Future Directions: Defining the Great Public University of the Knowledge Age
Our university, of course, does not operate in isolation, but within a network of other prestigious research universities, a state that supports us, and a world that depends on our graduates and our discoveries.
We live in a world characterized by a whirlwind of dynamic change.
We are confronted with a ubiquitous and overwhelming rush of information.
The new economy has shifted the emphasis from manufacturing to knowledge.
Our new global society social, political, economic and cultural compels us to recognize a teeming variety of values and perspectives.
Technology continues to fulfill its astonishing promise yet becomes increasingly more challenging.
Our environment is imperiled whenever society avoids accepting responsibility for global sustainability.
And in the middle of this complexity, we seem to be losing our ethical compass as we attempt to navigate the swirling rapids of these issues.
Because of these shifts in the social and technological landscape, the frontiers of knowledge are expanding dramatically. Exciting new spheres of thought are emerging and new forms of intellectual engagement are made possible by the connectivity of information technology.
The single laboratory and the solitary scholar are often supplemented by collaborative endeavors. Academic discoveries will emerge from the intersection of our disciplines and will be more intertwined with the world we inhabit and serve.
These are groundbreaking and often breathtaking challenges. The truly great university of tomorrow will meet them head-on.
It will mobilize its resources to address the constantly changing needs of society and to push the boundaries of our understanding. The great strengths of the University of Michigan prepare it especially well to enhance its academic leadership and to engage its public mission even more profoundly over the next century.
This University is characterized by world-class programs across a broad range of disciplines. Our academic reputation blazes across the globe and even beyond, with our alumni who have traveled to the Moon.
Dean Robert Dolan described this campus perfectly when he said that we have nineteen schools and colleges at the top of their game.
In addition to the expertise that has created such outstanding academic units, I believe our multi-disciplinary approach to scholarship is one of our most distinctive hallmarks we possess an academic culture that breaks through traditional boundaries.
My goal is this:
The University of Michigan will continue to define the great public university of the world. We will move Michigan to a new level of excellence by building on its distinctive academic strengths while recognizing new areas of opportunity and societal need.
We will expand the collaborative innovation that is our signature in a way that reaches across traditional disciplines, into the classroom, and out into the world around us.
I want to articulate a set of aspirations that will guide our future work. These are shaped in part by our past and highlight the promise and commitment of our future.
I will use these guideposts in making decisions and determining the direction of my administration in every area, from the continued development of our campus master plan to the creation of special new initiatives.
I will ask each of our units, schools and colleges to use these principles to inform their future choices as well.
- We will sustain academic excellence
- We will foster active engagement
- We will build collaborative learning communities
- We will create greater access to Michigan’s academic quality
We will sustain academic excellence.
Above all else, we are committed to advancing the work and values of a brilliant academic community. Academic excellence is never negotiable, even when we are faced with short-term budgetary pressures.
In previous years, our commitment might have been an unspoken compact, but today, we are dealing with external pressures that require us to assert, with determined insistence, our pledge to maintain the highest level of academic quality.
We are a university that expects and demands bold intellectual engagement. We will continue to recruit and retain the very best faculty and students.
And we must maintain the distinctive strength of our extraordinary staff, who provide the highly skilled effort that keeps our intellectual and physical infrastructure so robust.
We will never compromise on excellence.
We will foster active engagement
Tomorrow’s great university certainly will not be an ivory tower. We must be committed to translating our ideas into communication and action, with each other and with the larger world challenging ourselves to address the vexing issues that our global and local communities confront. We are called to support our society’s hopes, development, and enrichment.
Whether we look at our work to develop a nationally prominent Depression Center or our partnership with the state’s life sciences initiatives, we will focus on addressing societal needs and sparking a greater level of connectivity inside and outside the academy.
There are many areas our community can explore as we strive to become a more actively engaged university. Here are a few examples:
- We must develop the infrastructure technological and physical to support all forms of academic engagement by our faculty and students.
- We have the opportunity to contribute in new and significant ways to economic development. I have been speaking to business organizations on this issue, and we must respond to their eagerness for increased interaction between our academic units and regional leaders in business and industry.
- I will ask our University how we might more effectively coordinate the missions of Ann Arbor, Flint, and Dearborn through a three-campus strategy, each with its own balance of regional engagement, while contributing to the institution overall.
- Also, we can expand our current international involvement in areas such faculty leadership on global issues, study abroad programs, and on-campus educational opportunities.
We will build collaborative learning communities
As we deal with multifaceted social problems, we find they often do not fit into the discrete disciplines of academia.
In addition, we must prepare young people for the problem-solving, team-based environment that they will encounter not only in the workplace, but as informed and entrepreneurial citizens in a diverse democracy.
President Angell famously described the University of Michigan as providing an “uncommon education.”
I believe that the uncommon education we create in the information age must be built upon interdisciplinary scholarship and team-based learning opportunities that are supported with digital tools.
Across our teaching and research endeavors, we have a tremendous opportunity to deploy our intellectual capital in new ways.
Here are a few of the areas I will ask our campus to explore as we consider how to build more collaborative learning communities and encourage an even greater level of scholarship across traditional boundaries:
- Although we have such a tremendous strength in interdisciplinary and collaborative research, we have not done what we should to bring these powerful approaches into our classrooms. It is exciting to imagine interdisciplinary teaching on a large scale, and Michigan is the place to do it.
- As we develop plans for residence hall renewal, how can we improve the residential life experience so that our future investments support the concept of collaborative living and learning environments in a digital age? In order to continue attracting the best and brightest students, we must have residence hall renewal. But our decisions about design must go far beyond “wired” versus “wireless” connectivity. Rather, our plans should address innovative ways learning can occur and how a student community can best be supported.
- As you know, I believe that our next steps to enhance the life sciences at Michigan will include expanding our approach and inviting dynamic new collaborations. There is wide campus enthusiasm for joining the life sciences more seamlessly to the other natural sciences, engineering, social sciences, humanities, and the arts. In addition, we want to investigate opportunities that might be possible by adding neuroscience as a new pillar of the life sciences at the University.
As we aspire to sustain continued academic excellence, foster more active engagement, and build collaborative learning communities there is one more fundamental commitment we must make if the University of Michigan will define the great public university of the future.
We will create greater access to Michigan’s academic quality
We must ensure access to the vast intellectual opportunity and knowledge this great public university generates for the sake of the societies we serve, and for the intellectual ecosystem that provides our academic distinction. A public university has little value for our society if its resources are not accessible.
This will mean asking ourselves some tough questions.
- We need to know if there are financial barriers that place a Michigan education out of reach for some academically qualified students, and how we can lower those barriers. This discussion must include a significant study of our financial aid programs along with an emphasis on scholarship support as a centerpiece of the upcoming capital campaign.
- We personified the commitment to the principle of diversity in higher education as we defended our use of affirmative action. Now we have to turn inward to enhance our efforts in recruiting and retaining a campus community students, faculty, and staff that reflects the full diversity of our nation, and creates a campus that is truly and completely supportive of that diversity. We are not there yet.
- As we consider ways to improve access to the University and its resources, I want to develop ideas that will make the figurative concrete wall around our academic community more permeable too often, the public senses that our walls are rock solid and impenetrable. For instance, I will encourage new kinds of public arts programs, building on the successful model of the Royal Shakespeare Company residencies, and I want to find new ways to provide the business community with access to our many resources.
At our University, an infinite set of possibilities for research and learning will emerge as we apply our ingenuity to these aspirations.