2011 Leadership Breakfast: Moving Forward to Perfection
October 5, 2011
- Speech Highlights (4 min.)
- U-M will invest in new ideas for a changing world (Record Update)
- University to invest in its own startup businesses (Record Update)
- Spanish-language version (en Español)
- Q&A about the new initiatives
Thank you all for being here, and thank you to those on campus and beyond who are joining us virtually.
I want to thank the Ross School of Business for providing this stunning space. Alison Davis-Blake is the new dean who is trying to be in two places at once this morning. She comes to Michigan with a real passion for global experiences for our students, and I know she’ll join us shortly.
I plan to spend time this morning on the work of the University, including new academic initiatives, investments in our innovation, and our ongoing service to society.
I also want to leave plenty of time for your questions and your ideas.
But first, let’s move from campus, across the Atlantic Ocean, to the west coast of Africa.
The country is Liberia and the village is Konia. Ravaged by years of warfare, this is a terrifically poor part of the world, which is precisely why our students are there.
Eighty-five percent of Liberians are unemployed and, consequently, some 80 percent live in poverty. Electricity is beyond scarce. In a nation of some 4 million people, only 2,000 have access to electrical power.
Again, this is why our students are there.
In Konia, Michigan students are partnering with the community to take advantage of natural resources and human ingenuity to improve the quality of life.
They have designed and built a childhood favorite – a merry-go-round – that delivers significant benefits for grown-ups.
When children play on the merry-go-round, it generates electricity. That energy is stored, along with power collected in solar panels, to illuminate the local school at night.
Adults fill the classrooms, where they learn to read, write and develop vocational skills. And little by little, the standard of living rises.
This is one of several sustainability projects our students have under way in Konia. Their academic homes are in the School of Natural Resources and Environment and the College of Engineering, but they call their work Sustainability Without Borders.
To me, it exemplifies something larger: Learning without borders.
This is the University of Michigan and this is what we do best: immersive learning, service to society, sustainable practices and collaboration, all in a global setting. And there’s a pretty fun merry-go-round to boot.
It exemplifies the breadth and depth of intellect, talent and creativity at the University of Michigan.
When Henry Tappan was named the University’s first president in 1852, he laid out a remarkable vision for a university that at the time had fewer than 300 students. He called for robust teaching of science, medicine, literature and the arts. He proposed libraries, museums, laboratories and an observatory.
And he issued a challenge that should always inspire us.
“This young university,” he said, “shall we not carry it forward to perfection?”
The University of Michigan will mark its 200th anniversary in 2017. You will frequently hear me mention this milestone as we approach it. It will be an extraordinary anniversary of an institution that now has nearly 60,000 students on three campuses. It will give us pause to look at our many accomplishments and, more important, focus on our future as a great public university.
I want to talk today about what we want the University to look like at its bicentennial celebration. Henry Tappan provided us with an exceptional blueprint, and we must continue to strive for the perfection he envisioned.
As we approach our third century, the University of Michigan is modeling itself for the immense challenges facing the nation and world. As we have for decades, we will be aggressive in developing new approaches to teaching and research and fresh ideas that will improve people’s lives.
When I say “we,” I see the talent in this room and across our campuses – extraordinary faculty, engaged students, and committed staff members, directors and deans.
I see here in the room Sara Rimer, an engineering graduate student and one of the young scholars working in Liberia.
I see Marie Lynn Miranda, the incoming dean of the School of Natural Resources and Environment and an expert in children’s environmental health. She begins her new position January 1, and I’m so pleased she could join us today.
I see Kate Davy, the chief academic officer of UM-Dearborn; Tony Denton, chief operating officer of U-M Hospitals and Health Centers; and Greg O’Dell, chief of police.
And it is a pleasure to welcome student leaders here today. The student government presidents of all three campuses. Shipman scholars and Brehm scholars, whose academic and leadership skills have been rewarded with scholarships from generous donors. Leaders from Dance Marathon, K-grams, the Muslim Students Association, and the Club Sports Council.
And we have Michigan’s “man up front,” marching band drum major Jeffrey McMahon.
All of you inspire the Michigan community with your leadership. Jeffrey, you humble us with your backbends.
In truth, Michigan students, faculty and staff bend over backward to make a difference. We have remarkable achievements and strengths, and none is more essential than academic excellence. It is our bedrock, and one we must continually reinforce and deepen to address the complexities of today’s world.
Michigan faculty make an enormous impact with their teaching, research and mentoring.
Joining us today is Professor Yukiko Yamashita, a stem cell biologist who recently made headlines as one of three members of the Michigan faculty to receive prestigious MacArthur Fellowships this year.
Three MacArthurs in one year. Only Harvard can make the same claim.
The School of Art & Design is one of the smallest units on campus, with fewer than 500 students and 35 faculty. A more significant fact is that Art & Design faculty have received four Guggenheim fellowships for four consecutive years.
That just doesn’t happen anywhere. But it does here.
Stephen DeBacker is a math professor known for his demanding undergraduate courses. I like that he willingly shares his student appraisals online, including this from an honors student. “In Africa, they have a saying: ‘The elephant can kill you, the leopard can kill you, and Stephen DeBacker can kill you. But only with Stephen DeBacker is death certain.’ ”
There is actually deep admiration that comes with these critiques, as Dr. DeBacker is one of our finest teachers. He is a Thurnau professor, and several faculty members with that undergraduate teaching honor are also with us today.
Our researchers are equally influential.
The Michigan research budget is the nation’s largest for a public university. Our medical center alone receives more funding from the National Cancer Institute than any other university in the country.
The White House has turned to us as one of six universities to lead a new national Advanced Manufacturing Initiative.
We have just established a health care policy institute at the North Campus Research Complex – an operation uniting some 500 researchers in one of the biggest concentrations of experts in health care policy and services.
We have seen an explosion in research support for critical areas of sustainability. In the past 18 months alone, the federal government has turned to the University of Michigan to lead three national centers focusing on Great Lakes climate change, solar energy and clean vehicles.
Last week I announced new goals to accelerate our leadership in sustainability, both academically and in campus operations. Professor Don Scavia is my special counsel on sustainability and is with us this morning, as are students involved in sustainability efforts. I want to thank them for pushing us in the right direction.
I could stand here all morning and rattle off our accomplishments. But you know them well, because you are responsible for them.
We simply would not be Michigan if not for academic excellence. It is what society has come to expect of the University. More important, it is what we must always demand of ourselves.
When we look at our strengths, we cannot excel as a University without our staff, the backbone of our institution.
We have longtime employees like Tim Kennedy and Jean Tennyson, whose contributions to Voices of the Staff have made it an essential feature of our community.
Voices teams tackle everything, from parking and technology practices to benefits and work climate. They were a driving force in creating our new Planet Blue Ambassadors, who will teach and encourage sustainability practices across campus.
And both staff and faculty deserve praise for MHealthy. What a tremendous program. So many individuals are now pushing themselves and pushing their colleagues to live healthier, happier lives. All three campuses are now smokefree. We are purchasing more locally produced food. We are walking, riding bikes, taking fitness classes, and learning about better nutrition.
More than 55 percent of faculty and staff are taking part in MHealthy programs. We have a campus-wide goal to lower our health risks 5 percent by 2013, which means addressing obesity, blood pressure, high cholesterol and more. We are moving in the right direction, which makes for healthier employees and lower health care costs.
When a national publication such as the Chronicle of Higher Education repeatedly recognizes the University of Michigan as one of the best places to work, I see the many, many efforts of our staff and faculty.
You are why we attract 6,000 students from more than 100 countries, and faculty from nations as different as Japan, Switzerland, India and Australia. Our sense of community is why our campuses are among the best in the country for serving military veterans. And why we are among the most welcoming for LGBT students.
An organization is only as good as its people, and extraordinary people teach, learn and work at Michigan.
Henry Tappan said, “We must take the world just as full as it is.” Just as we are a welcoming community, we eagerly explore new cultures and communities throughout the globe. I am proud of our community’s modern-day commitment to this worldview, a tremendous diversity of ideas, experiences and people. It is this vibrant and rich diversity that gives Michigan its strength.
Throughout our institution, the Michigan ethos of an uncommon education for the common man has become so much more as we respond to local and global needs and demands.
We are seeing that at the University of Michigan-Flint, which the Carnegie Foundation recognizes as one of the best in the country at connecting with its community. The Flint campus works with local schools, provides basic health care to low-income residents, supports local economic revival, and helps to protect the Flint River.
The University of Michigan -Dearborn, which collaborates with partners throughout southeast Michigan, has a terrific program to help adults return to college. They work with 50 – that’s five-zero – human service agencies to provide financial and academic support for these new, non-traditional students. This opens the door to new knowledge, new careers and new outlooks on life.
I want to thank our chancellors, Ruth Person and Dan Little, and their teams for contributing so much to our region and state.
I can’t talk about Michigan’s public service and not point to the new Mott Children’s Hospital and Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital.
Have you seen the new Michigan Difference commercials for Mott? They always put a lump in my throat, and at the same time make me so incredibly proud of our health care professionals.
Mott’s doors open in less than five weeks, and if you come by the open house on November 6, you will see a remarkable facility – one designed to provide exceptional care to children, women and their families.
Whether in Flint, Dearborn or Ann Arbor, our core values of excellence, diversity and a deep public ethos shine through.
Our robust teaching, research and clinical portfolio also drives the economy. This is something we are deeply committed to, and it has never been more important.
Listen again to the words of Henry Tappan: “A great University … by its expenditures, by the numbers which it brings together, by the industry which it calls into action … is an important element of commercial prosperity.”
Could he have predicted that this great University would be awarded $1.2 billion annually to conduct research? Or that our faculty would take their research and launch new business upon new business, including 11 in the past year? In the midst of a national economic malaise we can’t seem to shake, Michigan faculty have been creating a new business roughly every four weeks.
At the North Campus Research Complex, our new Venture Accelerator provides space and resources for faculty startups built on U-M technologies and ideas. When the Accelerator opened, we envisioned attracting 15 companies in two years. Now, after all of nine months, it houses 10 companies, and we anticipate another half-dozen by early 2012.
As many of you know, we are putting tremendous emphasis on creativity and entrepreneurship. Creativity goes hand-in-hand with leadership, an entrepreneurial mindset, and an eagerness to push boundaries.
Our students love this. We offer more than 100 courses related to entrepreneurship. More than 5,000 students participated in entrepreneurship activities last year. We just announced a new master’s degree in entrepreneurship offered jointly in business and engineering. And we have a unique new clinical program at the Law School, with law students providing counsel to student entrepreneurs.
Flint students have incubator space for their business startups, and Dearborn students are working alongside an entrepreneur-in-residence.
We have created a powerful entrepreneurial ecosystem across our campuses. And now we are prepared to deepen our support of Michigan entrepreneurs.
Today I am announcing a new program to invest in University startups. Literally invest in them.
We will make funds available for these investments because we believe in the work of our researchers and we believe in delivering strong returns on our endowment.
We have one overarching objective with the endowment: that it preserve the quality and health of the University. At the end of the most recent fiscal year, our endowment stood at $7.8 billion, and the annual earnings are impressive. Our investment team is among the strongest in the country, and it shows.
These same financial experts have examined U-M startups from the past 20 years. Their analysis shows that if we had, in fact, invested in these startups, the returns would have been healthy. Returns would have been competitive with the returns on our venture capital portfolio.
Simply put, University of Michigan startups are a good financial opportunity. And the historical data have convinced us now to invest a small portion of the endowment in startups from all three campuses.
Once a startup has secured an initial round of funding from an independent venture capital firm, it will be eligible for up to $500,000 of financing from the University.
Because we love acronyms, we are calling this program “MINTS,” for Michigan Investment in New Technology Startups.
It is launching now, this year, and it will take time to deliver rewards. It may well take 10 years, in fact, to realize returns, but that is the nature of investing in startups and we are prepared for it.
An added bonus is that because so many startups are based here, in our backyard, we are helping to accelerate businesses that contribute to the Michigan economy.
I want to be clear that this is not a new expense on the part of the University. Rather, we are diversifying our assets– money that we continually invest – and investing directly in technologies and ideas developed by our own researchers.
Michigan has long been at the forefront of the social sciences, engineering, medicine and more. Entrepreneurship must now be among our accomplishments. To continue being leaders, we must galvanize innovation across our campuses. MINTS is one more way to quicken that work.
President Tappan predicted we would be a great university because, in his words, “Whatever a student may need or desire is here to be found.”
That is because of the countless perspectives and opportunities we provide in our classrooms and libraries, our gardens and athletic fields, and our museums and performance halls.
I believe we can still do more to bring our intellectual capacity to bear on great teaching and truly transformative learning experiences.
We must take all our intellectual power – this creativity and commitment, this deep desire to make a difference – and push ourselves in the only direction we know: forward.
I’m excited to tell you today that Provost Phil Hanlon and I are launching the Third Century Initiative, a $50 million commitment over the next five years to develop innovative new teaching and scholarship opportunities.
Third Century because we believe the teaching, research and service that grow out of this initiative will propel the University into its next 100 years with enormous momentum. It will secure Michigan’s future position as the world’s leading public research university.
We are wholeheartedly embracing the philosophy of Michigan alumnus and Google co-founder Larry Page. “Always work hard on something uncomfortably exciting.”
This is because the world itself, the one our graduates are entering, has become both uncomfortable and exciting. It is a world with much greater volatility and uncertainty.
It is a world that demands the types of leaders who hail from Michigan.
Our graduates must be able to work effectively with others who are different from themselves and in settings that are much different than anything they’ve experienced.
Few universities, public or private, are better positioned. Our strategic advantages include an academic depth of nearly 100 programs ranked among the best in nation; outstanding collections in our 15 libraries and museums; an extensive health care system; and faculty and students from throughout the world with diverse ideas and experiences.
We want to stimulate innovation and support the most promising ideas from our faculty, students and staff. We are financing this initiative with existing dollars – funds from schools and colleges on the Ann Arbor campus – and I want to thank our deans for their support.
Some highly creative ideas are already coming forward.
We envision new programs and academic experiences that prepare graduates who aspire to advance the public good, while also advancing our research and service work to develop solutions to the world’s most pressing problems.
The Third Century Initiative will support two essential components of a Michigan education: immersive learning and innovative approaches to grand challenges.
Immersive learning. We have strong models, and we must develop more. Think of Project Community, one of several transformative living-learning programs offered by the Ginsberg Center for Community Service and Learning.
Or the undergraduate student team in the College of Engineering designing medical instruments to aid childbirth in Ghana.
We offer the Creative Process, an intensive course where students use sound, motion, visual images, and language for expression and decisions. Deans David Munson, Bryan Rogers and Christopher Kendall are with us, and along with Dean Monica Ponce de Leon are responsible for a course the Michigan Daily says is one of the most intriguing on campus.
And here at the Ross School, the Multidisciplinary Action Projects connect MBA students with corporations and non-profits wrestling with big problems.
All of these are programs that integrate coursework, fieldwork and service. I can’t think of a more powerful way to learn.
We see the Third Century Initiative as expanding action-based, immersive learning that will give students the skills and experiences they need to be effective leaders. Leaders with the confidence to innovate, be entrepreneurial and re-invent themselves.
And when we talk about applying Michigan’s creativity and scholarship to the world’s grand challenges, we mean imposing challenges. Big, complex problems that require the resources of a powerful, flexible, interdisciplinary research university.
Let me share a grand challenge and one way faculty are responding:
Let’s think about driving. If you did not drive to campus today, you may have carpooled or taken the bus. If you walked or biked, good for you. You probably dodged a car or two along the way.
If you’ve ever been in a car crash, or been witness to one, you know it can be terrifying. Many years ago, I was thrown from my car after being hit by a pickup truck. It’s a miracle I was not run down by another vehicle.
Others are not as fortunate. Motor vehicle collisions are the leading cause of death in American children and young adults. In the time we are here this morning, five people will lose their lives in crashes. More than 300 will be hurt.
It is a public health challenge that exceeds our national borders. The Centers for Disease Control estimate that, by 2020, vehicle crashes will be the third most serious threat to human health in the world.
Dr. Stewart Wang sees firsthand the human toll of car crashes. As a trauma surgeon and director of the U-M Burn Center, he treats the broken bones and internal injuries, and far too often delivers bad news to families.
Dr. Wang is making it his mission to reduce injuries and save lives. As founder of the International Center for Automotive Medicine, Dr. Wang and his researchers partner with the auto industry to design safer cars and trucks. They advise legislators on public policy. And they work alongside first responders on how best to treat crash victims.
With their research showing how bodies and vehicles respond in a collision, these faculty have made major contributions to treating injuries, and treating them quickly.
Specifically, research carried out by Dr. Wang and others has led the CDC to revise the nationally accepted protocol for treating patients at the scene.
The results have been dramatic. There has been an 11 percent increase in the accuracy of treating patients. And the annual savings in medical costs is $540 million – nearly half a billion dollars.
This is research turned into action, with very human benefits. I was hoping Dr. Wang could be with us today, but he is at a major conference, representing Michigan as the only university in the world with a center for automotive medicine.
Across the campus, faculty are addressing various contemporary concerns: stimulating entrepreneurship and economic revival in the state of Michigan, transforming K-12 education in the United States, developing “disruptive” transformative technologies, sustaining the Great Lakes, and elevating the role of creativity and the arts in developing critical thinking skills.
Scholarship without borders. This is the work that will carry Michigan into a third century of impact on the world.
There’s really no place like Ann Arbor.
Just look out the windows at the expanse of this institution. Life-changing teaching and research, a distinctive environment for the arts, creativity and innovation, and a diverse range of perspectives and people combine to create an unparalleled university.
I am in my tenth year of leading the University, and it is an honor to be president. I can honestly say I have never been in a job that is so rewarding, so challenging, and so enjoyable.
You help to make that so. The staff, students and faculty of Michigan are the finest in the world, and you make this the best place to work, to learn, and to teach.
We are developing new leaders for an unpredictable, changing world, and new ideas that will be critical, relevant contributions to society.
As president, Henry Tappan saw Michigan’s potential. He challenged a very young University: “Dare to be in advance of the whole country, if need be.”
Let’s dare to stay in advance of the whole country.
Let’s dare to be in advance of the world.
And together, let’s dare to carry the University forward, to perfection.