New Faculty Orientation 2011
August 31, 2011
Good afternoon. It is always a pleasure to welcome new scholars to the University. You embody a diversity of ideas and experiences that make Michigan a truly stimulating place to teach and learn.
I hope that in your first days here, you have found time to wander through the Diag, the heart of our campus.
It’s really a remarkable place, because it provides a kind of space unlike anywhere else at the University. The Diag is a place to relax, to protest, to teach, and to socialize. For all its energy, it also is an oasis from the classroom or office. It has an almost mythical status with alumni, because it is that one place that all students experience.
And it all unfolds under trees that have sheltered Michigan students and faculty for decades.
Those trees were the contribution of Andrew White, one of the first members of the Michigan faculty and a professor of history and English literature.
He found the University’s original 40 acres – today’s Diag – to be, in his words, “unkempt and wretched.” And so he began to plant saplings of elm and evergreen. He created walkways and a quiet sense of order. His students joined him in this work, and as time went by, the Diag became a lush, vibrant park.
As faculty, you have a similar role at Michigan. Not to find yourself on your hands and knees on the Diag, but rather to plant seeds of ideas in your students and see what develops.
Michigan students are extraordinary at all levels, from the freshmen we welcome at tomorrow night’s New Student Convocation to graduate students and post-docs. And they are eager for the knowledge you can impart and nurture within them.
You will see your students grow in profound and unimaginable ways. They will stretch their minds and develop branches of thought and arguments that lean in new directions. And they will always look to you, as their teachers, their mentors and their source of inspiration.
They are very fortunate with the new scholars joining our faculty this fall.
You number in the hundreds, and join Michigan from universities as nearby as East Lansing and as distant as Japan, Switzerland, India and Australia. You have trained at the world’s most prestigious institutions: Harvard, Berkeley, Chicago, Carnegie Mellon and, of course, Michigan.
You are experienced, tenured professors like Sile O’Modhrain, who joins us from Northern Ireland. She researches human-computer interaction, especially that involving touch and gesture. This is critical to developing technology that is accessible to users who, like Dr. O’Modhrain, are blind.
At the School of Music, Theatre and Dance, she will use her knowledge to explore ways that technology can extend how people express themselves through music.
You are new assistant professors like Allison Earl, who joins LSA’s Psychology Department and a cross-campus team of faculty studying HIV prevention, policy and education. Without a vaccine or cure, the spread of HIV/AIDS is best stemmed through human behavior. Understanding that behavior is the work of Professor Earl, who will partner with new colleagues in women’s studies, anthropology, nursing and medicine.
You are new faculty like Donald Peurach, who once was a high school math teacher and who now helps educate the teachers of tomorrow. At the School of Education, he studies educational reform and policy. Dr. Peurach earned his doctorate here, and we are thrilled to welcome him back.
And you are visiting faculty like Jim Ellickson-Brown, whose extensive portfolio as an American diplomat includes service in Cyprus, Greece, Haiti, Indonesia, Malaysia and Norway. While in those countries, he fed his love of music by studying native musical traditions, all the while using American music to introduce others to U.S. history and culture. He will share his 25 years of experience in the diplomatic corps with students at the Ford School of Public Policy.
Sustaining the superior intellectual work of Michigan is my top priority as president, and your decision to join our faculty tells me we continue to grow as an exceptional research university.
As a group, your expertise is jaw dropping. It ranges from founding a non-profit that studies how the media influence childhood obesity, to being the biographer of Broadway star Ethel Merman. From studying the energy production of wind turbine systems, to being regularly consulted as one of the world’s top sport economists. And from conducting the Boys Choir of Harlem, to being the founder and CEO of not one, but two Internet startups.
You are a tremendously diverse community of scholars who are going to enrich not only your students, but also your peers. And not just peers in your department or school, but colleagues throughout the University, because we are an institution that believes in academic work that crosses boundaries.
In fact, we expect it, this cross-pollination of ideas and approaches. Our academic energy lies in our passion for cross-disciplinary work. We have amazing resources and talents, and I want to see even more exchanging of ideas and approaches – in the laboratory, and especially in the classroom.
I want to see the University truly engaged with the world around us. We absolutely must take the work of all three Michigan campuses and put it into motion in communities, schools, statehouses, and corporate boardrooms. I always want society to be able to turn to Michigan for solutions. This has never been more important than in our great state, which is working to transform itself for the 21st century.
Engaging fully also means widening our doors so that students from all backgrounds can take advantage of what we offer. A great public university can do nothing less for society. Let’s always make it known that we are a university that is welcoming, inspiring and nurturing to all students.
There is that word again – nurturing. Professor White, the scholar who turned the Diag into the park it is today, knew well the immense implications of planting the smallest trees. Great ideas take root, and you as faculty have the knowledge and the commitment for cultivating tomorrow’s leaders.
Those leaders include alumni who have changed the world with their inventions, their cures, their discoveries and their ideas. But before their fame and success, they were Michigan students, engaging with their professors in classrooms and laboratories overlooking the Diag.
You should know that after teaching at Michigan, Andrew Dickson White returned to his home state of New York, where he co-founded Cornell University and became its first president.
He was also a New York state senator, an ambassador to Germany, and a minister to Russia. Over the course of his life, he met with eight American presidents, including Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt. He knew Germany’s Bismarck, Russia’s Tolstoy, and France’s Pasteur.
And yet when he wrote his autobiography and reflected on his life’s travels, Andrew White returned to the University of Michigan and the students he taught. “I have never,’ he wrote, “in the whole course of my life, enjoyed my work so much as this.”
It is my fondest hope that you enjoy just as grand an experience as a Michigan faculty member.
Welcome, again, to the University of Michigan.