Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education
February 24, 2006
Good morning. Thank you for inviting me to speak with you today about the exciting developments at the University of Michigan and our efforts at helping the state maintain its economic stability as we strive to meet the demands of a highly competitive world.
The University of Michigan is a comprehensive research university with exemplary programs and faculty in medicine, engineering, public health and many more fields critical to the health and wellbeing of our society.
But I want to begin today by focusing on just one professor in this grand enterprise. His name is Daniel Klionsky, and he is a self-described zealot about teaching introductory biology to our undergraduates.
He wants students, regardless of their career interests, to be scientifically literate, because scientific literacy is absolutely necessary. Just a glance of a newspaper inspires a thirst for knowledge of global warming, nutrition, genetics and stem cells. This is the language of tomorrow, and Professor Klionsky is preparing our students to be adept in their knowledge and adaptable in their use of science.
Along with teaching freshmen and sophomores, Dr. Klionsky is a cell biologist in our Life Sciences Institute. He studies yeast and the way its cells destroy themselves in a process called autophagy. By researching this cannibalism in yeast, he and his colleagues are working to determine if a similar biological process could be triggered in cancer cells — that is, is there a way to direct cancer cells to kill themselves.
Lastly, Dr. Klionsky is a national model for teaching. His methods are so impressive, and so effective, that the National Science Foundation has named him a Distinguished Teaching Scholar. The NSF has awarded him a grant of $305,000 to improve how science is taught to undergraduates, at the University of Michigan and beyond. And just this week, the National Academies named him an education mentor in the life sciences because of his work with undergraduates.
I want you to know about Dan Klionsky because he personifies the University of Michigan and our commitment to undergraduates and teaching, to research and all of its potential, and to serving the state and the nation in graduating students prepared to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
And we have many challenges. I brought this stack of reports to the table with me because they represent a steep mountain we all must conquer. These documents represent the work of the best minds in our country — business leaders like Norman Augustine of Lockheed Martin and Rick Wagoner of GM, university presidents like John Hennessy of Stanford and Shirley Jackson of Rensselaer Polytechnic. They have volunteered innumerable hours of their time and talent because they are concerned — profoundly concerned.
Because each of these reports — from the Cherry Commission to the National Academies and the Council on Competitiveness — each report carries the same basic and alarming message: we are at risk as a nation if we do not commit to more innovation, more math and science, and more basic research. We need more of it and we need it today to remain globally competitive. This is our Olympic challenge.
As a nation, we are the best in the world at invention and scientific exploration. Our research universities — institutions like U-M, Wayne State and Michigan State — are places of deep exploration and bold experimentation. Great ideas are born on our campuses: Hewlett-Packard was born at a university, as was the artificial heart and the computer. At the U-M alone, our scientists have discovered the genes for cystic fibrosis and Huntington’s disease, and our alumni are responsible for the iPod and Google.
As legislators charged with the well-being of our state, you know as well as I that Michigan is in the midst of a difficult economic transition. And yet I am optimistic, because I believe our public universities, especially our research institutions, can and will play a tremendous role in helping to diversify our economy through innovation and collaboration.
At U-M, our strength is research. And research productivity at our university translates to economic power for Michigan. It means hundreds of millions of federal and other research dollars — nearly $800 million this year alone, making the U-M one of the top three research institutions in the nation.
Not only does that mean research and development to keep our state and nation competitive. It also draws new talent to Ann Arbor, Detroit and East Lansing as we recruit top faculty and graduate students from around the country and around the world. It means discovering knowledge critical for improving our lives, our society, and our understanding of the world.
Let me share with you one way we are innovating with our research, and that is in nanotechnology and the development of ultra-small technologies that will allow doctors to better diagnose, treat and prevent diseases.
Dr. James Baker is the director of our new Nanotechnology Institute for Medicine and the Biological Sciences, where researchers are making astounding advancements at the molecular level.
At the Nanotechnology Institute, Dr. Baker and his colleagues 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.
What’s key about the Institute is how it calls upon not just one discipline, but many. That’s how we have to approach science today, because the problems we need to solve are too complicated to be explained by a lone scientist in a solitary lab.
Along with conducting researching, teaching graduate students and treating patients in his clinic, Dr. Baker is an entrepreneur responsible for creating two biotechnology companies based in Ann Arbor. He demonstrates firsthand that research makes possible discoveries that become the economic drivers of our communities.
I want technology transfer to be second nature at the University of Michigan, and we are making great strides in that direction. In this past fiscal year, the University recorded nearly $17 million in licensing revenues and 287 new invention disclosures from our research. That’s more than five invention disclosures every week.
In the last year, our research led to seven high-potential business startups. In the last five years, our university has launched at least two new businesses every economic quarter — 46 new businesses. And the majority of those businesses are headquartered here in Michigan.
In fact, many of them are located in Ann Arbor, and I’d like to take a moment to talk about our home community because I believe Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County can be a model for economic development in our state.
Thanks in large part to U-M’s research activities and our collaboration with the state in the Life Sciences corridor, southeastern Michigan has become a technology and biotechnology hotspot, attracting and supporting the kinds of businesses that will power the Michigan economy in the 21st century.
Here’s one example: Working with our elected officials, the leaders of corporations such as Pfizer and the Bank of Ann Arbor, and entrepreneurial groups like MichBio and the Michigan Small Tech Association, we have launched a partnership we call SPARK.
I mentioned our multi-million-dollar research budget, and it consistently places U-M in the top five nationally in research expenditures, rubbing shoulders with Boston, Seattle, the San Francisco Bay area, and the Research Triangle — four areas that are also seen as vibrant entrepreneurial regions. That’s no accident: their success has clearly been fueled by their great research universities.
With SPARK, we want to be mentioned in the same breath with these regions. Not just for how much we spend, but for how much we create.
SPARK is intent on doubling the number of technology companies and tripling the technology jobs in our region by 2010. Those are big numbers, but I believe they can be achieved because we are drawing upon all of our strengths. The U-M has committed $1 million to SPARK over the next five years, because we’re serious about this alliance and the expectations that go with it. This kind of collaboration is absolutely essential for generating new ideas, new technologies and new business models.
That collaboration applies to our state’s research universities, the students we educate, and the graduates that Michigan companies want to hire.
I have the privilege — and the responsibility — of serving as the principal investigator of an exciting and important initiative called the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation.
As educators, we know that America is not producing enough graduates right now to replace the scientists and engineers that will retire by the end of this decade. The Sputnik generation is about to retire. And the next generation of scientists and researchers must be as diverse as our nation. Our state and our country need many more minorities and women to join these ranks, or we will be out-paced and out-performed in the global arena.
This compelled a member of Michigan’s Engineering faculty, Professor Levi Thompson, to take the lead in developing a solution. Engineers are like that. With Dr. Thompson’s enthusiasm and the support of the National Science Foundation, this alliance of Michigan’s research universities and our host today, Western Michigan, will work to increase the number of under-represented minorities earning bachelor’s degrees in science, technology, engineering and math. Increase them by 50 percent in five years, and by 100 percent in 10 years. This is in tandem with Governor Granholm’s plan to double the number of Michigan residents who earn college degrees over the next decade.
Diversity in our workforce and among our scientific community is crucial for the country’s future economic vitality. And that diversity will not happen in the workforce unless it happens at our universities. In particular, we must strengthen the pipeline to our exemplary graduate programs and the preparation they offer future scientists and professors.
By coming together as the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation, our research universities will build a strong network of talent and resources to ensure that tomorrow’s scientists, mathematicians and engineers look more like America.
I hope you’re noticing a pattern here. Collaboration is our future. Whether pulling together scientists and researchers from opposite ends of our campus or from opposite sides of Michigan, we must call upon our best people to find solutions for our state and for our future. That is true leadership, and the University of Michigan will be at the forefront.
Of course, none of this activity — the collaborative research, the inventions and spin-offs, the outstanding undergraduate teaching — none of it is possible without the lifeblood of our university: great students.
I always want it known that we are a university that is welcoming, nurturing, and inspiring to all 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 want today’s Michigan high school students and their parents to know that a U-M education is extraordinarily strong and it is accessible, regardless of family finances. This fall was the inaugural semester for our new M-PACT program, which expands financial aid to our neediest of undergraduates from Michigan. Students receive grants of up to $1,500, in addition to their other financial aid support.
And it works. 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.
When we must make the difficult decision to raise tuition, a move that we know has an immediate impact on our students and their parents, we always — always — increase our financial aid to offset these costs. I am absolutely committed to making certain that an undergraduate education at the University of Michigan is both accessible and of the highest academic quality.
We know the importance of education quality and access to Michigan parents. Here in Kalamazoo, the community has made a profound statement about the value of education with the Kalamazoo Promise and all that it offers young people. And we are seeing how it can help transform a community.
Let me close today by sharing with you a tremendous accomplishment of our students at Michigan. Last fall, the U-M earned a national championship in a competition that does not involve a ball or a pool or a racquet, but rather the sun. The U-M Solar Car Team crossed the finish line first in Calgary, Alberta, to claim the North American Solar Challenge — the fourth such time we have won the title in 15 years of competition.
It was a success that represented some of the best qualities of the University of Michigan: Cooperation among different schools and departments, support from industry and alumni, and perhaps most of all, the talent and dedication of our students. They absolutely radiated collaboration.
The name of their solar car and their team is Momentum, and that is what the University of Michigan is all about. That is what we provide for the state and the nation as we work to overcome these challenges. It is a serious responsibility, and one that we and our sister research universities will meet head on. Neither you nor I expect anything less, and the citizens of Michigan deserve nothing less.
I’m happy to answer your questions. And I thank you again for the opportunity to talk with you today.