Speeches

African Studies Center Opening

 

October 13, 2008

Earlier this year, I had the privilege to do something many people in this room experience as part of their daily lives: I traveled to Africa.

Leading a University delegation to Ghana and South Africa was my first exposure to the continent, and our visits with university leaders in Accra, Johannesburg and other communities were enlightening and productive.

Most importantly, our visits were opportune.

There has never been a greater time for higher education to seek out new knowledge in new communities, because whether we are based in Ann Arbor or Accra, our universities share the language of ideas. In this rapidly changing world, we have never had so much to learn from one another.

When our delegation visited the University of Cape Town, where U-M has enjoyed longtime partnerships, I was able to meet with several of our students who were spending the semester there. When they told me they were studying in South Africa to see firsthand the accomplishments and struggles of a nation in transition, they demonstrated to me just how eager our students are for global knowledge.

We are committed to providing our students with the critical thinking tools they need to succeed in a world that grows ever more connected and complex. This shrinking world is pushing us closer together and making us more aware of what makes each of our nations and cultures unique, while also revealing the bonds we share.

The more our students can draw from the world, the better they can contribute to their communities. The African Studies Center will help accelerate those connections.

As a leading research institution, the University of Michigan aspires to engage at the global level through the personal experiences and contributions of our students, faculty, and staff. And to truly be engaged at the global level, we must continue to connect one-on-one and build genuine, reciprocal partnerships.

As many of you know, Michigan students, scientists and faculty have been engaged with Africa and African communities for decades.

Today, we have astrophysicists in Namibia logging images of the sky to understand the spectacular nature of gamma ray bursts. Psychologists doing fieldwork in Ethiopia are observing the social skills of gelada monkeys. Linguists are working to understand the structure of languages in Mali. Historians are researching the oral histories of Ugandans. Anthropologists are studying the history and politics of polio eradication in Nigeria.

We are very proud of the depth, breadth, and mutual productivity of our friendships and partnerships throughout Africa, and I thank all of you for building these relationships. By establishing the African Studies Center, we are giving our work even greater emphasis and focus.

We all know Michigan is a highly decentralized university, and our multi-disciplinary nature is what gives our academic programs such strength – it allows us to feed on tremendous intellectual energy. With this Center, we want to make the whole of our African intellectual activity greater than the sum of the parts.

The work of our scholars throughout Africa is rich and varied. The key to all our activity is collaboration – collaboration among faculty and students on our campus and collaboration with faculty and students throughout Africa. We do not have all the answers at the University of Michigan – and we never will. For us to conceive of what we can do as an institution demands exchanging ideas globally with administrators and faculty and looking to the future for new opportunities.

The differences between us – those of background, of experience, of culture, of perspective – are not a source of conflict, but fuel for creativity and innovation. They are, and can be, harnessed for the good of all.

The public we serve, and our students and faculty, expect the University of Michigan to meet society’s needs.

To meet those complex needs and prepare our graduates for the challenges of a shrinking world, we must draw upon the perspectives of both faculty and students from around the world. At the same time, we must encourage members of our community to engage in scholarly activities throughout the globe.

That is our mission for the future, and it has never mattered more. I can think of no more important work than joining hands with scholars in Accra, Pretoria, and communities throughout Africa to transform and improve lives through the power and promise of global knowledge.

Thank you.