New Faculty Orientation
August 29, 2007
Welcome to Michigan! Welcome to our new faculty, welcome to our deans, and welcome to our administrators.
This is the first university-wide event of the new academic year, and it’s wonderful to see both new and familiar faces.
This is an extremely significant week at the University of Michigan.
First and foremost, we are welcoming you, our newest faculty, throughout our schools and colleges. You bring to Michigan an extraordinary level of talent and the value of new and different perspectives, as well as countless experiences.
We also are greeting new students, from some 6,000 freshmen who will gather tomorrow night for New Student Orientation to graduate students who are exploring and refining their careers at all levels.
Between new faculty and incoming students, our future as a great institution is unlimited. As president, it is the time of year when I walk across campus and feel absolutely energized by this infusion of talent.
This week also is significant because of our history. As of this past Sunday, we have reached the 190th anniversary of the founding of the University of Michigan. On Aug. 26, 1817—20 years before Michigan gained statehood—the University of Michigania was established in the fur trading post of Detroit.
The first act of the founders was to call for 13 professorships, in such disciplines as mathematics, astronomy, chemistry, literature, medicine and natural history. The professors’ responsibilities—and they were given full responsibility for the nascent institution—were to establish schools, colleges, museums, laboratories, gardens and libraries.
On the same day the University was established, the founders set the salaries for the faculty: Twelve dollars and fifty cents. Per year.
Now, the academic disciplines have expanded exponentially, the salaries are more robust, and the location has shifted from Detroit to Ann Arbor, but the University of Michigan continues to place faculty at the heart of its extensive academic enterprise.
To focus on your future as Michigan faculty, it’s important to know a little about your predecessors here at the University.
You have joined a faculty that over the decades has featured the naturalist Douglass Houghton, the philosopher John Dewey, the poet Robert Frost, and the genetics pioneer Francis Collins. William LeBaron Jenney, father of the American skyscraper, taught our first architecture courses. Esther Van Deman was renowned for her fieldwork in Roman archaeology. Elizabeth Crosby, a distinguished neuroanatomist, received the National Medal of Science.
Epidemiologist Thomas Francis conducted the massive field trials that confirmed the effectiveness of the polio vaccine. And Joseph Brodsky, a Nobel Laureate and U.S. Poet Laureate, began his teaching career at Michigan after being exiled from the Soviet Union.
Michigan has always been a vibrant, exciting place … something you will discover as you begin to settle in … and I know you will only add to this environment. There is a legacy of accomplishment, of risk-taking and of leadership, and I encourage you to embrace it as you begin your careers here.
I am particularly excited about the newest faculty members in the room today and elsewhere on campus because of the many global perspectives you bring to our campus, and I want to thank our deans for broadening our academic horizons this way by recruiting these talented individuals.
As just a sampling, the faculty joining the University bring experiences from Singapore, Venezuela, Australia, Scotland, Columbia, Iraq, Turkey, Taiwan, Kenya, France, Greece, India, England, South Africa, Italy and Germany. And I know I’ve left out some countries.
Margaret Kruk joins us as an assistant professor of health management and policy in the School of Public Health. She has practiced emergency medicine in a remote northern town of Ontario, Canada, and has worked with Doctors without Borders in Lebanon.
Stephen West, a professor of voice, is an acclaimed singer whose opera career has placed him on stages throughout Europe. He will share his knowledge and his talents with students in the School of Music, Theatre and Dance.
Tatjana Aleksič is a new faculty member in LSA’s Slavic Languages and Literature Department and the Program in Comparative Literature. Among her experiences are training and teaching at the University of Nis in Serbia, and she will participate in our First-Year Seminars by teaching a course on myth and history in the Balkans.
And Marlyse Baptista joins Afroamerican and African Studies and Linguistics with vast expertise in Creole languages, particularly Cape Verdean Creole. I would add she has a record of near-perfect student evaluations.
Exposing our students to the world through your teaching and research is increasingly important because of globalization, technology, and a heightened awareness of the vulnerabilities of both our economy and our climate. I want Michigan students—including a freshman class that represents 53 different countries—to understand the world better, appreciate how it affects them and, most importantly, explore how they can effect positive change through their ideas and actions.
This is why we have an academic theme year focusing on today’s China. And why our Arts on Earth initiative explores music and dance and visual arts through different cultural lenses. It is why I led a faculty delegation to China in 2005 to establish new academic partnerships with four universities, and why I will lead another University group to South Africa and Ghana this winter to expand our collaborations there.
This imperative—to explore and to question and to reach out across boundaries—is why you are here, at Michigan, as members of the faculty. You bring unique professional experiences and personal histories that strengthen our university. You make Michigan more interesting intellectually.
I want to thank you for choosing to become part of what we call the Michigan Difference. As the University marks 190 years, I feel very good about our future knowing you have joined us, and you should feel a great sense of accomplishment. Your ability to inspire, to lead and to motivate will invigorate our students and enhance the University’s research and scholarship.
You have my best wishes for an extraordinary first year and for many extraordinary years in Ann Arbor. Thank you.