April 2023 video message

Hello colleagues and friends across the U-M community!

We’re again in a season of change. Spring has sprung, another class is soon to graduate, and the next election is on the horizon, portending changes to the political landscape.

One constant in all this change is U-M’s Institute for Social Research.

ISR is the world’s largest academic social science survey and research organization, where 300 scientists from over 20 academic disciplines come together to study society’s constantly changing challenges.
Its work opened with a rousing start in 1948, when Angus Campbell and Robert Kahn pioneered survey theories and methods which produced the only correct prediction of that year’s presidential election – that Truman in fact defeated Dewey, despite headlines to the contrary.

ISR was formally established a year later, and it has continued its pioneering work ever since.

Its studies were developed into the American National Election Studies, which is now co-directed by ISR and Stanford University and continues to provide essential data on voting, public opinion and political engagement.

Today ISR is led by Kathleen Cagney. And its research continues to transcend academic disciplines and political, economic and social boundaries. ISR is a world leader in population-based surveys and data acquisition, as well as broader forms of analysis.

That’s why I turned to ISR for advice and direction on how best to approach data collection related to my strategic visioning initiative.

It is home to some of the most widely-cited and influential studies in the world, ranging from the Health and Retirement Study, which provides critical data on the challenges and opportunities of aging, to the monthly Consumer Sentiment Index, which provides an important guide to the future of the national economy.

The future of social science research is bright at ISR.

Through its Next Generation initiative, the institute supports early career scholars across the university, and this year it launched the Junior Professional Researcher program to give recent college graduates the opportunity to gain hands-on research experience.

So for our Portrait of a Wolverine, it’s appropriate to highlight a few of ISR’s outstanding researchers:

  • Vincent Hutchings, who was elected to the National Academy of Sciences last year, one of the highest distinctions for a U.S. scientist or engineer. Hutchings is a scholar of public opinion and voting behavior as well as widely recognized as an outstanding mentor.
  • Nick Valentino leads the American National Elections Study at Michigan and specializes in political-psychological approaches to understanding public opinion. He has written extensively on the causes and consequences of empathy for ethnic outgroups and his latest book, Seeing Us in Them: Social Divisions and the Politics of Group Empathy, has won multiple awards.
  • Joanne Hsu [Shoo] directs the Surveys of Consumers, tracking leading economic indicators including consumer sentiment and expectations. She is an expert in household finance, labor economics, public economics, and survey methods, who served as a Principal Economist at the Federal Reserve Board of Governors before joining the University of Michigan.
  • Libby Hemphill directs the Resource Center for Minority Data at ISR and studies how people use social media to organize, discuss, and enact social change. As the director of SOMAR, the social media archive, she works to democratize access to some of the most consequential information in contemporary society.

Ultimately, the impact of the ISR’s groundbreaking work transcends sophisticated data analysis or even accurate election predictions.

ISR’s work is a telescope on society at the most fundamental level. It goes back to the Socratic dictum, “To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom.”

For by learning more about ourselves, we can better understand how to grow and change, how to make ourselves into the people we aspire to be.

So through the ISR’s work, we are constantly becoming the leaders and best … and even better Wolverines.

Thanks again for joining me, and I’ll see you in May.