Senate Assembly Annual Address
“Striving Toward Perfection”
Oct. 30, 2006
Coming before this group always presents me with the challenge of capturing a little of everything—everything—that is under way at the University. It’s a bit like trying to describe the diverse interests and expertise of the faculty in this room, in 30 minutes or less.
I want to spend time this afternoon on new developments in the arts, emerging research in the sciences, our partnerships in the state and beyond, several task forces I am establishing, and challenges threatening the momentum of Michigan.
Let me begin with a survey. It’s not about whether you support Jennifer Granholm or Dick DeVos, or the fate of Republicans in Congress, and it doesn’t involve robo-calls that interrupt your dinner.
It is a survey about the health and well-being of Americans—older Americans, to be specific. I prefer the phrase “baby-boomers” because it keeps us young, but it is a survey of those 30 percent of Americans who are 50 or older.
The Institute for Social Research has been interviewing some 27,000 people about their lives: their physical and mental health … retirement plans … personal finances … living conditions … jobs … and more.
This Health and Retirement Study, as it is known, melds economic, biological and psychological research to create a remarkably detailed picture of this country’s aging population. The results are used by scientists, policy-makers, the medical community and human service agencies.
This study has been under way since 1992, and earlier this year received an additional $70 million in federal funding—the largest research grant in the University’s history. It has been such a successful and transformative project that it is now being modeled worldwide, including in South Korea, Israel, Mexico and 11 countries in Europe.
This is the University of Michigan and this is what we do best: deep, broad research that informs and shapes the world around us. It is a timely, vital examination of a social phenomenon that will affect all of us in one way or another, and ISR is using sound social science to help explain the hows and whys of it.
It exemplifies the breadth and depth of intellect, talent and creativity at the University of Michigan.
When Henry Tappan was named the University’s first president, he laid out a remarkable vision for a university that at the time had fewer than 300 students. He called for robust teaching of science, medicine, literature and the arts. He proposed libraries, museums, laboratories and an observatory.
And he issued a challenge that has—and always should—inspire us. “This young university,” he said, “shall we not carry it forward to perfection?”
The University of Michigan will mark its 200th anniversary in 2017. It will be an extraordinary anniversary of a university that now has more than 54,000 students on three campuses, and it will give us pause to look at our many, many accomplishments.
I want to talk today about what we want the University to look like at its bicentennial celebration. Henry Tappan provided us with an exceptional blueprint, and I believe we—faculty, staff and students—must continue to strive for the perfection he envisioned.
First and foremost is our quest for knowledge. It is the bedrock of our academic enterprise, and is one that we must continually reinforce and deepen to address the complexities of today’s world.
I look at young faculty like Jason Gestwicki and I see the future of research at Michigan.
Dr. Gestwicki is a chemical biologist who studies proteins and their role in degenerative neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s disease. He came to the University a year ago after doing outstanding science for three years as a post-doc fellow at Stanford. He will tell you there were four reasons he came to the Life Sciences Institute: the physical space, the atmosphere, the environment, and the personalities to build the laboratory he envisioned.
He likes that our doctoral students value the importance of science that crosses academic borders, and that the interests of his faculty peers span structural biology, chemistry, disease models, genetics, translational research, and biochemistry. This interplay between experts is essential to modern scientific discovery.
Or as Dr. Gestwicki says, “You can’t ask for anything else within a short walk.”
We have devoted much time and resources at the University to faculty like Jason Gestwicki and our life sciences enterprise. The Life Sciences Institute, the Undergraduate Science Building, Palmer Commons, and the Biomedical Science Research Building together represent nearly a million square feet of new space devoted to the three pillars of our life sciences effort: research, collaboration and education.
At the Life Sciences Institute, we now have 25 faculty who lead groups encompassing some 500 researchers. Where our scientists at ISR examine the social consequences of aging, our researchers at the Life Science Institute are exploring the biology of how cells evolve as we age. What they have discovered is a delicate balancing act between cells that renew and cells that die—a pivotal act that can dictate the likelihood of a person developing cancer.
This is an amazing discovery of a cellular phenomenon—a genetic switch of sorts—that has vast implications for determining how long we as humans can live.
This is just one of a number of remarkable findings by our scientists. We have achieved the critical mass envisioned eight years ago by President Bollinger and the Life Sciences Commission. And across campus we are realizing great advances and taking on exciting challenges in the life sciences, in areas ranging from nanobiology to stem cell research to diabetes research and more.
We are now at an opportune time to look again at where we stand in the broad sweep of the life sciences—fields that are rapidly evolving—and determine directions we should take as a University that excels at biomedical research.
The first of three task forces I am announcing today will advise on emerging opportunities, strategic bearings, and collaborative possibilities in the life sciences.
Collaboration will be an essential feature of our future work in life sciences—and other areas as well.
Not only has the Life Sciences Institute been instrumental in the recruitment and retention of outstanding scientists in a number of departments, it has brought to the fore synergies that are unique to Michigan, particularly between engineering and the sciences.
We have few peers with such profound combined strengths in engineering, medicine and the sciences. I think of such programs as the Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience Institute, or our work in cellular and molecular biotechnology engineering, or the Nanotechnology Institute for Medicine and Biological Sciences.
We are on the threshold of understanding life and living organisms at the most basic level, and our enthusiasm for multidisciplinary science makes that possible.
We are seeing this approach at the School of Public Health, which opened its new Crossroads Building and Tower last week. Among its many important features are 133 new lab benches in a shared environment—the same type of collaborative environment that defines life sciences at Michigan. Public Health scientists can expand and contract their labs as research evolves and changes.
The philosophy of collaborative science is behind our newly announced Michigan Memorial Phoenix Energy Institute, which will model itself intellectually on the Life Sciences Institute.
Finding renewable sources of energy is one of our most urgent global problems, and the University is in a unique position to make an immense contribution to finding solutions. This is a natural fit for us—one that will pull together faculty from the sciences, technology, engineering, public policy and economics.
We have tremendous expertise in automotive and nuclear energy research, and growing strengths in hydrogen research. I am committing $9 million to recruit faculty in fields that complement our existing strengths.
Physically, the Energy Institute will be housed in the Michigan Memorial Phoenix Laboratory, which was originally built on North Campus in the wake of World War II to study the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, and which we are renovating to meet today’s research needs.
Intellectually, the Energy Institute will be an open laboratory. Under the leadership of Dr. Gary Was, I believe it can be a place that draws on the expertise of all our schools and colleges, because the creation, use and distribution of energy are issues that cut many ways.
The Energy Institute will be the unified voice of U-M energy research and education, and I want to see it become the leading center in the world for energy science, technology and policy.
Our robust research agenda has implications beyond policy, medicine and technology. It can—and does—drive the economy of our region. This is something I am deeply committed to, and it has never been more important. We have an absolute responsibility to the state to help transform an economy that is flagging because of dramatic changes in the automotive industry.
Listen to the words of Henry Tappan: “A great University … by its expenditures, by the numbers which it brings together, by the industry which it calls into action in its necessary going on, is an important element of commercial prosperity.”
Could he have predicted that this great University would be awarded $800 million annually to conduct research? Or that our faculty would take their research and launch new businesses—at least two new businesses every economic quarter?
And they are successful businesses. In the last two months alone, U-M spinoffs have attracted more than $100 million in venture capital funding: $30 million for NanoBio, $40 million for RenaMed, and $33 million for OncoMed.
I want Ann Arbor to be a place where entrepreneurs flourish, and I believe we are seeing the power of the University to make this possible.
There is, of course, the recent decision by Google to open a corporate office in Ann Arbor and create 1,000 jobs. This is rooted in our relationship with alumnus Larry Page and the University’s monumental partnership with Google to digitize the holdings of our library.
There is perhaps a more significant indicator of our role in economic development: the state’s 21st Century Jobs Fund, which awards money to up-and-coming high-tech firms throughout Michigan.
When the first round of $137 million in funding was awarded last month, more than half the money went to Washtenaw County businesses and organizations.
The applications for funding were reviewed by experts from outside the state of Michigan, and clearly they recognized the role that a research university plays in kick-starting the economy.
The University of Michigan, along with Michigan State and Wayne State, can and will move our state forward. Every day, for the past five years, researchers at these three institutions have announced at least one invention. Every day. And those invention disclosures have led to more than 500 license agreements for new technologies and systems.
As a University Research Corridor, our institutions are playing a significant role in building the Michigan of tomorrow. Innovation and research—the very fiber of our universities—will propel Michigan’s economy.
In addition to contributing to the economy, I want the University of Michigan to be more engaged at all levels with our region and state— indeed, with the larger world—and I want your advice as faculty as to how we might accomplish that.
Two years ago, I proposed “the engaged university” as a key theme. As I just noted a moment ago, there is much that we are doing—the list of things I could mention would be very long. But we can do more. The arts and humanities, tech transfer, community service, economic development, and improvements to K-12 education are just some of the possible features of the engaged university.
I want your ideas and advice about how we can better bring the intellectual capacity of our institution to bear on critical problems, specifically how we can be of greater service to the people of Michigan. Nothing speaks louder about our role as a great public research university than our relationship with the people of Michigan, and I will be establishing a second University task force to help with this mission.
All of these widened, collaborative and pro-active approaches to scholarship are the future of research at Michigan. But Michigan would not be Michigan if we limited ourselves to research, impressive as it is.
President Tappan predicted we would be a great university because, in his words, “Whatever a student may need or desire is here to be found.” And that is because of the countless perspectives we provide in our teaching, in our programs, and at our libraries and museums.
A year ago I told you about a $2.5 million investment to expand our work in team teaching and in developing courses and degrees that cut across academic boundaries.
A faculty committee that represents all 19 schools and colleges has since done tremendous work in reviewing your proposals—14 to date—for new undergraduate courses. One new course is being taught in the Ford School of Public Policy and promotes systematic thinking about problems of the day—problems like globalization and trade issues, AIDS, and educational policies. A second course is based in the Center for Southeast Asian Studies and explores contemporary social issues in Southeast Asia, including labor standards, bird flu and SARS, the rights of women and children, and economic transitions.
And a third new course and one new program are in line for funding.
The range of viewpoints that we can provide students with these courses and programs will enhance their ability to see challenges and opportunities through different lenses.
In that same spirit, I’m excited to tell you today that we dedicating the 2007 calendar year to a celebration of the arts from global perspectives. We are calling this celebration “Arts on Earth,” and it will be a dizzying array of coursework, performances, visiting scholars and artists, and symposia.
As we are experiencing with the current residency of the Royal Shakespeare Company, the arts give deep dimension to the world’s humanity, to cultures, and to conflicts.
So we will be treated to Professor Bright Sheng’s music-theatre work, “The Silver River,” based on a Chinese myth that is 4,000 years old. And we will experience a staging of Arthur Miller’s work, “Playing for Time,” which shows the plight of musicians in concentration camps who were forced to perform for the Nazis.
The Miller play will be performed in conjunction with the grand opening of the Arthur Miller Theatre and the Walgreen Drama Center on North Campus. Mark your calendars for March 29 through April 8 for the opening festivities.
Humans and the arts create each other, and Arts on Earth will explore this dynamic throughout the world. We will look at this transformative human experience and its impact on us as individuals and as a social force.
This celebration draws on the expertise of many disciplines at many schools and colleges. This is a faculty-driven initiative, and I hope you will find a way to contribute to it.
I am also looking to faculty, as well as staff, for input about how we might improve the aesthetics of our campus with sculpture, murals and other outdoor art. Our lovely campus should be livelier to the eye, and with more public art, I believe we can elevate our physical environment to one that suits a university of our stature and character.
I have asked James Steward, director of our Museum of Art, to chair the President’s Advisory Committee on Public Art that will develop a strategic approach to seeing that our physical spaces equal the vibrancy of our academic enterprise.
I have yet another need for your input on how we can expand the perspectives we offer our students, and that is with our approach to China, both in teaching and research.
The level of our engagement with China is truly astounding and very exciting. We have a remarkably long history of involvement with that nation, dating back to President Angell’s tenure as U.S. minister to China in the 1880s.
As you know, I led a University delegation to Beijing and Shanghai in June of 2005, and the momentum of that trip continues to generate ripples of activity across campus and beyond.
We want to test several hypotheses in our work with China: first, that we can build partnerships that will allow our faculty and students—and the University as a whole—to reach their fullest potential in a globalizing world. Second, that the lessons of our success as a great public research university can help produce change, not just on one campus, but throughout Chinese higher education. And third, that we can learn much from the ambitious experiment in higher education that is under way in China.
There is ample evidence that supports each hypothesis.
This past May, the University hosted some 25 leaders of Chinese universities in an intense two-week forum that covered topics ranging from university governance and finances to campus construction and philanthropy. The Chinese university administrators were full of questions about American higher education and the role of public universities, and we presented them with a full picture of the challenges and rewards that come with operating a great research institution.
The Provost’s Office has appointed a new coordinator of U-M China initiatives, Jen Zhu, who has taken on the formidable task of inventorying all of our existing academic programs at Chinese universities, as well as identifying new opportunities in China for our schools and colleges.
I am going to establish a third faculty task force to examine the range of our current efforts with China and to develop recommendations about new opportunities we might explore in cooperative research and education.
The University’s longest international relationship has been with China, and I want us to continue to build this partnership for tomorrow’s students and faculty.
When talking about partnerships, I need to give you an update on the Michigan Difference campaign and the support we are receiving from philanthropically minded alumni, staff and faculty like you.
That support includes gifts from 12,000 U-M faculty and staff members who make up the heart of the Michigan Difference campaign.
Chronologically, we are at the halfway point of the public phase of the campaign. We began with a kickoff celebration in the spring of 2004, and we will end in December 2008.
Financially, we are at 90 percent of our $2.5 billion goal and have raised more than $2.2 billion.
Of course, the inclination is to say, “Great! We’re almost done!” But I’ve been in the thick of a capital campaign, as has Jerry May, our vice president for development, and we can both tell you that this is the hardest part of a campaign.
Two significant challenges remain for us: raising money for need-based scholarships and for endowed professorships.
As faculty, you want the best students. As president, I want the best students. Together, one way we can attract these students is with stronger financial aid packages, because money matters. And I do not want to lose great students because their family finances cannot bear the weight of tuition.
To broaden our student body, I am creating the President’s Challenge Fund to help attract more qualified students who may not apply because they believe a Michigan education is unaffordable. This is a challenge to donors to help add to the richness of the University.
For any gift or pledge they make for need-based scholarships, I will match it from discretionary funds. If a donor gives $75,000, the President’s Office will match it with $75,000. I will match gifts up to $1 million, and will direct that the money be endowed.
I feel strongly about reaching out to low- and moderate-income students, and I am looking for partners to increase our need-based aid. Our donors already have created 760 new scholarships with their gifts. I am now asking that they build up our need-based scholarships. Family finances should not keep qualified students from enrolling and contributing to our university.
Money matters to faculty recruitment, too, and that is why there is a second component of the President’s Challenge Fund.
In Henry Tappan’s day, the going rate for endowing a professorship was $40,000; today it is $2 million.
To date, our donors have endowed 128 new professorships, which are so important to attracting and keeping faculty at Michigan.
I want to accelerate this progress. I am committing up to $10 million to match gifts for the next 20 professorships endowed by our donors. If a donor gives $1.5 million over three years, the President’s Office will match it with $500,000. For a donor, that’s a fully named professorship, at 75 percent of the cost.
Most importantly—the match is made after the donor pays the first $500,000, which enables us to immediately begin searching for the holder of the professorship.
I am very excited about this Challenge Fund—it will advance the Michigan Difference campaign, and that means it will advance the future of the University.
I’ve been talking a lot about how we are positioning the University for our bicentennial in 2017, which will be a momentous event.
Another, more immediate date will play a crucial role in determining the University’s future, and that is November 7.
The ambition and energy of the U-M are not possible without diversity—diversity of people, of academic disciplines, of research initiatives. That is threatened by Proposal 2, the wrongly called Michigan Civil Rights Initiative that puts at risk many of the gains we have made.
To solve the world’s problems, we need people who see the world in different ways. We know that diversity makes that possible.
Psychology Professor Patricia Gurin and Political Science Professor Scott Page have conducted path-breaking research into the benefits of diversity. Susan Kaufmann, the associate director of the Center for the Education of Women, has created two valuable reports about the impact of Proposal 2 on employment, education and contracting in our state.
I am personally criss-crossing the state to talk with students and their families, women’s groups, and alumni to tell them how dangerous I think Proposal 2 is for U-M and the state.
If Proposal 2 passes, we will be less attractive to students, to faculty, and to potential employers of our graduates. I am deeply concerned about the climate it is creating on campus. Our enrollment numbers are down for African-American students, and that worries me and angers me, because we should have a student body that represents students of all backgrounds.
Henry Tappan said, “We must take the world just as full as it is.” The University of Michigan is seen nationwide as a model for diversity in higher education. As president, I am committed to seeing that we remain diligent about changing the face of our campus so that it looks like the world around us.
Regardless of what happens with Proposal 2, I am fully and completely wedded to building diversity at the University of Michigan. We must continue to send the message that every student at Michigan deserves to be here, and that we are a university that welcomes all.
Last week, the former president of Poland, Aleksander Kwasniewski, was on campus. He is a fascinating person who was equally fascinated with the University. He joined me for the Michigan-Iowa football game, and was stunned by the sight of 110,000 people in one place—this from a man who has been involved with the past six Olympic Games.
He then went to two performances of the Kirov Orchestra that were part of the Shostakovich Centennial Festival.
Next came the opening night of “Antony and Cleopatra” by the Royal Shakespeare Company.
He told me: “I feel like I’m in the center of New York City!”
Our visitor from Poland could not have known that Henry Tappan once challenged the University: “Dare to be in advance of the whole country, if need be.” There’s really no place like Ann Arbor. Life-changing research, a distinctive arts environment, and a diverse range of perspectives and people combine to create an unparalleled university.
Three months ago, the Board of Regents re-appointed me to a second term at Michigan. It is an honor to be president of this university. I can honestly say I have never been in a job that is so rewarding, so challenging, and so enjoyable.
You help to make that so. The faculty of Michigan are the finest in the world, and you make this the best place to teach, to learn and to work.
I’m anxious to hear your questions and share my thoughts about the direction of the University. But I first want to thank you for your service and for your commitment to Michigan.
Together, let’s work to carry the University forward to perfection.