I want to join President Reid in thanking you for inviting us to speak today about the exciting developments at Michigan’s three research universities, and our efforts at helping the state maintain its economic stability as we work to meet the demands of a highly competitive world.
The year 2007 is the 50th anniversary of the launching of Sputnik.
I believe I can speak for Presidents Reid and Simon when I say Sputnik was a watershed moment for our generation because of what it did for American science and research.
It caused our institutions – the government, our universities, and America’s corporations – to respond with lightning speed to the prospect of our country falling behind in technology and innovation.
A similar threat is at our doorstep today.
As a nation, we are the best in the world at invention and scientific exploration. We are the very icons of risk-taking, social progress and economic success.
At the University of Michigan alone, our scientists have discovered the genes for cystic fibrosis and Huntington’s disease, and our alumni are responsible for the iPod and Google.
But our state and our nation have a problem.
The best minds in our country – business leaders like Rick Wagoner of GM and Norm Augustine of Lockheed Martin, university presidents like Shirley Tilghman of Princeton and John Hennessy of Stanford – are profoundly concerned that we are at risk if we do not commit to more innovation … more math and science … and more basic research.
A number of well-publicized state and national reports have come out in the last couple of years, and all call for a deeper commitment to research and education if we are to remain an economically competitive society. These reports come from such organizations as Lt. Gov. John Cherry’s Commission on Higher Education and Economic Growth; the Council on Competitiveness; the Business Roundtable; and the National Academies.
Our state’s prominence as a manufacturing giant once meant a high standard of living for people with little formal education. As the Cherry Commission told us, a dangerous side effect of that is a culture that does not place enough value on higher education.
Too many of our young people drop out of high school, and those that do receive their diplomas too often go no further with their education. Fewer than 40 percent of our young people in Michigan are enrolled in college.
Our state absolutely needs educated citizens if we are to remain competitive. We must educate more graduates of our high schools, and we must encourage them to remain in Michigan and contribute to our transformation as an innovative state.
The students who graduate from U-M, MSU and Wayne State are entering a world unlike the one we knew.
It’s different even from the world of five years ago, when those students were in high school. It is a place that is growing remarkably smaller, and more competitive, every day.
Thomas Friedman, the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the New York Times, refers to this phenomenon as the flattening of the world. What he means is that we are more connected than ever.
Today, because of staggering achievements in technology, it is the individual – not a nation or a corporation – who has the power to single-handedly affect change.
Obviously, the more educated those individuals, the more competitive and successful they will be. Michigan’s research universities are the critical link in producing those competitive, innovative individuals.
We must remain at the forefront of innovation and research. Because of technological advances, universities around the world are at our heels for the best students and faculty.
For example, China has made it a national goal that 50 of their universities rise to the level of the 100 best institutions in the world.
Presidents Reid, Simon and I can only echo the alarms being rung by the Cherry Commission and others, and strongly reinforce their recommendations for deeper funding, stronger high school curricula, and greater investments in financial support for our students.
Yet our concern is tempered by the deep resolve and leadership of Michigan’s research universities.
As you’ll hear from my colleagues, this resolve can be found in our investments in technology transfer and our commitment to economic development, in our own backyards and throughout the state.
We prepare the people who solve the problems of Michigan and the world. We excel at creating solutions for our state’s future, and I believe that by drawing upon our vast and unique strengths, our universities will continue to be innovation leaders.