civil liberties in the information age? This is a dilemma not to be left to the American Civil Liberties Union and the federal government. We must become even more engaged in this area. How do we structure the ethical controls over science and technology? This issue should not be left to congressional staffers. We should be occupied in this process as well.
The University of Michigan has emerged as a leader in no small part because of its public character. We will not be working alone. To address broader issues will require collaborations far beyond Ann Arbor, Dearborn, and Flint. The University of Michigan can bring vast intellectual resources to bear in our resolve to work on behalf of society.
Our interdisciplinary and collaborative traditions are greatly enhanced by the impact of information technology, which is transforming all areas of learning.
We now routinely get information from electronic sources all over the world. We can tear apart and reconstruct digital representations of everything: from works of art to the human genome; from the symphonies of Mozart to the elementary particles of nature. Michigan is a leader in such technologies through the vision of people like President Duderstadt, who saw the implication of that technology and invested in it.
Yet ironically, and thankfully, the glorious abundance of the virtual has created an even greater longing for the real: the original painting, the personal letter, the live performance of music or theater. We still want to sit with a crowd of friends and strangers, and to have a communal experience.
Perhaps the most exciting breakthrough is the realization that we do not live in an age of virtual or real, but in an era where the power of information technology allows us to create entirely new knowledge and beauty at the intersection of the virtual and the real. Technology enhances access to, and appreciation of, our Museum of Art, our Bentley Historical Library, and our planned Miller Theater. It enlivens our theater and music performances. It allows the cultural, artistic, and scholarly resources of the University of Michigan to be opened to the world in ways never before possible. Our programs in music, art, design, architecture, and urban planning can now be partners with our programs in computer science and information, creating an exciting world of learning in which old constraints are overcome and new opportunities abound.
Just as our past has included such stellar moments as the multi-year residency of the poet Robert Frost in the 1920s, or more recently of the Royal Shakespeare Company, our future will lie in our ability to combine these experiences with the communication possible via technology.
Just as we will seek ways to cross boundaries in the humanities, sciences, and professional schools, I want to find new ways to embrace and enliven the Life Sciences Initiative. During President Bollingers tenure, the University made a significant commitment to the life sciences because this frontier of science promises a transformation of our world equivalent to space exploration in the 1960s, nuclear science in the 1950s, and previous revolutions in medicine that we now take for granted resulting in antibiotics, vaccines, and organ transplants.
Our institutional dedication to this enterprise grows out of our history, which has long embodied an uncommon breadth and depth of scholarly excellence and interdisciplinary traditions. Our aspirations for the life sciences have always gone far beyond the new research building. Our young Institute extends widely across the campus, because the work of the life sciences flourishes best outside of disciplinary boundaries, such as in our program of Life Sciences, Values, and Society.
We have a distinctive Michigan initiative, that brings together the human as well as the technical aspects of this enterprise in short, bringing life, in all its manifestations, to the Life Sciences, and inviting a fuller collaboration of biomedical scientists with those who study humanity, including programs for both graduate and undergraduate students across the campus.
The information that our scientists will generate, now locked in the secrets of the genome, will be of secondary importance to what we will do with that information as a people and a nation.
We will need to find ways to break through our self-defined boundaries of academic units in order to achieve these partnerships, inviting our social scientists, humanists, and legal scholars to articulate, illustrate, and debate the humanistic issues and policy implications that will surely emerge from the scientific discoveries. Now is the time to invest in the rigorous discipline that it will take to bring the potential of Michigans initiatives in the life sciences to fruition.
Another distinctive feature of this University is its commitment to undergraduates. A recent faculty report described undergraduate education as a journey of self-discovery, and highlighted our responsibility to provide students with the navigational tools for that journey. I enjoy this imagery and the resourcefulness of the report. But I want to expand upon its challenge.
The multi-disciplinarity which characterizes our research enterprise, if pursued equally seriously in our undergraduate curriculum, will bestow enormous advantage on our students. The essence of a liberal arts education provides the reflective reservoir of learning upon which our graduates depend for full intellectual and cultural lives, no matter what field they have chosen as their lifes work.
These cross currents provide tremendous opportunities to our students. Where else can an engineering student work with radiologists from the Medical School and archeologists from the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts to use an MRI to analyze an ancient mummy, as our students did this year at our wonderful Kelsey Museum of Archaeology?
But just as we are committed to the excellence of the educational experience of our students, we also are committed to keeping our programs as accessible as possible to all.
In this arena, we face a special set of challenges, because we ourselves are being challenged.
The University of Michigan is engaged in an historic struggle to preserve admissions policies that serve the widest possible array of communities within the United States and the world. This is a fight that the institution has been willing to wage because it is our pledge to create a broadly diverse university community.
The principle we are defending has become part of the fabric of our society, as reflected in the broad spectrum of support for our cases inside and outside the academy.
Everyone here today knows that the final legal battle is about to begin at the highest court in our nation.
We are asking the court to affirm America, by re-affirming affirmative action.
No matter what the outcome may be -- as an institution, we shall remain committed to the ideal of a diversely interactive community, dedicated to the highest standards.
If we win, we will have a hollow victory unless we renew our commitment to learning with, and learning from, diverse others every day, in every action, in every classroom, in every living arrangement, in every research and public service endeavor. The nation will be looking to the University of Michigan for leadership and inspiration, however the decision of the Court is crafted.
Our challenge now is to exhibit the discipline it takes to transform the vision of a diverse learning community into the reality of ensuring that all students, and all members of our community, are in fact valued. I am determined to bring this ideal to life, and I ask you to join me in this endeavor.
But even as we make our community more welcoming to all, we must remember that we are committed to upholding the philosophical challenges that everyone must face in a rigorous quest for knowledge. In pursuing an advanced education, all students can and should be challenged, and must learn to deal with the discomfort of conflicting opinions.
Our students understand this point. One of our students related to me his own reaction to this discomfort just two weeks ago. He told me that in his small Michigan hometown, Everyone agreed, and everyone was the same.
He reported that he was startled to come to our campus and find himself immediately challenged first, by a street preacher on the Diag who told him he was eternally damned, then, by the classmates who did not share his point of view on many issues. But this young man was reveling in the experience, in confronting worlds he had never before encountered, which were enriching his life in unexpected ways. He clearly was exhilarated by the challenges he discovered here.
At the University of Michigan, we have room for all points of view, and for the syntheses of those views. We have room for students, staff, and faculty from all nations and of all races.
An enduring community grows out of the creative synthesis of all our confrontations and reconciliations, as it does in any family.
Clearly, the history of our University is replete with the many choices we all have made, which have brought this institution to the pinnacle of American higher education. Every one of you -- our faculty, our students, our staff, our Regents, our alumni, and our supporters are making choices that will affect the destiny of this great university. I ask you to bring your accumulated wisdom to bear on the choices that will ensure an unlimited future.
Let us remember the proverb of the sankofa: Look to your roots, to discover your future.
Let us remember the ideals of Thomas Jefferson, who wanted to build a university in the way he describes here: on a plan so broad and liberal and modern, as to be worth patronizing with the public support.
Let us remember the passion of President Angell, who told us in his inaugural address: Dynasties come and go, kingdoms and states rise and fall, but amid all the vicissitudes of earthly affairs, the great Universities are the most vital and enduring of all human institutions.
Today, I stand before you with pride. I was summoned to serve a great university. I pledge that I will work with you to assure that it is an even greater university when I depart.
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Address from Professor James S. Jackson, Inaugural Speaker
We, all, sing America
James S. Jackson
University of Michigan
March 27, 2003
Langston Hughes poem, I, too, sing America reminds us of the continuing concern that all voices need to be heard in America. The University of Michigan has assumed a special place in higher education, recognizing the intellectual strengths in diversity, and extolling the necessity for higher education to be synonymous with inclusiveness, equal opportunity, and excellence in our diverse, culturally pluralistic, and ever-changing land and peoples. Langston Hughes is acknowledged as one of Americas greatest poets. His beginnings were simple; he worked as an assistant cook, launderer, and a busboy, then traveled to Africa and Europe as a seaman. After a brief time at Columbia University, in 1929 he graduated from Lincoln University. Hughes claimed Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Carl Sandburg, and Walt Whitman as his primary influences. Langston Hughes experiences were varied, his education broad, his accomplishments great. In his poem I, too, sing America he acknowledges and celebrates this journey.
I, too, sing America.1
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.
Ill be at the table
When company comes.
Say to me,
"Eat in the kitchen,"
Theyll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed --
I, too, am America.
It is a distinct pleasure and honor to be invited to speak at this celebratory and historic event. Professor Mary Sue Coleman, the 13th permanent president of the University of Michigan, becomes the first woman selected to lead this great institution. Her background and superb academic and scientific accomplishments clearly make her an outstanding choice at this juncture in the history of our institution, a time when the university has accepted the broad mantle for higher education in the continuing struggle to extend equal educational opportunity to all across this state and nation. In her prior positions, President Coleman has demonstrated the quality of leadership required to build on our institutional history, in order to face the challenges of the present and the future.
There is a symbol from Ghana, known as the Sankofa that captures the spirit of this type of leadership. In fact, the intellectual and pedagogical themes of our Center for Afroamerican and African Studies are engendered in Sankofa -- a West Africa Adinkra symbol that literally means "go back and fetch it" -- referring to using the wisdom of the past to build the future.2
These are challenging times: War in the Middle East; budget stringencies; increasing demands of expanding curricula to represent broad global and local community knowledge, as well as professional and liberal arts learning opportunities; and, the need to find the appropriate role of the university in the immediate economic and social good of state and nation. In order to move forward we need to learn from both the mistakes, as well as the triumphs, of the past in building a forward looking new agenda for the University of Michigan.
We have a long history in this country of building excellence from diversity of many types. The nature of our immigrant society means that we have taken the best from the worlds countries and, along with native peoples, forged excellence in commerce, the arts, sciences, technology, and agriculture. Without the drive, energy, and desire of our ever new immigrant populations, where would we be as a country? Even slavery, a most shameful part of our past, began as an attempt to import knowledge and experiences in a wide variety of the skilled crafts and agricultural techniques. Today, as a more mature country, we often appear afraid of change, of multiple ethnicities and races, of the cultural differences among the people who forged this great land. For this reason we need to look backward and build upon the lessons and wisdom of our diverse past as we move into a new era.
If we needed reminding, the war in the Middle East signals that we now stand at a dangerous crossroad. Perhaps the greatest threats to our democratic ideals and values comes not only in our relationships to the international community of countries, but also in our need to clearly comprehend our place in the new world, and what responsibilities prodigious powers bring. Our new global position presents both great challenges and great expectations. As the world shrinks because of technology and our personal, institutional, and business connections, we must consider what the changes portend for understanding and tolerance. There are opportunities for this nation to reach new heights of global cooperation and interaction.
This will not be easy. Higher education, especially public institutions that provide advanced educational opportunities for the majority of our citizens, will have to assume greater leadership roles in preparing the students of this new era in a greater awareness of who our near and far neighbors may be, and what we have to give and gain in this increased interaction.
Under resource-constrained conditions that we will undoubtedly face for several years, we will be sorely tempted to narrowly define the educational core and to reduce the priorities of many programs that on the surface appear less central. And even if we shrink our focus, the world will continue to change, to evolve, and grow ever smaller. Increased comprehension of cultures and the social behavior and life styles of our global partners is not optional. If we are to develop as an institution, as a people, and individuals, we will need more, not less, global experiences in this diverse world.
As we look closer to home we must continue our emphasis upon undergraduate education. Students are our most important resource and treasure, and their development during the critical years of the undergraduate experience must be our number one priority. During a most volatile period of their personal and intellectual development, our undergraduates need to be exposed to the breadth of human experiences in the humanities, sciences, and social sciences. We need to graft upon the basics of history, culture, and the arts a firm understanding of professional education; both the opportunities, as well as the responsibilities that training in business, medicine, law, and other areas will mean as our students assume their adult roles as the commerce, medical, human service, and political leaders of the future. Higher education by its very definition is forward looking and focused always upon the new generations of leaders, families, and citizens.
If the undergraduate student is our highest priority then the faculty is the key to all that we achieve. The faculty stand as the fulcrum between the institutional past and the institutional future. Teacher, educator, role model, mentor -- the men and women of our university faculty assume a huge responsibility in being the creators of the repository of the cultural, scientific, technical and artistic knowledge of the past, and innovators of what is to come. The faculty has a huge collective responsibility keeper and interpreter of knowledge, the engine for science innovation, the source of new aesthetics in art, culture, and the humanities, and source of future leadership in higher education. We must at all costs nurture, protect, and maintain excellence in our faculty.
Finally, I want to mention the importance of universities, especially great public universities like this one, in the social and economic development of the state and nation. A free and open university unconstrained by undue outside influences is the cauldron for innovation and creativity in the arts, sciences, humanities and professional preparation. The university, along with local, state and national governments, forms an important interlocking mosaic, with an eye not only to today but to tomorrow, and to the continued growth and development of citizen and country.
If anyone ever thought that size or oceans could protect us from the struggles of global values and resources, then the events of the last few years have certainly given lie to those delusions. Among our important institutions, the university is a pivotal point for education, training, innovation, and societal diffusion. Our most important products are the new citizens of the future, educated and nurtured by the academic faculties of the present, and supported by creative and sure-sighted faculty administrators.
Today we celebrate Dr. Mary Sue Colemans much deserved formal ascension to a position of great trust, honor, and responsibility. Her personal, family, public, and scientific life experiences have prepared her for this moment. Using the past as guide, the future is neither simple nor assured, it is still to be written. We could not hope for a better prepared person to help us all understand our responsibilities, strengths, and the directions that we need to chart in order to move this great university forward, and to help give reality to the vision of a nation, in the immortal words of Langston Hughes, in which We, all, sing America.
Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, published by Knopf and Vintage Books. Copyright © 1994 by the Estate of Langston Hughes. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Harold Ober Associates Incorporated.
2 Se wo were fi no wo sankofa a yenkyi (It is
not a taboo to go back to fetch it if you forget.)
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