1. Remarks at New Faculty Orientation

    August 27, 2014

    Note: Remarks as prepared for delivery.

    Good afternoon and welcome to the University of Michigan!

    I want to thank Matt Kaplan and the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching for today’s program and for the work they do all year long. CRLT is the nation’s oldest higher education teaching center, and it continues to be the model.

    I also want to thank our deans and department chairs for recruiting such exceptional faculty to our campus. Michigan will only remain as strong as its faculty. It is a pleasure to be here among so many outstanding scholars, as we prepare for a new academic year at the University.

    I am as new to this place as you are, and I could just as easily be sitting where you are today as a new member of the faculty. I am extremely proud not only to be the University’s 14th president, but also to be a professor in both the Medical School and the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts.

    And so today is very special to me, as we embark on our first year as Michigan faculty together.

    We are joining an academic community of more than 3,000 faculty who, are amongst the most talented in their fields. As a group, we have limitless potential in terms of the impact we can make on our students and on society.

    It’s why I was attracted to Michigan and why I was so honored when the Board of Regents appointed me. Like you, I was impressed by the academic rigor, the expanse of disciplines, and the institution’s deep commitment to the public good.

    There is no university better suited to advance the highest ideals of what a public university should be – and it all begins with world-class faculty. The breadth of excellence here is nearly unmatched in the academy, and your expertise and commitment to scholarship and teaching helps make that so.

    If Michigan is your first faculty appointment, welcome to the academy. If you are joining us from another institution, from government, from business, or the non-profit world, we are grateful for you bringing your experience to Michigan. Each of you brings a particular set of strengths to our teaching and research activities. And I know how hard it is to make it to this stage in your career and how selective Michigan is in choosing its faculty. Well done.

    I began my career as an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins. I will never forget the stark difference my first weeks and months on the faculty when measured against my time as a graduate student and post-doctoral fellow. In that work, I was often immersed in large groups of students and mentors, lab partners and senior faculty.

    Suddenly, as a brand new assistant professor, I was in a big newly renovated but empty laboratory with a modest amount of start-up funding as dowry. Despite having prepared for this moment for more than a decade, there was still so much to learn, including how to secure funding, how to recruit and supervise students and staff, and how to be a good teacher and mentor.

    It was both daunting and exhilarating.

    One bit of advice, regardless of how much or little teaching you have done to this point—take advantage of our CRLT. Its known throughout the academy for its pedagogy research and teaching. Even experienced faculty can benefit from workshops on Inclusive Teaching Strategies or Teaching with Technology. This is particularly important given our emphasis on inclusiveness and civil discourse at Michigan. There are skills we can all learn that will help us lift up the quality of our teaching and learning community.

    Joining the faculty at a great university, like Hopkins or Michigan, is a remarkable privilege.

    Today, my job as president is to make your job as faculty as exhilarating and rewarding as possible. I aim to make Michigan a place where all faculty believe they can do their best scholarship and most impactful teaching.

    At the University of Michigan, understanding and discovery can change the world. Our professors help people across the globe live better lives, though health, social equity and economic progress.

    Your faculty colleagues are among the best in the world and continue a legacy of academic impact. Through the years, Michigan faculty have included historian Andrew Dickson White, the co-founder of Cornell, and John Dewey, the great American philosopher. Elizabeth Crosby, a distinguished neuroanatomist who received the National Medal of Science, taught here, as did Francis Collins, the geneticist who discovered the Cystic Fibrosis gene and now leads the National Institutes of Health.

    These scholars of the past helped position the University of Michigan as an exceptional place for you, the scholars of the future. You join us as the university approaches its third century of discovery and service, and at a time when society looks to us more than ever for answers. What will our impact be together in the years ahead?

    The University of Michigan’s impact is bigger than our three campuses and nearly 60,000 students. It reaches higher than our research budget, the largest of any public university.

    Our impact is felt every time a University of Michigan doctor touches a stethoscope to an infant’s chest.

    Or when one of our 350 concerts or recitals inspires the creativity of a young artist.

    Or when a freshman explores the intrigue of political theory, the culture of jazz, or the science of sustainability.

    I want U-M to be known for research that stimulates economic growth, for creative works that enrich our culture, for scholarship that enhances human understanding and promotes sustainability, and as a home for civil discourse on all sorts of challenging issues. But I don’t want us to lose sight of those personal moments where interaction with a faculty mentor can change, or even save, individual lives.

    And while it is understandable that you will immerse yourself in your respective disciplines, I encourage you to seek out the talent throughout this university. Take advantage of your colleagues’ expertise. The issues and problems we explore as scholars do not adhere to org charts or limit themselves to academic departments.

    The comprehensive nature of Michigan’s excellence allows for synergy at Michigan between scholars working in different disciplines that, really, no other institution can match. It’s what is so exciting and powerful about this university.

    And that power is in your hands as teachers, mentors, researchers and health care providers. It is why we recruited you to join us and to strengthen our work as a university dedicated to improving society through education and research.

    From a very early age I knew I loved books, and science, and learning. But even my parents thought it was extreme that I spent 23 years in school and then five more in residency and postdoctoral training. They wondered if I would ever be finished!

    And the answer, happily, is no. I love this world of intellectual ferment and discovery as I am sure you do too.

    The secret sauce here at the U of M consists of a combination of our curiosity, of the unlocked potential of our students, and of our faculty’s passion for scholarship that advances the public good.

    I want to thank you for joining the University of Michigan. Thank you for your commitment to discovery, to collaboration and to teaching and mentoring our students.

    You have my best wishes as president and, importantly, as a faculty colleague. Go Blue!