Dear Members of the University of Michigan Community,
My first semester as president has been busy, enlightening and invigorating. It has been a true pleasure getting to know the faculty, staff, students, alumni, parents and supporters of this outstanding university.
I have spent much of my time listening so that I could get a detailed sense of U-M and the people who make it such a special place. At the same time, I have engaged with the Michigan community face-to-face as much as possible, in forums, fireside chats, interviews and various other informal sessions. I have met faculty, staff and student leaders, and literally thousands of other members of the campus community.
It has been a pleasure engaging with faculty from all of our schools and colleges and hearing about the outstanding research, teaching and scholarship that happens at U-M. Most recently, I convened a meeting of department chairs from across the university, and I plan for this forum to take place at least twice a year moving forward. I see these types of discussions as crucial to advancing U-M’s educational and research missions, and my commitment to listening to you and sharing a dialogue will continue throughout my presidency.
My exploration of our university has been rewarding as I experience many things at Michigan for the first time. I rode a bus to North Campus, attended Summer Bridge closing ceremonies, tailgated with community leaders, and met students at our renovated Trotter House. I visited the UM-Flint and UM-Dearborn campuses and have plans to return for more thorough conversations. I have attended athletic events and arts performances and traveled to meet alumni and donors in Detroit, Grand Rapids, New York, Los Angeles, and the San Francisco Bay Area. I’ve hosted dinners at the president’s house for some of our award-winning faculty and for a group of students who remained on campus over the Thanksgiving holiday.
The U-M family is substantial in both size and impact, and I plan to keep reaching out and learning from you. My first overseas meetings will take place in China next year.
This letter discusses some of the ideas we are exploring and work we have underway as I lead our community in discussions about how we can further enhance U-M’s academic excellence and value to society.
Positioning U-M for Perpetual Excellence
My first-hand look at the breadth and impact of U-M’s teaching and scholarship – spread across our 19 schools and colleges, world-renowned institutes and top-tier Health System – has led me to realize that Michigan’s accomplishments and potential are even greater than what I appreciated when I accepted the job.
What I would like to do in the months and years ahead is to work with our academic community to tap into this comprehensive excellence and more fully realize the potential of strategically driven synergies across the full breadth of our institution. Our schools, colleges and institutes have established themselves as pillars of excellence that provide a near-limitless opportunity for cross-disciplinary collaboration.
One of my priorities is ensuring we provide schools and colleges with the necessary resources and tools to plan together so that investments in infrastructure, faculty, and programs are purposefully complementary. In other words, we will endeavor to make our strength even greater than the sum of our many excellent parts.
I was excited to announce that the first effort in this organizational innovation will involve the life sciences. Earlier this fall, I convened the President’s Advisory Panel on the Biosciences.
Its members include leading U-M faculty who are top researchers and thought leaders in their disciplines. The panel is developing a set of recommendations that will propel Michigan to the forefront in life sciences research by better leveraging our comprehensive excellence.
U-M faculty across all disciplines display a remarkable collaborative ethos and entrepreneurial spirit, and one of my most important jobs will be to foster their creativity. I want us to take this to a higher level, beyond that of individual collaborative projects, so we can maximize the excellence and impact of our outstanding schools, colleges and institutes.
I agree with the department chairs who said at our recent meeting that the support of university leadership is essential to their success in this endeavor, and I hope to continue working with faculty at all levels as new plans emerge.
I said in my inaugural address that our university could not achieve true excellence without leveraging the experiences and perspectives of the broadest possible diversity of students, faculty and staff at all of our campuses. This remains a top priority for me.
I know we have a lot of work to do to be our best in this area, and those efforts are underway with several new leaders and programs in place. These leaders along with many others have been tasked with the goal of increasing the diversity of our student body and our faculty, promoting inclusiveness and improving our campus climate.
Suggestions for enhancements continue to come from many quarters, including ideas offered by a faculty committee convened last spring by Provost Pollack.
This work includes creating a university-wide strategic plan for diversity, with clear metrics for measuring our progress. I plan to move forward on this immediately.
As an initial step, I am asking each of our schools and colleges to develop specific plans for their units, with the support of the Office of the Vice Provost for Equity, Inclusion and Academic Affairs, and the National Center for Institutional Diversity. The university-wide plan we develop at the institutional level will take advantage of this ongoing work.
The commitment to improving diversity and the campus climate has been very apparent across our community. I have heard many good ideas in meetings with our faculty, staff and students, and I want those ideas to have a forum.
Early in the winter semester, I will host a leadership breakfast on diversity, convening a large group of community members to discuss these issues, bringing our community together as we work to inform our strategic planning efforts, gain input and encourage robust dialogue on ways to enhance campus diversity overall.
I have recommended two appointments to our executive team that are pending approval by the Board of Regents this week.
The first would extend the appointment of Martha E. Pollack as provost and executive vice president for academic affairs through June 30, 2018. The provost is the university’s chief academic and budget officer.
Provost Pollack has been an innovative leader for the campus since her appointment as provost in May 2013. I appreciate her work to hold down tuition costs and provide more financial aid to our students in addition to her leadership role in establishing important initiatives in digital education and engaged learning. Provost Pollack has recruited several outstanding deans and other important leaders for the campus and has contributed significantly to our ongoing efforts to improve diversity and the campus climate.
I have also recommended Marschall Runge as our new executive vice president for medical affairs. Dr. Runge brings significant experience and a successful track record in multiple aspects of academic medicine. His accomplishments as a clinician, physician-scientist and leader are ideally suited to advance the U-M Health System’s mission of clinical care, education and research.
We also are on track to complete the search for the university’s next executive vice president and chief financial officer.
On Oct. 31, I appointed Jim Hackett to serve as the interim director of athletics following the resignation of Athletic Director Dave Brandon.
Jim is a highly experienced and respected leader, a person of integrity, and a devoted Michigan alumnus, who has remained involved with us since playing on the football team and graduating from U-M in 1977.
He served nearly two decades as the chief executive officer for Steelcase, Inc., the innovative office furniture company based in Grand Rapids. He now brings that success and experience in heading a complex organization to his interim role here.
Jim also serves on boards of advisors to U-M’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy and our Life Sciences Institute.
Jim is already hard at work on reaching out to Michigan Athletics’ many fans and supporters.
Our campus has made considerable progress toward many of the Planet Blue goals established in 2011. For example, we have significantly reduced the carbon intensity of passenger trips on U-M transportation and increased purchases of sustainable foods. Other areas are moving more slowly, however, and I have been discussing these challenges with faculty, staff and students who are very passionate about U-M’s commitment to sustainability.
To realize the full scope of our ambitions in this area, I have asked for a comprehensive review of our current priorities and progress to date. The review is being driven by working groups of faculty, staff and students focusing on our goals in three key areas of impact: greenhouse gas reduction, waste reduction, and campus culture regarding sustainability. These groups have begun work, and recommendations for new actions and approaches are expected by the end of this academic year.
There is much more to do on behalf of this great university, and this will be the first of many communications I will share here on my website.
In the meantime, I thank you for being so welcoming to my family and me over the last few months. If the energy and talent I have seen in our community is any indication, I am confident that there are even greater days ahead for the University of Michigan. There are so many reasons to be optimistic.
As a community, we are approaching our bicentennial with hope and conviction. Our Victors for Michigan campaign has the potential to fuel the greatest ambitions of our faculty and our students. Our excellence and impact are far-reaching and forward-looking.
I feel privileged to join you as a member of the University of Michigan family and invite you to join with me to keep this positive momentum going. I wish you all the best as we bring another semester to a close. Thank you for your dedication and commitment to U-M and to our students, have a wonderful holiday season, and Go Blue!