Welcome Message from Mary Sue Coleman
September 2, 2003
Welcome to the new academic year at the University of Michigan!
For everyone involved in academe, the “new year” is not a date on the calendar, but a state of affairs that begins in the late summer, when our students return in full force, our Autumn term begins, and we renew our minds and resolve as we begin the academic year with a refreshed community and new goals.
As I begin my second year at the University of Michigan, two major themes are directing my thoughts and attention: first, that everything we do at this great university has an impact on the world, just as the events of the world have a direct impact on us. And second, the excellence of this university is supported by more than brilliance and innovation—its strength also derives from its resilience, which has been put to the test in the past year.
The knowledge created here in our classrooms, laboratories, artistic venues, and libraries continues to add to our intellectual vigor as individuals and to the advancement of our society. The life of the mind is integral to a research university, and serves as both our guiding principle and our primary mission.
Even as we devote our careers to intellectual inquiry, we are sometimes called upon to deal with issues that extend far beyond our campus, yet ultimately have a great impact on our academic community. This has been illustrated most clearly in the past year in our defense of the principle of the use of affirmative action in admissions. With the support of our Board of Regents, the University of Michigan committed to a strong and principled defense of that issue, and committed equally to the freedom to discuss this issue from a variety of points of view on this campus.
Now that we have received the rulings of the Supreme Court, we have practical work to carry out regarding our admissions policies—and we must continue to foster a welcome climate for a diverse campus, and for diverse points of view. The intellectual vibrancy of our campus is its most valuable asset, and is more important than ever. As our campus community comes together for the first time since the decisions were handed down in June, we will find that this issue will take on a new life in campus discussions.
I noted that the events of our campus have an impact on the world, and that the events of the world have an impact on us. On September 11, we will observe the second anniversary of the terrible tragedy of 2001. Some of our students who were directly affected by those catastrophes have graduated, but we will be welcoming new students who are spending their first year away from families that are still recovering from their personal losses. We continue to have staff and students who have been called to active military service, and also have students, staff, and faculty members who are coping with the absence of family members who are serving abroad. Our students have arrived from parts of the world where strife and danger are a daily fact of life. Let us all remember that the global situations about which we read every day are having a direct impact on many members of our community.
My second major point relates to the brilliance and resilience of our university. Budget issues in particular have had a great deal of prominence in the past year, but I have been proud of the way we have been able to protect the excellence of our varied schools and colleges by innovative planning. Provost Paul Courant and I have been determined to protect and nourish our academic excellence, and we have been supported by our Regents in that goal.
Our ability to cope with crisis was put to an extreme test in August when we, along with millions of others, found ourselves in the dark. It was extraordinary to see how many staff members worked through the night, abandoned planned vacations, and extended themselves beyond any reasonable expectation to keep essential services running, ensuring that we were back in operation as quickly as possible. We do not often have occasion to be so very aware of how important all of our staff members are at this university, so I want to be sure that all of us take this opportunity to say a heartfelt “thank you”—not just for their efforts on August 14 and 15, but for all their work throughout the year. We always knew we could not last a day without our outstanding staff, and it was proven beyond any doubt during the power outage.
We have many events to celebrate in the coming year—the opening of the Life Sciences building, the re-opening celebrations of Hill Auditorium, the dedication of the newly renovated School of Natural Resources and Environment, and events such as our multi-faceted celebration of the culture of St. Petersburg. One of our oldest colleges, the College of Engineering, is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year with a variety of events. In the next few weeks, we will have a site dedication for a new facility for the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy and a groundbreaking for our new Cardiovascular Center.
But what is most important is that we are ready for the fresh challenges and opportunities this year will bring, that we debate and exchange our ideas, and that we begin the new year with the sense of wonder and inspiration we have known in years past.
With my best wishes for a fulfilling and productive year,