New Faculty Orientation
Aug. 31, 2005
Welcome to the University of Michigan!
This is a day of firsts for many here. Not only are you beginning your careers as University of Michigan faculty, but today is Ned Gramlich’s first day back at Michigan after eight years of distinguished service in Washington, and I want to thank him for taking on the demanding work of provost.
I also want to welcome all of our deans who are here with us. You have done a magnificent job recruiting these newest members of our community, and I look forward to another stimulating and rewarding academic year with you.
The next 48 hours comprise one of my favorite periods of time in the school year. This afternoon, I have the honor of greeting you, our new faculty, to our great university. Tomorrow evening, at New Student Convocation, I welcome a new class of undergraduates. And on Friday morning, I meet our newest graduate students.
Presidents have been welcoming students and faculty at Michigan for generations. But I’d point out that when the first president of the University of Michigan began work in 1852, faculty had already been teaching classes for eleven years.
So it’s clear the U-M can endure without a president, but not without its professors.
Fifty years after those first classes were taught, U-M President James Angell — undoubtedly the finest leader this university has known — said this of the Michigan faculty:
“It is on the ability and attainments of the teacher more than on any or on all things else that the fortune of the University depends.”
He was so right. Our position as a leading research university has always rested squarely on the acumen and accomplishments of our professors.
And what outstanding faculty we have had over the decades.
Michigan was the home of Andrew Dickson White, a professor whose innovative teaching firmly established our scholarship in history before he moved to upstate New York to co-found Cornell University and to become its first president. He began Michigan’s legacy of sending dozens from our campus on to become presidents and chancellors of universities.
Michigan was home to the great educational philosopher John Dewey. Before the University of Chicago, and before Columbia, John Dewey was at Michigan, and it was here that he began to formulate the ideas that would shape his influential thinking.
Robert Frost made Michigan his home, first for two years as a creative arts fellow, followed by a third as a member of the faculty. The presence of this great American poet established the U-M as a university committed to the arts and artists.
Great Michigan faculty include Thomas Francis, who successfully tested the polio vaccine and found it to be safe, effective and potent, and Francis Collins, whose research and organizational skills helped to decode the entire human genome — a feat the implications of which we will not fully see in our lifetime.
But today is about you — the Michigan faculty of the future.
Each of you was offered a position with our university because of a unique talent, a special skill, that sets you apart from others.
Perhaps it is a love of teaching and your extraordinary rapport with students. Or your innovative approach in the laboratory, and the relationships you build with graduate students who share your passion for discovery.
Still, it may be your dedication to others and your belief that knowledge and service go hand in hand.
With your innumerable strengths, you embody what we call the “Michigan Difference,” a zeal for teaching, research and public service that sets us apart from other universities.
I want to tell you a bit about your colleagues here in the Ballroom. Some are new to the academy as professors, and are beginning their careers following impressive and rigorous Ph.D. and post-doctoral programs.
Others join us from having served on the faculty of such leading universities as Harvard, Penn, Texas, Vassar and Northwestern.
And still others come to us from the worlds of art and entertainment; government agencies such as NASA; and the laboratories of such corporate leaders as Intel and Hewlett Packard.
Your expertise ranges from studying the process of how stars are formed and developing polymer thin films to explaining Aristotle’s philosophy of mind and composing music that wins Pulitzers, Grammys and a position on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
Our new faculty are researchers such as Robin Means Coleman, a nationally recognized scholar in African-American media studies and television studies.
Her innovative work explores the reception of African-Americans to images of blacks in television sitcoms. Dr. Coleman is joining the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts from the University of Pittsburgh.
Our new faculty are scientists like Noah Rosenberg, who is joining our Medical School and the Life Sciences Institute. As a statistical geneticist, Dr. Rosenberg has developed tools for analyzing genetic variability. His research will focus on statistical strategies that make disease gene mapping possible, and he is an impressive addition to our work in the life sciences.
Our new faculty are legal scholars such as Madeline Kochen, who will engage our law students in the social issues of property law. Her experience in public interest law includes working as an attorney for the Legal Aid Society and ACLU in New York City; founding and directing the Women’s Rights and Reproductive Rights Project for the New York Civil Liberties Union; and directing Stanford Law School’s public interest law program.
And our new faculty are artists like Paul Rardin, who will be conducting the University Choir and our wonderful Men’s Glee Club. He is an accomplished composer and arranger, and the choirs he has conducted have performed at Washington National Cathedral, New York’s Riverside Church, and Boston Symphony Hall. Dr. Rardin is also an alumnus of our School of Music, and I’m happy to welcome him home.
You are a remarkably diverse community of scholars who are going to enrich not only your students, but also your peers. And not just peers in your department or your school, but colleagues throughout the University, because we are an institution that believes in academic work that crosses boundaries. In fact, we expect it.
Your presence here adds to the brilliance of our faculty, and extends the academic excellence of U-M. Sustaining the superior intellectual work of Michigan is one of four goals I have set for the University, and I want to tell you a bit about them because you are integral to our achieving success.
We are a university that expects and demands bold intellectual engagement, in both our teaching and our research. Recruiting the best faculty, and the best students, is paramount to our academic strength, and I believe you will see this firsthand as you begin to interact with our undergraduates, our graduate students, our post-docs, and our medical residents.
So academic excellence will always — always — be our top priority.
Another goal I have set is that the University truly be engaged with the world around us. We absolutely must find ways to take the work we do on campus and put it into motion in our communities, our schools, our statehouses, and our corporate boardrooms. I always want society to be able to turn to Michigan for solutions.
Third, we are committed to building learning communities that are collaborative. As you heard from Provost Gramlich, our academic energy lies in our passion for cross-disciplinary work. We have amazing resources and talents, and I want to see even more cross-fertilization of ideas and approaches — in the laboratory, and especially in the classroom.
And fourth, we absolutely must widen our doors so that students from all backgrounds can take advantage of what we have to offer. A great public university can do nothing less for society.
We must continue to make diversity at Michigan real, and we work hard at it every day. I am proud of our accomplishments, but I do not believe we can rest upon them. I want it known that we are a university that is welcoming, nurturing, and inspiring to all students.
Many of you may know that the great playwright Arthur Miller attended the University of Michigan, and he was honest in saying he did so for two reasons: Michigan believed in good writing, he said, and Michigan was affordable.
I want today’s high school students and their parents to know the same thing that Arthur Miller knew when he was applying to college: that a Michigan education is extraordinarily strong and it is accessible, regardless of family resources.
I know what it is like to be new to the University of Michigan. Like our seniors — at least, most of them — I am starting my fourth year, and I think I may finally have the place largely figured out!
So let me close by giving you a few tips about settling in at Michigan:
Immerse yourself. Take advantage of all we have to offer, whether it is the live entertainment, the galleries, the libraries or the lectures. There is so much that happens on our campus, and I want to make note of two special events we will feature this year.
The first is a tribute to Arthur Miller in October, when we celebrate the naming of the Walgreen Drama Center and the Arthur Miller Theater. And in the Winter Semester, we will celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Hopwood Awards — our highest honors for creative writing — and their impact on American literature.
My second tip: Improve yourself. Never cease to be a student. Seek out your colleagues for advice and guidance. The Provost’s Office and the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching are here for you, and I encourage you to draw upon their resources. By becoming a stronger teacher, you will help us produce stronger graduates.
And indulge yourself. Your ability to be a great faculty member is rooted in your personal contentment, and you should always find time for your family, your home, and yourself.
You serve the University of Michigan, but the University of Michigan must serve you as well.
As James Angell said, the destiny of our university depends on you. I feel very good about our future knowing you have joined us, and you should feel a great sense of accomplishment. Your ability to inspire, to lead, and to motivate will invigorate our students and enhance the University’s research and scholarship.
You have my best wishes for an extraordinary first year, and for many extraordinary years in Ann Arbor.