“State of the University”
Address to the Senate Assembly
September 29, 2003
Good afternoon. I have been looking forward to the opportunity to talk with all of you regarding events of the past year and to outline key issues that I believe we will be facing in the next few years. Our University continues to maintain its academic prestige through a variety of national measures and rankings. But a new tone is emerging nationally regarding higher education, and I want to discuss some disturbing trends I am observing, along with possible approaches to a more productive dialogue about future access to high-quality colleges and universities.
A few weeks ago, I heard a remark from an educational leader that was both chilling and heartbreaking.
In the past month, Dr. Stanley Fish has publicly called for a reality check regarding the funding of public higher education. As many of you know, he is the Dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois, Chicago.
He recently appeared on a national news program, and a reporter asked him this question: “Can you look a student in the eye today and say to that student, ‘You are getting as good an education as we can provide’?”
His answer was to the point. He said, “No, it’s not the best.”
I never want to have to say that to a student at the University of Michigan. We have worked vigorously in the past year to protect our academic programs, and even to strengthen our offerings in some areas.
To prepare for this meeting, I asked the deans of our schools and colleges about the projects they have recently undertaken, and about recent accomplishments. As always, I am impressed by the high quality and the variety of the work our faculty has produced, whether in the realm of discovery, research, or creativity. These explorations by our faculty have a direct impact on all of our students, and are the heart of what makes Michigan such a unique and superb place.
The dean of our Medical School, Allen Lichter, wrote to me about the bridge that just opened across Washtenaw Avenue, connecting the medical campus to the central campus. Like him, I think of that new connection as a wonderful metaphor for the interdisciplinary work that is a hallmark throughout our University. Allen said he hoped the new bridge would “begin an exciting new era of collaboration”—and as I thought about that connecting structure, I thought of all the ways we are trying to link the many facets of our campus community.
Bridges are needed for more than geographical connection—we need bridges across disciplines, we need connections among the students throughout the campus, and we must continue to seek ways to link our research and teaching to the world beyond our campus.
We are also a bridge between the past and the future. We are striving to be a model for the university of the future, which will mean taking our valued traditions and transforming them into what our students will need to launch themselves into the future, what our faculty will need to continue to advance knowledge and discovery, and what our society and world will need to become stronger, healthier, and more compassionate.
I want to start by describing some of the major events of the past year, exploring where our past will take us, and illustrating the future that we are already realizing. Two weeks ago, I welcomed President Ford to our campus, for the site dedication of our new building that will house the Ford School for Public Policy. As I officially greeted him, I quoted a statement he had offered in an opinion piece in the New York Times. He said: “A university, after all, is both a preserver of tradition and a hotbed of innovation.”
That is a brilliant summary of what we do here in our research and our teaching. My role is to make sure that even as we preserve the traditions of wisdom and culture, we remain at the forefront of innovation. This is a university with a proud history in both.
Our University stood at the center of an historic moment this past year. In June, we saw the culmination of our defense of the right to use race as one of many factors in our selective admissions processes. Our University has supported this issue for many years, and has been committed to allowing the expression of many points of view that our students, staff, faculty, and alumni have offered. We also were dedicated to the idea that our defense of this issue should provide an opportunity for an enlightened debate throughout the country. The thousands of articles, essays, and public deliberations on the topic of affirmative action have indeed raised the level of awareness throughout our society.
Now, with clear guidance from the Court, Michigan will continue to be a national leader in those aspirations for the next generation. I am keenly aware that the eyes of the nation are on us, and I am determined that as we develop our new admissions policies, we will create a well-constructed bridge into the future of higher education in our country.
Like all highly selective universities, every year, we have far more well-qualified applicants than we can accept. We have used consideration of race as one of many factors we take into account in determining admissions to our programs at the university. And now, we want to be sure that all students have the opportunity to demonstrate what they would contribute to a diverse student body. We have devised a new undergraduate admissions process that will allow, in addition to academic excellence, a variety of factors, including race, to be part of the selection process for the many qualified students who are seeking admission. We argued for the right to include this as a factor because we have found no other effective way to remain highly selective and diverse. We fully intend to remain one of the most selective research universities in the country. Our highest commitment is to recruiting a class of academically exceptional students.
We now face profound questions—how do we live up to our ideals for a diverse democracy by making and sustaining real diversity on this campus? We must re-invigorate our efforts to create diversity in student and faculty recruitment and retention and we must be equally dedicated to diversity of thought and civil discourse through debates in our classrooms and discussions on the Diag. Michigans diversity animates this community and makes it strong.
The outstanding quality of our University has been demonstrated again in a variety of ways, in a year of remarkable individual and institutional accomplishment.
We are celebrating a major milestone this year with the 150th anniversary of our College of Engineering. We were the first public university in the country to offer degrees in engineering—and the decision to include engineering among our academic disciplines was one of the distinctive features of the early days of the University of Michigan. This College has not only been a leader in research and teaching, but in the public service that has been such a valuable aspect of our history, and which I will address later.
Similarly, our School of Natural Resources and Environment is marking its 100th anniversary. This school is a wonderful example of transformation, having begun as a College of Forestry, then adapting to new identities and missions as conservation and ecology have become global issues. The School is also about to celebrate the opening of its renovated historic campus home, the Dana Building, which now will be a wonderful model of a green facility that conserves the resources the School is dedicated to studying.
We have enjoyed many continued top rankings of our departments and colleges. While I know that the true value of our work is not reflected by the “top five” and “top ten” lists that appear throughout the year, it is always gratifying to see that our peers and external observers continue to recognize our leading work in so many fields.
Just in the first three weeks of the semester, I have visited a large number of conferences and symposia on a wide array of topics—including the ecology of the Great Lakes, health care, the Hermitage exhibit at the Museum, and the conference of food and journalism sponsored by the School of Social Work and the Knight-Wallace Journalism Fellows, who brought leading journalists to our campus for a lively set of discussions.
In addition to our outstanding accomplishments in the creative arts and scholarship, I want to note to the significant increases in our federal funding for targeted research activities. In fiscal year 2003, which ended in July, our total research expenditures from all sources exceeded $749 million dollars, an increase of 14.3% over fiscal year 2002.
It is the expertise of our faculty in devising and implementing research projects that draws these federal and private funds to our campus, and I want to thank all of you who have contributed to this important work.
The great research universities rely upon outstanding original research and creative work in all areas, but this targeted research funding is an extraordinarily important component of our annual budget, and a strong indicator of the vitality of our University.
From my own scientific career spent running a research laboratory, I know how competitive the application process to these funding agencies can be, and I truly appreciate all the effort involved in applying and reporting to the federal funding agencies.
Closely allied with our research funding is the growth of our activities in technology transfer. This federally regulated process allows us to transfer our patented discoveries to the marketplace, and in the past three years we have had a remarkable increase in our application for patents and the number of inventions that have proceeded to a commercial market. Technology transfer is important for two reasons. First, the process of technology transfer allows us to make our research available to the public. Also, our technology can lead to economic development and can result in job creation, an issue of critical importance to the state right now.
I think one of the best examples of this process in the past year is FluMist, developed by Professor John Maassab in our School of Public Health. This new type of vaccine has been receiving national attention all year as it progressed through the FDA approval process, but especially in the past week as we enter the season of flu vaccines.
This growth in our research enterprise is linked to another priority of our University—the Life Sciences. The increase in federal and private funding for the life sciences has been even more remarkable than our overall increase in research funding. Support for the life sciences increased by $47 million dollars this year, and accounted for more than 50% of the growth of federally funded research in the past twelve months.
Our focus has been on the opening of the Life Sciences Institute, and on recruiting outstanding scientists for that Institute. We are pleased with the progress that the Institute is making, and although it will take some time to grow to full capacity, I am convinced that it will develop into a dynamic catalyst for research, fully engaged with the rest of the University.
But the Life Sciences Institute is but a part of an extraordinary set of efforts in the life sciences throughout the University. We have many scientists working on cutting-edge research and teaching throughout the science and health departments in the University, and Provost Courant and I are committed to supporting and enhancing initiatives in the life sciences throughout the University.
Our state has become a national leader through the creation of the Life Sciences Corridor, which is distributing funds for research and scientific programs throughout the state. I know that other states are looking to Michigan and California as the dominant states in this field—and I know that the attention being paid to the life sciences is generating interest nationwide in building private and public clusters of biotech centers of research and development.
This has created a highly competitive marketplace for experts in the life sciences, and has made recruitment of leading researchers very challenging. The commitment of our state to funding the life sciences has been a key factor that has supported our own efforts at the University, and we must work to encourage the state to continue to dedicate funding for scientific research.
As we consider the challenge of recruiting in the life sciences, we must also keep in mind the necessity of recruiting the best faculty members throughout our University. In order to preserve the high quality of our academic mission, we must renew our faculty each year with the best new faculty in the world. We have been very fortunate to be able to continue to attract our top candidates to this University, even when these people have other attractive offers from selective institutions. I will appreciate hearing from you about any challenges you see on the horizon, and what we should be doing to maintain our competitiveness in this area.
Our Medical School Dean, Allen Lichter, is viewing these years as a period of renewal for the health sciences, with new facilities that will support an extraordinary research infrastructure at Michigan. Our health system is a great source of pride to the University and to the state. We just broke ground on a new Cardiovascular Center, which will be a world-class center for clinical work, and have just welcomed Dr. Robert Kelch back to campus as the Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs.
The appointment of Dr. Kelch brings me back to my own packed agenda for the past year. I spent a considerable amount of time visiting schools, colleges, departments, and our Flint and Dearborn campuses, meeting with student organizations, and learning about the many issues facing our university. Parts of my first year were exhilarating, and parts were very challenging.
Like many new presidents, I found that I had to fill several key leadership positions in the University.
I was delighted that Paul Courant agreed to assume the position of Provost and Executive Vice-President for Academic Affairs on a permanent basis. I think there are few faculty members who know so much about the history, personality, and interaction of our entire University. He is a wonderful partner and leader of our academic mission.
We were also very fortunate that Timothy Slottow was willing to accept the appointment as our Executive Vice-President and Chief Financial Officer. Having served as our associate vice president for finance for several years, he was well acquainted with our fiscal situation, which proved invaluable as he, Paul, and I tackled the serious consequences of reduced state appropriations this past spring.
Another key appointment was the recruitment of Jerry May from The Ohio State University. As we begin to plan for the next major development campaign of our University, which I will describe later in this address, we will rely on his expertise as one of the countrys leaders in the area of private giving.
And as I mentioned a minute ago, it was a pleasure to bring Dr. Robert Kelch back to the University of Michigan as Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs. He held a similar position at the University of Iowa, where he provided outstanding leadership to the health system.
While grappling with the job of finding the best people to help me guide the University, I also began to reflect on what we should be doing to improve the experience of our students during their years on campus.
For this, the Report of the Commission on Undergraduate Experience has been invaluable. Sometimes, we need to remind ourselves just how talented our students are.
Again this year, the University of Michigan attracted a record number of applicants in an increasingly competitive pool. We have an undergraduate population of students with inquisitive minds, eager for the best possible education we can offer.
What do our students need to get the most from our remarkable educational environment? The Undergraduate Commission depicted students as travelers on an educational journey. We must help them navigate better, and to see the depths as well as the landscape of our campus. Some of the programs I am about to mention do exactly that, and are allowing students to learn, and faculty to teach, in new ways that delve into the deep waters of our research.
I am dedicated to the idea of creating a better sense of community among the undergraduate population. Last year, Provost Courant and I charged a new Undergraduate Council, led by Lester Monts, Senior Vice Provost for Academic Affairs, including representation from all colleges admitting undergraduates. We need to make advising and the transfer of credits and students more seamless—it was an early priority of the Council.
Can the residence and living environments better serve the educational goals of our university? Our student services division has embarked on a comprehensive study of our residence system, with the goal of presenting a plan and options for improvements to our Regents later this year. I do not view the residence halls simply as a place to sleep and eat—they are a vital component in our environment of learning. We are looking at new ways to serve our academic mission by integrating the elements of living and learning, and challenging our existing assumptions of the role of residential living. This is a robust dialogue, and I look forward to the outcome.
We need to expand opportunities such as those offered by the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program. Right now, over 1,000 undergraduate students are working on research projects with faculty each year.
Our goal in this program is to remove the distinction between teaching and research—so that the research projects themselves become the pedagogical tools for learning. This interaction provides one of the great benefits of attending a research university allowing undergraduate students to participate in advanced projects with leading experts.
We also are pressing forward on the technological front, so that our technologically savvy students—and their faculty—will be well supported by the technological infrastructure, in classrooms as well as in their individual work. In the past year, for example, we have established several significant zones where wireless technology can be accessed through our campus system—we have started with zones in the libraries, the League, and the Union, and want to expand those zones as rapidly as possible.
But even as we continue our work to improve technology infrastructure and our course tools, I believe we need to think even more deeply about what it means to be a literate person in a digital world. How will we learn, teach and discover in a world where IT and digital forces integrate so completely with learning?
We used to think about science as work that was accomplished by a small team in a physical space. Increasingly, we see the path to successful science requires digital manipulation in the form of visualization and simulation. It requires broad-scale collaboration, often in 24/7 teams around the globe—and is dependent on our ability to share and shape information in real time across diverse locations and perspectives.
We are also part of a technological consortium known as National Lambda Rail, to explore and cultivate the next level of networking. We must ensure that we develop and sustain a technological infrastructure that will enable our faculty and students to engage in new and exciting ways with subject content, with each other, and with the world.
Just last week, Fawwaz Ulaby, our Vice President for Research, described an undergraduate research project to our Regents—several students from the College of Engineering and the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts traveled to the Bering Strait in Alaska, to conduct research on a glacier. This project, and similar opportunities, add extraordinary educational components and value to the undergraduate experience.
I also want to continue initiatives such as the theme semesters, which connect students across so many disciplines, and introduce them to worlds outside the classroom. Like all of our undergraduate schools and colleges, our College of Literature, Science, and the Arts provides a wealth of educational experiences. This semester, LS&A has organized an outstanding “theme” semester.
This Autumn, students taking courses in LS&A can choose from an array of courses tied to the theme of the culture of St. Petersburg—but beyond the classroom, the students experience will also include the wonderful exhibit at the University Museum, theatrical performances, and concerts. A variety of departments have joined together to sponsor a symposium on the legacy of the George Balanchine (BAL-an-sheen), one of the great figures in the history of ballet. This symposium will bring some of the best dancers in the country, who worked with Mr. Balanchine (BAL-an-sheen), to Ann Arbor for discussions and performances.
Some of our students eventually will travel to St. Petersburg itself. But even the students who remain here will be able to experience a wealth of Russian heritage simply by traveling around our campus by foot.
Next semester, our students will have a similar set of opportunities when we focus on the 50th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court case Brown versus the Board of Education.
I want to talk about the many ways that a research university, especially a public research university, can reach out in unique ways to deal with issues that affect all of our society. But before I talk about our public missions, I want to discuss some of the challenges that we are facing. I hope that some of the difficulties confronting us can be addressed by the public nature of much of our service and research, and I am going to ask for your help in looking at ways we can take on these challenges in a productive way.
Of course, the most pressing problem with which we have dealt has been the state budget. We took particular care to keep you informed about our budget situation throughout the past year, so I will not revisit the details now. We certainly expect to see continued pressure on our states fiscal situation in the coming year, and will provide information on that front as it becomes available.
I do want to thank our deans and so many campus administrators for the productive ways they have managed to deal with a significant reduction in our state appropriation for the current academic year. We have considerably trimmed many of our operational costs, and have done everything possible to protect the academic quality of our great university.
You probably have noticed that there have been a number of recent articles and essays at the national level about the costs of higher education. By and large, many of the attacks on the academy are not well grounded in the realities of higher education. The discussion of “cost”, which generally is taken to mean tuition, often does not take into account the reductions that virtually every public college and university has faced in regard to state appropriations.
There is one aspect of this discussion of “cost” that seems to elude our critics. And that aspect is the benefit acquired as a result of obtaining any degree, especially a degree from a distinguished institution such as this one. Because so many of the benefits of higher education are intangible, they are discounted—but that does not make them any less real. The measurable benefits—which are often calculated as increased earning power—are real. But, much as I understand the value and beauty of data, it would be a fallacy for us to enter into a discussion of quantifying the value of higher education.
Here is the real question we should be discussing: What is the cost of not having high-quality public universities?
My answer is that we simply cannot afford to abandon our commitment to providing broad access to excellent public universities. Our University, and our peers from the early nineteenth century, such as the University of Virginia, and the University of North Carolina, were dedicated to the premise that a well-educated citizenry should be an integral part of our democracy. Is it democratic to put the adulteration of our universities on a legislative agenda?
What would we lose if our public universities became second-rate institutions, no longer on a par with the best private universities?
We begin to lose the scale of opportunity we can provide to so many aspiring students. We begin to move toward a society with a class structure that we have dedicated so many resources to eliminating over the centuries.
We are not just training students for careers—we are teaching them how to learn, and how to take this talent for learning out to the world. We want our graduates to be engaged in learning throughout their lives, and to communicate that love for learning to their own children, and to their professions. This premise of a lifelong educational process becomes more true every year, as our learning becomes more a function of our networks of people and wires, and less a function of geographical location.
But we are being put on the defensive by the current dialogue at the national level about “costs”—and we must find a way to engage in this dialogue in a way that will be productive not just to universities, but to the future of our country.
So, that brings me to another major concept I want to discuss with you—the external role of our University.
I do believe that a public university has a public responsibility. And the University of Michigan has a long and eminent history of providing teaching, research, and service, all of which benefits the public good.
Our faculty, staff, and students are engaged in the issues of our society in greater numbers than ever before. At any moment, we have hundreds of research projects, classes, and volunteer efforts that affect our region, our nation, and even the world. I take great pride in our concerns about human welfare, on which we have an impact at the local and the global levels.
Michigan is not simply a great university or a great research university. It is one the most outstanding public research universities in the country, and I believe its public nature is a critical function of its identity.
Earlier in this talk, I mentioned the significant increase in research funding. One of the largest awards in the past year was made to a project titled “Monitoring the Future,” in our Institute for Social Research. This grant will allow Lloyd Johnston and his colleagues to continue a study that examines the behavior, attitudes, and values of young people it is a project that already spans two decades, and will provide us with valuable insight into the choices and the habits of this population.
Several of our schools are dedicated to public health and policy. The dean of our School of Social Work, Paula Allen-Meares, leads faculty members who are working in a broad array of social issues, and her own work has explored the impact of social work on children and families. Members of her faculty are not only investigating public concerns, but are communicating their findings through media that will reach a large segment of the population.
At the outset, I mentioned the 150th anniversary of our College of Engineering, led by Dean Stephen Director. It has provided public outreach from its earliest days, when an engineering professor provided a professional survey that helped establish a regional railroad, which contributed significantly to the economic development of our state. They have continued this tradition to the present day, applying the advancements of science to the public good.
The School of Public Health is a national leader in the movement to develop community partnerships both locally and globally. Dean Noreen Clark has told me about their collaborations with communities throughout Michigan, and as far away as China addressing such issues as asthma, obesity, and access to health care.
The issue of poverty has been in the news this past week, the result of national studies that show poverty in this country is rising. Dean Becky Blank announced that this past year, our Ford School received a 5-year, 5-million-dollar contract from the Department of Health and Human Services to run the National Poverty Center, an interdisciplinary social science center focused on the causes and consequences of poverty.
At any given moment, the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning has approximately 100 projects in progress in our region. Its annual charrette (shar-ETT) in Detroit always explores critical regional planning issues. Dean Douglas Kelbaugh tells me that this years charrette will bring together 100 students and design professionals to work for four days in Detroit, creating new designs for the downtown riverfront.
Our public role goes beyond our research, and extends to the many resources we make available to the public, on site and online. I noted the impact of our museum and performance venues on the life of our students, but of course we also are providing a benefit to the public. One of the great examples will be the reopening of Hill Auditorium in January. Music Dean Karen Wolff reminds me that Hill Auditorium, like all our buildings, is valuable because of the nature of what occurs within its walls. The creative life of our students and faculty will be on display to the public with a concert of the major work by Professor William Bolcom titled “Songs of Innocence and Experience,” which will feature a number of our student performing ensembles.
Our dean of the School of Information, John King, likes to remind us that our university has a global role in leading change and improvement. He is helping us find the ways to link our work to the public as well as to our fellow investigators, and that our horizons only will continue to expand as we view the horizon from ever expanding heights.
Even as we work to improve our academic programs, we also are working to improve the facilities that house them. I am well aware of the imperative for planning comprehensively and strategically for our academic facilities. I have spoken with Dean Terry McDonald about the critical needs of LS&A, such as in biology facilities and the science museums. We also hope to make progress on our other plans for renovation and expansion. Many of you have heard about the proposed Walgreen Theater—we have altered our planning for that complex to meet the academic needs of the theater program, which will have a positive impact on our planning for the future of the Frieze Building.
We are also about to embark on a multi-year effort that will benefit academic programs throughout the University. In the next calendar year, we will be launching the largest capital campaign in the history of the University. All of our schools, colleges, departments and administrative units are engaged in preparing for this endeavor. The contemplated increase in our endowment, and the funds raised for our priorities, will allow us to create more scholarships, more named professorships, and to enhance our academic mission in many ways.
A capital campaign always generates excitement on campus as well as externally, and we look forward to this period with great anticipation. You will be hearing much more about the start of the campaign in Winter Semester.
So as I think about Michigans future I see many promising opportunities:
We are a public university, with a public nature that is both a tremendous distinction and an awesome responsibility. It is essential that America’s great public universities remain excellent and remain accessible, and that we continue to dedicate ourselves to research and learning that benefits our local and our global welfare.
We are a place of enormous academic richness and research productivity, but we also have a secret ingredient many other research universities dont have—our multidisciplinary nature. Partnership is in our DNA. We need to use that multidisciplinarity to truly set us apart, and to define the science, research, and learning of the future. Provost Courant and I will be engaging many of you on this topic in upcoming months, and I expect we will discuss technology in the academy as a major component of that work.
We will continue to be dedicated, in many ways, to health, well-being and quality of life issues. Our life sciences work will expand, will broaden, and will touch many aspects of our academic community. Our University of Michigan Health System is a jewel and an area of special distinction—it is both a national superstar and a critically important asset to the state.
We have a responsibility to our undergraduate students, to connect them to everything Michigan has to offer, and to provide them with fully-engaged learning experiences in the classroom, in their living environments, and in the vast wealth of extracurricular activities on our campuses.
All these efforts will allow us all to continue to say to our students that they have access to the best educational opportunities possible—to eminent faculty, and to the most prominent programs in the country and world.
In conclusion, I want to remind you that I drew upon the metaphor of a bridge at the outset. I have sketched the actual and metaphorical bridges we have already constructed, and those that we are still building: across the past to the future, across the schools and colleges of our campus, across the worlds of students and faculty, and across our campus borders to the state and world. Every day, we will continue to seek new links to one another, and I continue to be fortunate to join you in this quest.