Senate Assembly Address
Sept. 24, 2007
Thank you, Tad, and thank you to the entire Senate Assembly for inviting me to be with you today.
Just as this hall is a new setting for our meeting this year, I want to take a new approach in my conversation with you.
In past years, I’ve come before you and spent a good deal of time discussing a broad array of campus activity, from the arts scene and the work of undergraduates to our outreach across the state and throughout the world.
Today, I want to talk specifically about you, our faculty; the essential role you play in the life of one of the world’s great universities; and what we are doing to enhance your intellectual endeavors.
When the first president of the University was hired in 1852, faculty had already been at work for 11 years teaching classes. So it’s clear the U-M can survive without a president, but not without its professors.
Fifty years after those first classes were taught, the great U-M President James Angell said of the faculty: “It is on the ability and attainments of the teacher, more than on any or on all things else, that the fortune of the University depends.”
Our ability to be a leading research university has always rested squarely on our ability to have great scholars with inquisitive minds.
Faculty, like students, are attracted to those institutions best equipped to help them reach their professional goals and where they are most likely to be associated with top-caliber colleagues and peers.
Great professors translate into attracting great students; obtaining more grants and awards; and carrying out research, innovation and creativity that betters society.
And the competition for great faculty is fierce. James Angell was delicate when, more than 115 years ago, he said Michigan faculty face “the strongest pecuniary temptations to go elsewhere.”
I’ll be more direct: It is an arms race. It is a competition for talent that makes athletic recruiting look like a playground tussle.
Two years ago, when the state of California launched its $3 billion stem cell research initiative known as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, its president minced no words about his top priority:
“I’ll raid everyplace I can,” he said, “to get the talent I need.”
This is what we face every day with you—our engineers, our social scientists, our doctors and our researchers. It is also why it is critical that we support our faculty—with our actions, with our facilities, and with our resources.
As with all major universities, we must turn to our donors to help with that commitment. More than ever, private support is just as essential to the public university as it is to the private university. Philanthropy is critical to our ability to sustain our excellence in teaching and research over the long term.
When I came before you a year ago, I announced a challenge I was placing before our donors, to leverage available University dollars and propel our campaign. If a donor would give the University $1.5 million to endow a professorship, I would match it with $500,000 from the president’s discretionary funds.
That combined $2 million is today’s cost of endowing a chair, and I was prepared to match gifts for up to 20 chairs. We have high expectations when it comes to philanthropy at Michigan, and we were hopeful that this challenge would accelerate support of our faculty.
Accelerate turned out to be an understatement. In less than eight months, donors stepped forward to endow all 20 chairs. Frankly, I was stunned. Never before in the history of Michigan have we seen so many professorships endowed so quickly. New chairs have been established in actuarial sciences, in European studies, in diabetes research, in finance, in American history, and beyond.
An endowed professorship is a gift that is, in many ways, without price. There is, of course, the monetary support of a salary, but an endowed chair also brings with it funds for research, travel, lab space, and other special needs unique to the chairholder.
Endowed chairs carry tremendous prestige, provide significant flexibility, and are a strong tool for recruitment and retention. You’ve seen this in your departments, and several of you have experienced it yourselves with the chairs you hold.
Let me share the details of how one of these new chairs will make a difference in our academic enterprise.
In the Division of Kinesiology, Dean Bev Ulrich had no endowed professorships for a faculty that numbers more than 40. But she had a strong relationship with two donors—Bruce and Joan Bickner—who were genuinely engaged in supporting the science and research of Kinesiology because two of their three children were alumni of the Division.
In addition to her relationship with the Bickners, Dean Ulrich had a longstanding goal of endowing one chair—just one—for Kinesiology, knowing that a $2 million gift is a very large goal for a small academic unit such as hers.
Take this mix of interested donors and Kinesiology’s desire to excel, and add the matching dollars of last fall’s Donor Challenge, and Dean Ulrich had the perfect philanthropic storm.
She, and the University, now have the Bickner Chair, and it is the most highly endowed kinesiology professorship of its kind in the country.
And here’s what makes this new position particularly attractive, to the dean, to the Kinesiology faculty, and, we believe, to prospective Bickner Chair holders.
It is extremely flexible. It is not earmarked for any specific discipline within Kinesiology. Bev Ulrich and her faculty can use this to go out and find the best possible academic, perhaps a scientist who excels in researching and treating spinal cord injuries, or a researcher working at the cutting edge of Down syndrome therapies.
That is what the Bickners wanted, to give the Division of Kinesiology tremendous freedom in finding the best possible faculty member for Michigan.
This kind of activity is unfolding throughout campus because of our new chairs. When we began the Michigan Difference campaign, the University had 268 endowed professorships. Donors have since created 168 new chairs, increasing our endowed positions by 62 percent. And we still have 15 months remaining in the campaign.
You may have read that we reached our campaign goal of $2.5 billion last spring, and we are extremely grateful to our donors for demonstrating such faith in the University. But we are continuing our campaign through to our December 2008 deadline because we have not yet met all of our goals, particularly in the areas of faculty and student support.
We must remain competitive with our peers, especially private institutions. Harvard, Stanford, Chicago and the like seek the same professors we work to recruit and retain. And they are just as aggressive about graduate students.
I want those most promising graduate students to study here, at Michigan, because these future professors, engineers, scientists, lawyers, creative artists and doctors have so much to gain with a U-M education. And you know as well as I that having great graduate students is fundamental to the quality of our research and educational environment and to the quality of faculty we can attract.
We have more than 17,000 graduate and professional students on campus, with fewer than 1,500 endowed funds to support them. I want that to change.
The University of Michigan is known worldwide for its academic stature, and to maintain that reputation we must be able to recruit the finest graduate students. We all know from our days as grad students just how crucial financial support is, and I want Michigan to be able to compete head-to-head with the private institutions when it comes to attracting and supporting the best graduate students in their pursuits.
Because a full graduate or professional fellowship can cost upwards of $50,000 annually, it requires an endowment of $750,000 or more to be truly effective.
Working with Vice President Jerry May and his development team, I am launching a second phase of my donor challenge, specifically for endowing graduate fellowships. For every $2 a donor contributes, the President’s Office will match $1. I am pledging up to $20 million, which means we have a goal of $40 million for our donors and an overall goal of $60 million in new support for our graduate and professional students.
This new challenge continues to December 2008, when we will celebrate the conclusion of the Michigan Difference campaign.
And even then, we will not retreat from seeking out private support for our faculty and students. Whether we are in a formal fundraising campaign or not, philanthropy is now vital—absolutely vital—to our academic enterprise.
This year, for the first time in the University’s history, the total funds received from private sources equals our level of state aid. That equation is a commentary on both the generosity of our donors, and the waning legislative support not only for U-M, but all of our state’s public universities. In the not-too-distant future, I believe we will see more dollars from our private supporters than from Michigan taxpayers.
We are not alone in this need for philanthropy to sustain and expand our work. While private support has always been at the core of private universities, it has become increasingly so for the publics as well. Earlier this month, the University of California-Berkeley received a record gift of $113 million, solely for the purpose of endowing 100 faculty chairs. The gift came from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and will be used to match other private donations for new faculty endowments totaling $220 million.
I was so struck by what UC-Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau said when the Hewlett announcement was made.
This gift, he said, “is a recognition that public universities can and must compete with the best private universities and can only do so through a partnership between public funding and private philanthropy.”
I can only second his words. The great publics of our country—universities like Berkeley, North Carolina, Virginia, and Michigan—play a special and important role in American society through our research and public service. We work for the greater good, and to do so we absolutely must commit ourselves to recruiting and retaining the greatest faculty.
I want to close today by thanking you for your steadfast support of our academic mission. Your presence here today is indicative of the service exhibited by so many members of our faculty who want to see Michigan continue to flourish. In particular, I am very appreciative of the Faculty Undergraduate Scholarship Fund you have established for tomorrow’s students.
We have seen such a strong outpouring from both faculty and staff in the Michigan Difference campaign. Nearly 15,000 faculty and staff, active and retired, have contributed more than $115 million, a number that I find just remarkable.
A month ago, I had the pleasure of welcoming new faculty to campus. It gave me the opportunity to tell them this fall marks the 190th anniversary of the founding of the University in Detroit.
The very first act of the founders was to call for 13 professors, in such disciplines as astronomy, chemistry, literature, medicine and natural history. The professors’ responsibilities—and they were given full responsibility for the new 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.
Whether you are in your first years at Michigan or are concluding a rewarding career of teaching, research and service, faculty are our foundation—for today and, more importantly, for tomorrow.