Senate Assembly Annual Address
“University Accomplishments and Challenges”
Sept. 26, 2005
I want to thank Chair Bruno Giordani and all members of the Senate Assembly for the opportunity to talk with you today as we begin another academic year at Michigan.
In meeting with students over the past few weeks, I have made a point of expressing my gratitude for the show of support our community has extended to the victims of Hurricane Katrina.
I especially want to thank you, the faculty. You have opened your classrooms to new students who have transferred here from their shattered universities in the South. You have accommodated those U-M students from the Gulf Coast whose families have seen their lives turned upside down. And you have welcomed into your laboratories new colleagues who have been displaced while their home institutions begin rebuilding.
You have shown great care and concern, and I am proud of your compassion. I know we are collectively relieved that this past weekend’s storm was not as devastating as predicted.
Two weeks ago yesterday, I joined several hundred people at the Power Center for a concert to benefit Katrina victims. In watching and listening to the performances by our faculty and students from the School of Music, I was struck by how perfectly this benefit exemplified the strengths of the University of Michigan.
We witnessed the incredible talent of our students, as well as original work from faculty such as William Bolcom, OyamO, and Peter Sparling.
It was a display of collaborative entertainment, of students pairing with faculty, and the School of Music joining forces with the University Musical Society.
It was a concert that pulled from a variety of disciplines, and it was a performance that reached out to the community and said, “Join us as we help those in need.”
In two short hours, this concert captured what we do at Michigan, and do very well. It was literally a stage for our academic excellence, our collaborative spirit, our openness, and our engagement with the world around us.
Today, I want to share with you where we stand now, and where — with your insight and participation — we are moving as one of the world’s great public research universities.
Seventeen months ago, I shared with the Board of Regents and the campus community my vision for the University. My foremost goal, and one I know you share, is that the University never waver in its commitment to academic excellence.
Every day, from our introductory-level lectures to our most advanced research, faculty like you devote yourselves to the highest standards of the academy. The level of brilliance and innovation is inspiring, and I am proud to lead such dedicated academics. In the past year-and-a-half we have devoted much time to talking about the Michigan Difference — that quality that sets our University apart from the others — and it is best embodied by a dedication, yours and mine, to the finest academic work anywhere.
Our foundation at Michigan, and our future, is our research, our scholarship, and our creative work. We are one of the great research universities because of the changes we effect with our accomplishments, and the opportunities we seize to create knowledge, expand understanding, develop cures and deliver solutions.
We are continuing this leadership with our new Center for Stem Cell Biology, which we announced last week and which holds great potential for advancing this most promising area of science. I believe that in stem cells, we stand on the brink of a revolution in biomedical research, and there is nowhere else the U-M should be than on that cusp. That is why we are investing talent, money and facilities to accelerate our work in this field.
Under the leadership of Dr. Sean Morrison, the Center for Stem Cell Biology will draw upon the synergy of the Medical School, the Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience Institute, and the Life Sciences Institute, which is gaining remarkable momentum with its strong faculty hires and robust research.
With these partners, Dr. Morrison and his team will pursue answers to some of our most perplexing questions in basic life science.
As another example of U-M’s leadership, Dr. James Baker is developing effective, ultra-small technologies that will allow doctors to better diagnose and treat diseases such as cancer, or prevent diseases such as hepatitis B and smallpox using novel adjuvant vaccines.
In directing our new Michigan Nanotechnology Institute for Medicine and the Biological Sciences, Dr. Baker and his researchers are making astounding advancements at the nano-level.
At the Nanotechnology Institute, researchers in medicine, chemistry, physics, and engineering have designed a better way to treat cancer, which we know is often accompanied by the debilitating effects of chemotherapy. They have created a nano-vehicle that carries chemotherapy into the body, seeks out the cancer cells, and attacks only these cells. Through this drug delivery system, the medicine is delivered and the cancerous tumor shrinks or disappears — while the surrounding healthy cells remain healthy.
This highly effective use of the tiniest of technologies is one that may allow us one day to view cancer as a chronic disease we manage, rather than one we fear and fight.
Our research strengths at Michigan are also being used to address one of the most pervasive challenges to our society, and that is energy — how much we use, which fuels we rely upon, and the alternatives we simply must develop if we are to continue to prosper as a nation.
We are a country with less than 5 percent of the world’s population, but we consume 24 percent of its energy. That imbalance cannot long exist.
With a great College of Engineering, and equally strong programs in science, medicine, natural resources, business and public policy, the University is well positioned to take a leadership role in developing new ways to power our society. We will approach this very complex dilemma with a multidisciplinary, campus initiative that will explore the challenges and risks of moving from a petroleum-dependent society to one that relies upon hydrogen for its energy. Dr. Levi Thompson in the College of Engineering will lead this initiative.
Hydrogen is clean, it is efficient, and it can be produced from renewable resources. It also presents hazards, real and perceived. Dr. Thompson and many of our faculty want Michigan to be at the forefront — in thought and in action — in creating alternative models for our energy demands.
Responding to our most vexing social problems is a Michigan stronghold because of our social science expertise, and that continues with our new Center for Advancing Research and Solutions in Society, which we call CARSS and which is based in the Institute for Social Research. CARSS takes scholars from a variety of disciplines, partners them with experts in business, industry, the public sector and the media, and tackles some of society’s most complicated issues. I don’t believe we do “easy” at the University of Michigan.
For example, CARSS is studying how global corporations influence human well-being. Think about that: Are we better off, or worse, because of Walmart, Chevron and IBM? What do all these multinational corporations mean to the family, to neighborhoods, to language and culture?
These are incredibly deep questions, with a multitude of answers.
The University’s dedication to academic quality extends well beyond research laboratories and institutes, and goes deep into our classrooms and theatres.
It is an excellence we see in graduate students like Jesmyn Ward, a young woman from Mississippi who this year was honored with five — five — Hopwood Awards, an accomplishment that tells any enthusiast of the written word what great promise she holds.
The Hopwood Awards are Michigan’s signature mark of great writers, and we will celebrate them in the Winter Semester when we commemorate the program’s 75th anniversary of contributions to the American literary scene.
One of the earliest Hopwood winners was a young man from New York by the name of Arthur Miller. The world said goodbye to him last February, after an astonishing career the likes of which American theater has not known. In three weeks, at 10 o’clock on Oct. 14, we will pay tribute to Arthur Miller, and I hope you will join me downstairs in Rackham Auditorium to celebrate his work.
Students like Elizabeth Kostova come to Michigan for the same reason that attracted Arthur Miller some 70 years ago: we are a university that celebrates writing. Just as Arthur Miller went on to great acclaim, we expect the same with alumna Elizabeth Kostova. If you want tangible evidence, look at the New York Times bestsellers list. There, you will find The Historian, her impressive novel — her impressive debut novel, listed at No. 3.
We are continuing to nurture great writing by expanding our MFA Program in Creative Writing with more fellowships, larger stipends for our students, and deeper funding to support their research travel and to bring distinguished visiting faculty to campus.
Along with these exciting initiatives, new research centers, and campus celebrations, our standing as a great university can be found in our facilities, and you know better than anyone just how much construction is under way on our campus. From the Ford School of Public Policy’s Weill Hall at the southern edge of Central Campus, to the Walgreen Drama Center on North Campus, we are building and renovating classrooms, exhibit halls, labs and performance spaces to enhance teaching and research.
And we are making an extraordinary investment in improving the student experience with our Residential Life Initiative, the centerpiece of which will be the new North Quad Residential and Academic Complex.
As someone who both works and lives on campus, I know all this work can be disruptive, but I think you’ll agree that these new and improved spaces are necessary, and welcome.
I could spend the next hour talking about our academic excellence, but I don’t want to go any further without discussing the importance of philanthropy, because our quality and the donors who support our work are now inextricable.
Since our first days as a university, we have relied upon private support to take that extra step in teaching and research. Today, with the continuing decline in state appropriations, donor support is fundamental to our excellence. Absolutely fundamental. We will always be indebted to the taxpayers of Michigan, and we will always work on their behalf. Philanthropy, however, gives us the competitive edge that is essential to recruiting and retaining the finest students and faculty, and to building facilities that allow you to work at your highest potential.
Many of the achievements I’ve just spoken of have private support at their core: Jim Baker holds an endowed chair and his work is supported in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The Hopwood Awards, and the prize money they provide for students, are a Michigan institution because of a bequest from alumnus Avery Hopwood. The expansion of our creative writing program is the vision of Helen Zell, a donor who said, “Let’s make our program the best in the country and let’s make it happen now.” And many of our new buildings are the result of generous gifts.
Earlier this month, The Economist published a survey of higher education worldwide. In writing that the United States has the finest of all systems, the magazine said our achievement in America is due in part to philanthropy and donors with vision.
We are seeing that firsthand with the tremendous early successes of our Michigan Difference campaign. Our goal is $2.5 billion, and we have raised more than $1.8 billion. That is phenomenal progress, and it is due to the hard work of many people.
It speaks to our remarkable strength that Michigan alumni and friends choose to support the University so vigorously. They are telling us that higher education is their priority, and those are values we welcome.
In discussing my goals with the Regents, I explained how critical it is that we build learning communities that are collaborative, and I am excited to tell you about a new initiative we are funding for our undergraduate classes.
Last year, I appointed a task force to explore team teaching and the ways we could expand it. We know that interdisciplinary research is a hallmark of Michigan, and we have some real team-teaching success stories in areas such as Global Change, American Culture and Women’s Studies. But the task force members have told me we can do so much more, and they have delivered a report with such solid recommendations, that Provost Ned Gramlich and I are ready to commit significant resources to expanding our team teaching efforts.
I want our undergraduates to experience interdisciplinary team teaching because of the important model it provides. It shows our students the central role that questioning and debate plays in the pursuit of knowledge and truth. When our students move on to careers or graduate work, they will know the value of applying multiple perspectives to a problem, and they will understand the benefits of synthesizing materials from many viewpoints.
Team teaching can be a challenge from your viewpoint as faculty. It requires more time and planning, both intellectually and logistically. It means developing new course materials. And, with the highly decentralized nature of Michigan, it means clearing barriers to find and collaborate with colleagues in other schools and colleges.
We hope to lower some of these hurdles by acting immediately on the task force’s No. 1 recommendation — that the University fund the creation of complex team teaching and multidisciplinary programs.
We are investing $2.5 million for three new multidisciplinary degree programs and three new complex courses. Determining just what these programs and courses look like will be in your hands as the faculty, and a faculty steering committee will welcome your proposals.
I know you will lead us in fascinating directions with your ideas.
Let me suggest some hypothetical courses that would play to our strengths because of our broad capabilities, and the depth of our graduate programs. The subject would be international studies. Think of the units we could draw upon in ways that would intrigue our undergraduates. There could be political science, history and languages from the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. We could call upon the expertise of the Ford School, because their faculty are interested in reaching out to undergraduates. We could engage scholars in the School of Information, because communication technology is so critical to global issues. And we could bring in experts from the Ross School of Business.
We could help students see the world from a dozen different viewpoints, all the while sitting in a single classroom.
Alternatively, think of the potential for collaboration and team teaching with the opening of North Quad and its academic emphasis on information technology and media studies. What better environment for teaching a complex course on interactive digital media? I can imagine faculty collaborating from the School of Information, Art and Design, Computer Science, Communication Studies, and Screen Arts and Cultures. Students could discover digital media through the academic lenses of computer programming, story narration, cultural impact, artistic presentation, and artificial intelligence.
This report on team teaching coincides with the findings of a second presidential task force exploring ethics in public life — an area I feel merits a strong academic response because of a portfolio of crises in the corporate boardroom, in our country’s military prisons, in journalism, and in organized religion.
As with team teaching, the task force studying ethics in public life has found that the University can and should do more to make ethics a priority in our teaching, research and public service. In fact, our community is hungry for more discussion and debate about what is right, what is wrong, and the foundations of strong moral behavior.
We have many of the resources already in place: an excellent Department of Philosophy with distinguished ethicists; ethics programs in a variety of disciplines; top-ranked programs in the social sciences and in our professional schools; and an environment that encourages work that crosses academic borders.
Now we must find better ways to position these resources and to infuse them into the everyday life of our community, particularly our students.
The first step we will take in launching an Initiative on Ethics in Public Life is to develop new undergraduate courses — especially for first- and second-year students — that have a strong ethics component. And we will find better ways to address ethical issues in our existing courses.
Dr. John Chamberlin, of the Ford School and LS&A, co-chaired the task force and he will continue his good work by leading our curriculum development in partnership with faculty. The Center for Research on Learning and Teaching has much to contribute in this area, and it will work closely with him.
As a second step, we as a community are going to talk, really talk, about ethics. Starting this November and continuing several times each term, we will offer a public forum about current events that have a strong ethical undercurrent — a sort of “rapid response” to emerging ethical issues. There’s no knowing today what the forums will cover — but we do know by reading the headlines that there will rarely be a shortage of material. Marvin Krislov, our general counsel and task force co-chair, has agreed to coordinate these forums, and I believe they will make for thoughtful, and stimulating, public discourse.
A steering committee will help shape both curriculum development and the public forums, and we are making an initial commitment of $500,000 to this initiative.
Like everything we do at Michigan, the prospects for team teaching and ethics coursework are endless. But the real ideas, and the new curricula, must come from you. The task force reports will be posted on my website this week, and I encourage you to study them. More importantly, I encourage your involvement. Few universities offer the wealth of disciplines as does Michigan, and I am excited about where you will take our students with your proposals and your teaching and research.
Along with building partnerships across campus, I have been advocating for greater engagement with the world around us. Returning to the The Economist and its exploration of why American higher education works so well, the magazine made this point, and I couldn’t agree with it more: “It is all right to be useful.”
Washington Monthly magazine thinks the same and decided it was time to evaluate universities based on how well they serve society with public service, commitment to social mobility, and faculty research. The University of Michigan was placed in the top 10, and that’s because as a great public university, we know we must be relevant and useful to society.
And we are — globally, nationally, locally, and virtually. Your work makes it so.
In Ann Arbor, Flint and Dearborn, we know that engagement, whether around the corner or around the globe, is essential to creating leaders who have a comprehensive understanding of our rapidly changing world.
Earlier this summer, I led a University delegation to China to establish several partnerships with Chinese universities — partnerships that will allow our faculty and students, and the University as a whole, to reach their fullest potential in a world that is growing smaller.
We went to Beijing and Shanghai in the spirit of James Angell, our former president and an American ambassador to China, who once said, “Every good institution of learning, by its life, helps every other good one.”
We have much to learn from China, and I know that Chinese higher education leaders are eager to learn from the successes of Michigan.
This semester, the University is setting down deeper roots in our nation’s capital with the launch of our Michigan in Washington Program. This is an LS&A residential program led by Dr. Edie Goldenberg that is open to undergraduates, and our first cohort of 18 students is already fully occupied in coursework and internships in such places as Congress, the Federal Trade Commission, the Voice of America, and the Embassy of Pakistan.
Last week, I was joined by deans and faculty from the Ann Arbor and Dearborn campuses in opening the U-M Detroit Center, a new hub on Woodward Avenue for the many different activities we have under way throughout the city. The Detroit Center gives us a tangible, visible presence in the city where we were born as a university.
Urban engagement is the essence of our Flint and Dearborn campuses. This year, UM-Flint is celebrating its 50th anniversary and its legacy of partnering with local leaders to develop programs, facilities and, most important — exemplary graduates — to contribute to the progress of Genesee County. And UM-Dearborn personifies academic excellence with a metropolitan mission that has students and faculty intertwined with southeastern Michigan businesses, schools and neighborhood groups.
Here in Washtenaw County, the University is joining with elected officials, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs and private businesses in an innovative organization we call SPARK. SPARK is an umbrella economic development effort we hope will capitalize upon this region’s technology achievements, and its goal is to double the number of technology companies and triple the technology jobs by 2010.
Commercialization of the faculty’s discoveries is an integral part of our research mission. We owe it to the public to keep giving back to society and to create more economic opportunities. SPARK can do that.
And in the virtual world, our pathbreaking partnership with Google continues to move forward. Google staff are busy scanning and digitizing hundreds of thousands of volumes in the public domain that are housed on campus. We recognize that some authors and publishers are concerned about intellectual property issues for those books still under copyright, and I want to make it clear that we are complying with copyright and fair use regulation.
But I also want to emphasize just how important this initiative is to society’s digital future: it is a sea change in everyone’s ability to discover information, and in our libraries’ ability to archive and preserve information for generations to come.
Finally, I want greater University engagement to include you as members of our community.
I want Michigan — with our world-class health system and distinguished programs in medicine, nursing, pharmacy and public health — to be a fit, healthy community. Last year I announced the creation of a task force called the Michigan Healthy Community Initiative, which is finding ways to promote healthier lifestyles, as well as develop more cost-effective delivery of health care.
The task force has long-term plans for programs that focus on mental health; cost-effective health care; and the health of our students — serious, multi-faceted topics that affect us all.
In the meantime, our initial efforts are coming to fruition. This winter, we will kick off a campus-wide physical activity challenge that will literally have all of us taking steps toward a healthier lifestyle. It will involve departments, laboratories and offices. It will be competitive, which we’re quite good at. And it will be fun — I promise.
All of this hard work in research and teaching, all of this investment in collaboration, and all of our achievements are moot if our university is inaccessible.
The University of Michigan is the face of diversity in higher education, and we must continue to make access real. I am deeply concerned about a statewide ballot initiative in 2006 to end affirmative action in Michigan. It has the power to divide us, when our efforts should be focused on constructive ways to build broad diversity within the moderate guidelines outlined by the U.S. Supreme Court.
I always want it known that we are a university that is welcoming, nurturing, and inspiring to all our faculty, staff and students. That means we absolutely must widen our doors so that individuals from all backgrounds can take advantage of what we have to offer. A great public university can do nothing less.
I mentioned earlier that Arthur Miller came to U-M because we believed in good writing. He was honest in saying he came here for a second reason, and that was because Michigan was affordable. I want today’s high school students and their parents in Michigan to know the same thing that he knew: that a U-M education is extraordinarily strong and it is accessible, regardless of family finances.
This fall is the inaugural semester for our new M-PACT program, which expands financial aid to our neediest of undergraduates from Michigan. I’m pleased to tell you that so far we have awarded grants to 2,239 students. Despite a tuition increase, and because of M-PACT, this year’s incoming freshmen with the lowest family incomes are paying less than their peers did a year ago.
We are investing in an expansion of another sort to reach more underrepresented students and their families.
A year ago this week, we launched En Espanol, the University’s Spanish-language website. With information about admissions, academics, housing and financial aid, it has been tremendously popular in reaching Latino parents and extended family members, who we know are often very involved in their student’s decision to go to college.
We are now enlarging En Espanol with more content, including materials from the Rackham School of Graduate Studies and other graduate programs.
And while we will not have our final fall enrollment numbers for a few more weeks, paid enrollments deposits from entering freshmen indicated a 15.3 percent increase from last year in Hispanic students, which would see us welcoming one of the largest entering classes of Hispanics in University history.
I would add that those same enrollment deposits showed a 20.1 percent increase among African-American students, a promising reversal from the drop in enrollment we saw after we revised our undergraduate admissions process in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling.
I hope you will join me in taking great pride in our accomplishments, because you are responsible for most of them. Our strengths as a university come from our faculty, and our challenges and opportunities must be met by our faculty.
A new book called Student Success in College: Creating Conditions That Matter looks at universities that are distinctive because of a campus culture that breeds academic success. We are one of 20 schools to be showcased — one of 700 universities surveyed nationwide — and the scholars who wrote the book make a point of saying Michigan offers more student support than any school they visited.
That campus environment, of embracing students and their desire for knowledge, is grounded in our faculty — faculty whose research creates an exciting culture of inquiry and intellectual engagement. There are a lot of surveys and rankings out there — including the one in The Economist that placed Michigan in the top 20 best universities in the world. But to me, this new book says the most about the difference Michigan makes.
Those same authors said universities like Michigan are never quite satisfied with their performance, and instead are always looking to be stronger institutions. They’re right. The University of Michigan will continually strive to be better, and that is what gives us our strength.
One of my predecessors, Alexander Ruthven, wrote in his memoirs that it was the president’s job to make speeches — “to say something,” he observed, “that deans and professors can criticize.” I know you have ideas and suggestions about where we are headed. Whether it is criticism or praise, I want to hear from you.
From the criticisms and praise of faculty, staff and students, new programs, new degrees, and new organizational structures have emerged. Keep on reflecting, keep on suggesting, and keep on constructing OUR University of Michigan.
I thank you for your time, your contributions, and your dedication to our community, which serves the state, the nation, and the world.