Remarks at 2012 Leadership Breakfast: Be the Difference
October 30, 2012
Thank you all for being here, and thank you to those on campus and beyond who are joining us virtually.
Our thoughts are with all those on the East Coast who are enduring Hurricane Sandy.
We gathered in this space a year ago, and I believe we were lucky to squeeze onto the calendar this October. When Steve Ross made his historic gift eight years ago, we knew it would elevate everything about the Business School. But I don’t think anyone predicted the demand for this view. So thank you, Steve, and thank you to the Ross Business School for hosting us this morning.
This is a special year, for me personally and, more significantly, in the life of the University.
I’ve had the privilege now of leading the University for 10 years, and it has been a decade of challenges, transformation and tremendous momentum. I continue to be energized by the life-changing work of the institution, and by the contributions of leaders like you from all three campuses.
When we talk of Michigan and impact, one name rises above all others: Raoul Wallenberg.
I hope you know his story. After earning his architecture degree here in 1935, he went on to become one of the most noted humanitarians of the last century.
As a diplomat in Budapest, Raoul Wallenberg repeatedly risked his life to rescue thousands of Jews from World War II’s concentration camps.
He pulled them from moving boxcars. When Nazis forced them to walk to the camps, Wallenberg chased after them, shoving food and medicine their way.
He found countless ways to shelter terrified men, women and children trying to survive in what was, by then, the last surviving ghetto of Jews in Europe.
He saved some 100,000. And then he disappeared at the hands of strangers. We are still seeking answers about his fate.
This year, 2012, is the centennial of Raoul Wallenberg’s birth. I can think of no more important occasion to dedicate our work as a university to the values he lived. He loved to learn, he had an appetite for adventure, and he embraced new people and different places.
He was, and is, a hero of the highest order. He showed us, more than any Michigan graduate, that one person can make a difference.
Could we, as students and scholars, ask for greater inspiration?
The University of Michigan is indeed an inspiring place. And that is because of the ideas, discoveries and service of our students, staff and faculty.
In the room today we have students like Conor Lane, an honors senior who works as both an RA at the Residential College and a volunteer at the Spectrum Center.
And Jasmine Injejikian, who is leading this year’s Dance Marathon. That’s hundreds of students dancing, for 30 straight hours, to raise thousands for children with disabilities.
We’re joined by staff like Dan Rife, an engineer who combines new technologies with human expertise to conserve energy throughout our campus buildings. And Lt. Col. Lisa Franz, who leads our Air Force ROTC program, one of three officer training programs at Michigan.
We have faculty like Carla O’Connor, an engaging Thurnau professor who is bringing her love of teaching and mentoring to the dean’s office of the School of Education.
And professors like Michael Boehnke, a world-class statistical geneticist in the School of Public Health. His breakthroughs help us better understand the heredity of diabetes, bipolar disorder and other debilitating diseases.
I want to recognize four deans who are in the final year of their leadership tenures. Terry McDonald of the College of Literature, Science and the Arts, Evan Caminker of the Law School, Peter Polverini of the Dental School, and Paul Courant of the University Libraries have carried out extraordinary work in one of the University’s most fiscally challenging eras. Their programs are collectively stronger because of their good work.
I also want to acknowledge Fran Blouin, who is stepping down as the longest-serving director of the Bentley Historical Library. Fortunately for our students, he will be devoting himself fulltime to the classroom starting next fall.
At Michigan, we know – because it is borne out each day – that our diversity is the backbone of our academic strength.
Diversity is a core value of this institution. It is in this room, across our campuses, and wherever the University of Michigan is in the world.
In the course of my decade here, I have taken great pride in Michigan being the nation’s leading voice for the value of diversity – in the classroom, in the research lab, and in all parts of the academic enterprise.
But this is not simply an outcome of the last decade. This is deeply embedded in our culture and sense of identity from the University’s earliest days.
The first black woman in America to train as a dentist did so here – more than 100 years ago. As did the first African-American woman to earn a doctorate in physics.
When an Ivy League school rejected José Barbosa in 1877 because of his race, Michigan welcomed him.
Our students said they did not care about his skin color. In their words, what truly mattered was “the quantity and quality of the brains in the cranium.”
Brains in the cranium. Doctor José Barbosa would go on to become the father of statehood for his native Puerto Rico.
This legacy of inclusion and leadership brings with it a deep responsibility to live out our values.
We work hard at creating and sustaining a community where diversity is sought and valued across all pathways – racial, ethnic, gender, LGBT, global and socioeconomic pathways. We still have much work to do.
That is why I am so pleased that LSA will launch a new theme semester called Understanding Race in January. It is an important example of just how critical it is for us to think substantively about race and identity and to encourage a thoughtful dialogue about these issues.
I am a firm believer that knowledge is contingent. The work we do today, and the accomplishments we celebrate, would not be possible without the faculty, staff and students who came before us.
When this year’s Nobel Prize for medicine was announced, one of the winners was recognized for research he carried out 50 years ago. Fifty years. His discovery about tadpole cells has a direct impact on stem cell research conducted today, including in our laboratories.
This is the beauty and power of scholarship. The commitments we make today will have impact 20, 30 and 50 years from now.
That is why I am excited to share with you some of our most significant achievements and challenges, as well as several announcements that will take Michigan in new directions.
Let’s begin with the arts.
The Michigan environment for arts and creativity is remarkable. Remarkable because it is of a scope and scale you won’t find at other national research universities.
We make art, we research art, we present art and we preserve art.
It can be this weekend’s performance of Urinetown by UM-Flint theater students. Or the Kelsey Museum’s study of antiquities. It is the exhibit of priceless Armenian books at UM-Dearborn. Or Band-o-rama at Hill Auditorium, itself a work of art and campus icon for the past century.
We do art and science very well. What binds the two is our capacity for creativity. And that is because of a culture that encourages creative work and creative approaches.
It is an environment in which the University has invested $84 million since 2004. That includes a stunning addition to the Museum of Art, a Symphony Band tour of China, new programs for architecture students, and more studio and gallery space.
This morning, I’m excited to say our creative environment is expanding – again.
The School of Music, Theatre and Dance is a point of pride for Michigan, with talent that is second to none.
Now, these students, faculty and staff are going to enjoy new and improved surroundings to express their creativity, thanks to the vision of longtime Michigan donors William and Delores Brehm.
The Brehms are generously providing $8 million toward the renovation and expansion of the Moore Building, a transformative project we will ask the Board of Regents to approve next month.
We anticipate new rehearsal rooms, studios and a lecture hall, as well as improved space for one-on-one time between faculty and students. With the regents’ approval, this will be a $23 million undertaking. The University will provide $14 million, and we will seek additional support from alumni and friends.
I know the faculty from Music, Theatre and Dance will agree when I say this project is overdue. It’s genuinely exciting, and complements new spaces such as the Walgreen Drama Center and Arthur Miller Theater.
For more evidence of Michigan’s capacity for creativity, we have the new Penny W. Stamps School of Art and Design.
As you may know, Penny is a Michigan graduate who with her husband, Roe, has made a historic $32 million investment in the School of Art and Design. Their generosity is wide-ranging – supporting student scholarships, as well as global experiences, visiting artists and designers, and community programs.
Art and design schools are sometimes overlooked, but not here. Penny was on campus a few weeks ago, and was so enthusiastic about this gift. It is a magnificent feeling, she said, not only because she loves supporting the creative process, but because the Stamps School is “not just an art school.”
It’s part of a major research institution.
That is what gives the School of Music, Theatre and Dance, the Stamps School – and all our schools and colleges – their strength: the combined expertise and creativity of so many disciplines.
Indeed, pursuit of the arts at Michigan is not a stand-alone enterprise. It’s not about decoration, it’s about creation – creation that is deeply rooted in our interdisciplinary setting.
It is this distinction that sets us apart.
When the Stamps School underwent reaccreditation a few years ago, it drew high praise from the visiting team. Michigan, they said, is getting it right. To quote, “the School of Art and Design and the University of Michigan have created an opportunity to lead the academic conversation in art and design in this country.”
We want to drive the conversation in other areas, too.
This month, the University is surveying members of our community about sustainability. We want to learn how people think and behave when it comes to the environment.
By scientifically measuring and reporting our behavior as a community, we can work to make changes for the better of the planet.
We know of no other university that is studying itself this way. This survey will take place every year and will provide an objective barometer of our sustainability culture.
I announced this survey a year ago as part of a broader sustainability initiative for the University. Since then, we have launched the Dow Scholars program, an unprecedented program for 300 graduate students that accelerates how we teach and research sustainability.
This focus has evolved and strengthened in recent years, with the early support of donors such as Dow, Don Graham and John Erb. They have shown what it means to commit to sustainability at the very core of personal and institutional values.
John Erb, who is with us this morning, recently asked where I want to see the University of Michigan in the realm of sustainability 10, 20, 30 years from now.
I have been thinking a lot about that as we set aspirational goals for Michigan’s leadership.
I know, we all know, we’ll need to do a better job building facilities, affecting human behavior and consumption, and challenging our energy usage, even as we manage the world’s largest public university research portfolio.
But also, we must see the University as a global leader in educating a new vanguard of sustainability experts. It is here, on this campus, where tomorrow’s sustainability leaders will build their knowledge broadly, across the disciplines, and carry that into the world of policy and practice.
We should be known as the university with sustainability research, curriculum and opportunities that make a real difference.
In that spirit, today I’m pleased to announce the establishment of the University of Michigan Water Center.
With the support of the Erb Family Foundation, this is a new $9 million commitment to the Great Lakes region. We will focus on four critical areas: reducing toxic contamination, fighting invasive species, protecting wildlife habitat, and promoting the health of the coastlines.
The University of Michigan has a long history of freshwater research. More than a century ago, our scientists were working to determine why the whitefish population was down in Lake St. Clair. Today, the Great Lakes are a source of food, recreation and jobs – some 1.5 million jobs that carry $62 billion in yearly wages.
If you were to look for a country with a higher GDP than the Great Lakes region, there are only two: the United States and China.
As a university, we need to take on ownership and responsibility of regional sustainability challenges that affect us – close to home and where our expertise can have enormous impact. The Water Center will do that.
I want to thank John Erb and his family foundation for supporting our work and for continually pushing us to do more.
The Great Lakes hold one-fifth of the world’s freshwater. One-fifth. Compromise their health and integrity, and the damage will be felt far beyond our shores.
Which is why it is so critical to pursue not only local partnerships, but also international ones – relationships that pull together different perspectives to tackle the world’s toughest challenges.
Doing more – more research, more service, more collaboration – means being more global.
Eighty years ago, when Raoul Wallenberg was a Michigan student, he absolutely relished new people and different cultures. As an international student from Sweden, he visited Detroit, New York, Chicago and New Orleans. He and a classmate drove to Mexico one summer. Another summer he hitchhiked to California, and on up into Canada, and then thumbed his way back to Ann Arbor.
He called his travels “training in diplomacy and tact.”
Now, the parent in me does not recommend hitchhiking. But as university president, I strongly endorse more global opportunities for our students and faculty.
Just yesterday we learned that Michigan students lead the nation in this year’s Fulbright grants.
I should say, once again lead the nation. For the sixth time in the past eight years.
Fulbrights support global study and are among the world’s most competitive and prestigious programs. I’m thinking they’re becoming somewhat routine around here.
But, of course, no international experience is ordinary.
Consider Brazil. My recent trip there with a faculty delegation provides fertile territory for our work as a university.
The country has seen enormous economic progress in the past 20 years and its vibrancy is palpable. Both the federal and state governments are investing heavily in education and in advancing science and technology, and are developing ways to move the previously disadvantaged into the middle class.
I anticipate exciting collaborations resulting from our conversations throughout Brazil. Several members of the delegation are with us today – please give us a show of hands. I want everyone here to know how expertly the University was represented on this trip.
Our discussions fell into three categories: medicine and health, humanities and social sciences, environment and natural resources. At the University of Sao Paulo, for example, there was intense interest in how we as a university are addressing sustainability.
The Brazilian government is making impressive investments in education with a bold new scholarship program called Science Without Borders. The goal is to educate 100,000 students by sending them abroad for a year of study, specifically in STEM disciplines. That’s science, technology, engineering and math.
Brazil wants to achieve this goal by 2015. At the moment, there are 1,000 students in the program, so you can see the challenges. But it is one that leaders are willing to pursue.
Brazil wants half of these students – 50,000 – to attend college here, in the United States, and our embassy in Brasilia is trying to help with this complex goal. We were able to meet with the U.S. ambassador and, since we better understand the issues, I am confident we can respond in positive ways.
We currently have five undergraduate students enrolled through Science Without Borders. They are with us – and I look forward to welcoming more students in the future.
These students strengthen Michigan, with their ideas and their experiences. They bring a new perspective. They demonstrate why we must, absolutely must, pursue true, bilateral partnerships – to succeed and thrive as a great institution.
As one university, we don’t have all the answers. But working together with many, our potential takes on an entire new magnitude.
Which is why we are partnering with universities in China, Ghana and South Africa, and why I’ll lead a faculty delegation to India next year. It’s why we, as an institution, are communicating in Spanish, Portuguese and Mandarin. We’ve joined Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, and are now considered the most influential American university in that space.
Global impact is why we chose to be the first public university in Coursera, the massive online learning community. And the key word here is massive.
More than 1.3 million people worldwide are enrolled in courses. Michigan faculty are teaching six classes, with a seventh planned for January. Professor Gautam Kaul’s introductory finance course alone attracted a staggering 133,000 students!
These courses are free, and they give us a way to connect with new students, whether in Michigan or Macedonia. Coursera fits neatly with our public mission of sharing knowledge. We are also optimistic that it will help transform our classroom pedagogy as well.
Optimism is an equally critical ingredient for new discoveries and technologies that spring from our laboratories, clinics and studies. Research universities fervently believe in improving the world, and we do so in diverse ways.
Two months ago, the world lost a true pioneer with the passing of Neil Armstrong. His walk on the moon was one of the truly monumental achievements in science innovation – not only in this country, but anywhere.
Think of the research, the creativity and hard work that went into Apollo 11. NASA, industry, universities and others came together with their research and their inventions.
It was the ultimate embodiment of American innovation and collaboration.
Now also think of this: The computers on Apollo 11 had less processing power than today’s smartphone.
That is why we continually invent, innovate and educate. To discover new knowledge. To move forward – as a nation and as a global community.
Michigan’s research portfolio stands at an impressive $1.27 billion - billion. That exceeds the entire budget of Monaco. No public university in the world invests more in research.
It’s research that is more relevant than ever.
We are now the first university to lead an entire satellite launch program, a $152 million venture entrusted to us by NASA. This project is designed to better understand hurricanes, which results in more accurate storm predictions and, ultimately, lives saved.
Hurricane Sandy is showing the importance of forecasting, and it’s gratifying to know our scientists will contribute to even more refinements.
We also see lives being saved with a new research project that has thousands of vehicles throughout Ann Arbor using technology to communicate with each other. With the support of $22 million from the Department of Transportation, this technology is alerting drivers to trouble on the road. It may well lead to an 80 percent reduction in crashes.
Our health system – including University Hospital and Mott Children’s Hospital – continues to be among the best and safest in the country.
We have been selected as the home for a new $21 million federally funded center for HIV research. The University’s two largest grants from the National Institute of Health support the Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Michigan Institute for Clinical and Health Research. Both were renewed this year, and with glowing comments from the NIH.
The North Campus Research Complex is attracting more people and programs. This includes the new Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation and more than 400 researchers committed to promoting high-quality, equitable and affordable health care services.
We believe the Institute will be the largest in the country for such work.
Today, we are announcing its first director, Dr. John Ayanian, a highly respected researcher we’ve attracted from the Michigan of the East, Harvard University.
His expertise will give IHPI national prominence and help us recruit even more top experts.
Dr. Ayanian is on campus this week and I’m thrilled to introduce him. John …
John needs to be at the Michigan Union shortly to welcome a summit of national health care leaders, and I appreciate him spending time with us.
The Michigan passion for entrepreneurship is flourishing.
Our scientists are declaring record numbers of inventions – more than one a day this past year. The Venture Accelerator, based at NCRC, is officially full with 18 startup companies built on U-M research discoveries. We thought the Accelerator would take three years to fill, and it took less than half that.
Students are enrolled in our first class of candidates for a master’s in entrepreneurship. Here at the Ross School, the Zell-Lurie Institute is ranked second in the country among top graduate programs in entrepreneurship. The ZEAL clinic is up and running, connecting law students with student entrepreneurs in need of legal counsel.
Faculty are beating down the doors to participate in MCubed, our new funding program that connects researchers across campus. We are committing $15 million to some 250 team projects that are admittedly high-risk, but also, potentially, very rewarding.
MCubed has grown out of our Third Century Initiative, a $50 million investment in teaching and research that we announced a year ago. This is a commitment taking us up to the University’s bicentennial, and a third century of creative thinking.
We want to know: What are the different ways the University can address the world’s greatest challenges and opportunities? And what types of immersive learning experiences can we create for students?
We are eager to fund innovative answers. Beginning next month, the Provost’s Office will be asking you, members of our community, for your best ideas.
When we talk about innovation and creativity, we know that Michigan staff are essential to this culture. We see it with Planet Blue, with Voices of the Staff, and with MHealthy.
Today, I’m pleased to announce we will recognize the creative staff contributions with a new Presidential Innovation Award. With both words and dollars, we will honor individuals and teams for ideas that make Michigan a better place to live and work.
The Chronicle of Higher Education consistently recognizes our campus as one of the best university workplaces – it happened again this summer – and Michigan staff help create that climate.
That Michigan is an invigorating place to live, learn and work has been known by generations.
When Raoul Wallenberg was winding down his time here, he wanted to stay.
“I feel so at home in my little Ann Arbor that I’m beginning to sink down roots here, and have a hard time imagining my leaving it.
“But,” he observed, “I am not doing anything very useful here.”
Isn’t that what we want from our students? To have an amazing experience here, but know their real value is when they move on and apply their lessons?
Could Raoul Wallenberg have envisioned the horror of war and the heroics he would display in World War II? Of course not. But he knew the importance of taking Michigan with him, because the lessons would help shape the future.
Just how deeply is evidenced with us this morning.
Irene Butter and Andrew Nagy are emeritus faculty, and I’d like to invite them to stand for a moment.
Professors Butter and Nagy devoted more than 85 combined years to teaching, research and service. Dr. Butter was a professor in the School of Public Health and helped write our state’s Public Health Code. Dr. Nagy is a space scientist with the College of Engineering who was involved with numerous NASA projects.
But long before they were scholars, they were scared Jewish teenagers living through the Holocaust – she in Holland and he in Hungary. Each survived, although members of their families did not. Professor Nagy himself was saved by Raoul Wallenberg.
As Holocaust survivors and members of our community, these two scholars have dedicated themselves to the humanitarian spirit with their longtime service to the University’s Wallenberg Medal and Lecture.
The Wallenberg Medal honors compassionate, global work, and past recipients have included Elie Wiesel, John Lewis and Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. Just last week, one of our past honorees, Dr. Denis Mukwege, was the target of assassins because of his tireless mission to save rape victims in the Congo.
The words on the Wallenberg Medal are direct: One person can make a difference.
Professors Butter and Nagy, you have done just that with your scholarship and your dedication to the Wallenberg legacy. Thank you.
Today, in the 100th year of his birth, we will do more to promote the spirit of Raoul Wallenberg.
I am thrilled to announce the establishment of the Raoul Wallenberg Fellowship for undergraduates. This is a new $25,000 stipend to be awarded to a graduating senior who demonstrates a deep commitment to selfless work.
We want to help a new graduate dedicate the first year of his or her life path to this calling.
It will now be among the University’s largest prizes for undergraduates.
Its name carries great importance and even greater expectations.
And we will begin with a graduating senior from the class of 2013.
Surely Raoul Wallenberg did not graduate intending to become an international symbol of moral courage. But his remarkable deeds provide inspiration for today’s Michigan students, and this new award will serve to encourage careers dedicated to service and human rights.
Let me close with one last Wallenberg snapshot.
He has just completed final exams and his freshman year. In a letter home, he tells of staying up all night, studying chemistry with friends. It’s not his best subject and he knows it. He is thoroughly exhausted.
And still, he says, it has all been worth it. He has made friends. He enjoys college. Not so much because of good grades. But rather, “because I really feel that I’ve learned something.”
This is our mission as a great university.
That our students learn and grow, evolve as leaders, and come to see themselves in a different light.
That our staff and faculty teach and grow as well, changing people and places with their discoveries and contributions.
That we all believe we can – and will – make a difference, as individuals and as an academic community, dedicated to transforming our state, our nation and our world with ideas and actions.