1. Always Leading. Forever Valiant.

    January 23, 2017

    The many aspects of our celebration of the University of Michigan’s Bicentennial provide a wonderful opportunity to explore and engage with the achievements and the people who have made our history – and our future – so meaningful and exciting.

    These opportunities are reflected in the events throughout 2017 that commemorate U-M’s amazing impact on society, and the students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends who helped shape our 200 years of excellence. We are looking forward with purpose and examining how U-M will continue to lead as one of the world’s premier public universities.

    I am honored to present a series of three Presidential Bicentennial Colloquia that will thoughtfully explore topics related to the evolving role of the university and how it can better serve the common good. The colloquia are being led by members of our faculty, who have been appointed as Presidential Bicentennial Professors.

    The first, titled “The Future University Community,” begins Jan. 30 and is led by Professor Martha S. Jones.

    Among related events, the colloquium includes a dialogue with two legal scholars who sit on their nation’s highest courts: Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor of the Supreme Court of the United States and U-M alumna Justice Susanne Baer of the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany. It will be moderated by journalist Michele Norris.

    Though all tickets for the 10 a.m. dialogue at Hill Auditorium were quickly reserved, including space for hundreds of students who will attend in connection with classes, we will have overflow space in the Michigan League with live video.

    A wonderful quality of our Bicentennial is our commitment to honest examination of our past – so that we can learn from difficult moments U-M experienced, including our mistakes. The first colloquium’s topic “The Future University Community” is ideal for such reflection.

    We must not forget the moments in U-M history when we did not live up to the highest ideals of the leaders and best. As part of this colloquium, there will be a series of seven pop-up public art installations the week of April 3 that mark these milestones of the past when, looking back, we could have done better or been more inclusive.

    The title for the project is “Stumbling Blocks.” The installations will draw attention to the Native American land treaty of 1817, the role of women, affirmative action, student protest, biomedical research in a global context, nuclear research in war and in peace, and the role of staff.

    Professor Jones says the idea behind the installations is to use the built environment to make the past visible, and to stimulate thinking about the idea of community.

    I fully agree. We cannot succeed in our third century as a university without being honestly willing to examine the difficult times during our first two.

    I commend the many members of our community who are exploring these important issues.

    The “Making Michigan” theme semester in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, for example, is tracing the university’s history from 1817 to the present and looking at how U-M intersected with national and global events. This includes an event and exhibit called “The Leaders and the Rest: Boundaries and Belonging at the University of Michigan” in the Hatcher Graduate Library.

    The theme semester began with a Jan. 12 lecture by Colson Whitehead, author of the 2016 National Book Award-winning novel, “The Underground Railroad.” The following evening, Professors Michael Witgen and Tiya Miles discussed Witgen’s research on the displacement of indigenous people in the formation of our state and our university.

    The second presidential colloquium will be staged in conjunction with the Tanner Foundation meeting June 26. Its subject will be the Evolving Bargain between Research Universities and Society.

    It will include a discussion among university presidents of the Tanner institutions, moderated by Brown University President Emerita Ruth Simmons. The Tanner members include Michigan, Berkeley, Cambridge, Harvard, Oxford, Princeton, Stanford, Utah and Yale.

    The Presidential Bicentennial Professors for the second colloquium are Sue Alcock and Paul Courant.

    The professors are currently teaching a class on the “evolving bargain” topic, as well. Class discussions are exploring this long and complicated relationship, and especially, the University’s dual roles as “servant and critic of society” (as described by Harold Shapiro).

    The third colloquium will be Oct. 26 and will explore the future of the residential research university. Titled, “The Campus of the Future,” it asks students: “How would you re-envision the university?”

    It will feature a competition and discussion of student design projects that focus on the special and unique qualities of our campus residential experience, and how that might look in 50 years. Abstracts for projects are being sought now, and students from all majors are invited to participate. $25,000 in prize money will be awarded for the best projects.

    An internationally renowned panel will provide feedback to the students and place submitted projects in the context of national trends.

    The Presidential Bicentennial Professors for this colloquium are Mika LaVaque-Manty and Joanna Millunchick.

    Another aspect of considering our history – Defining a process for evaluating building name change requests

    Amid all of our historical analyses, some have wondered from where the names on and within our campus buildings have come. Who are these people and why are university places named after them? What ideas, values, and actions were possible for namings in a particular historical context?  Similar questions are being raised at a number of campuses across the nation.

    Last spring, I asked the President’s Advisory Committee on University History to consider and make recommendations on how we might consider such questions. I have accepted a set of recommendations for a new process as described in a document that is available on the committee’s website.

    The new process works within the framework of the Policy and Guidelines for Naming of Facilities, Spaces and Streets approved in 2008 by the Regents. The 2008 policy includes standards for naming facilities.

    The process allows any member of the U-M community to submit a proposal to my office for review and possible reconsideration of the current name of an officially named space. Proposals will be considered through the lens of guiding principles, outlined by the advisory committee, that include pedagogy, interpretation, due diligence, commitment, revision, historical and institutional context and consistency. In some cases, changing a name may be less important than providing adequate interpretation of it.

    The final authority for building and space names at U-M remains with the Board of Regents.

    I applaud the thorough work done by the committee over the last several months. Chaired by Bentley Historical Library Director Terry McDonald, the committee explored the history of naming practices at U-M and studied the many considerations that have gone into those practices, including academic celebration, donor recognition and binding gift agreements.

    As Director McDonald said, “The university has a long history of drawing broadly upon the many intellectual resources to consider complex issues from different perspectives, and that’s what our committee set out to do during this review.”

    The new process is fully in keeping with our bicentennial commitment to examine our institution’s past more broadly – and will guide us as we seek to become an even better University of Michigan in our third century and beyond.