1. 2019 Leadership Breakfast

    October 3, 2019

    (As prepared for delivery)

    Good morning, colleagues, students and friends.

    It’s a pleasure to welcome you to this year’s leadership breakfast.

    I also thank everyone in our community watching on the live stream.

    In April, we ushered in a new era of discovery, education and service at the University of Michigan, as we celebrated the opening of our new Biological Sciences Building.

    Its conception and execution embody the strengths of U-M:

    It’s a place of discovery, collaboration, innovative public engagement, and world-class education.

    Its open labs promote interactions amongst researchers from different research groups and its windowed atria provide access for the public, whose members get to see research as it happens.

    And in the best tradition of LS&A, the BSB also provides deeper meaning, through a spectacular Museum of Natural History with outstanding exhibits on the diversity and evolution of life and a Planetarium and Dome Theater.

    As then-Interim Dean Elizabeth Cole said at the opening, the BSB is “changing the nature of the work we do” by creating “a bridge for the public to explore the research done here.”

    The “bridge” she referenced is one of the latest and most powerful reminders of our potential as a university.

    Drawing on the power of the Michigan Family – our intellectual capacity, our commitment to discovery for the public good, and support from the public and our friends – we create and advance knowledge.

    We teach and we learn.

    We drive the cadence of human progress.

    We also heal.

    Last month, our Board of Regents approved a new 12-story facility to transform inpatient and surgical care in Michigan Medicine.

    This will be the most advanced, state-of-the-art hospital in Michigan.

    It includes sophisticated operating rooms, radiology suites, spaces for high-level specialty services and 264 hospital beds.

    Patient rooms can be transformed into intensive care beds giving our outstanding team of physicians, nurses and allied health professionals the ability to respond very quickly to changes in a patient’s condition.

    Like the BSB, the new hospital makes us better by bringing us together. It’s the team.

    And we are working to achieve LEED Gold environmental status for the project.

    The Regents’ vote came 150 years after the board’s 1869 establishment of the nation’s first hospital owned and operated by a university.

    Now, a century and a half later, we are advancing our life-saving work through a project that is crucial for our state, our university, and the millions of people throughout the region who rely on us for quality advanced health care.

    I mentioned these two projects because my remarks today will focus on transformation and change at U-M.

    I first want to recognize several in our community who are leading the way as we transform society.

    Central Student Government and the many other individuals and groups who partnered with our Ginsberg Center made the Big Ten Voting Challenge very successful.

    We’re awaiting final numbers, but we do know that the voting rate of Ann Arbor students tripled in the midterm elections, and we increased turnout by more than 10,000 students.

    Well done!

    Over the last year, several U-M faculty members were elected to national academies.

    We count six new Thurnau professors, three Sloan Research Fellows, three Guggenheim Fellows, two Carnegie Fellows and a MacArthur fellow.

    You can see the full list on the screen, and some of these colleagues are here today.

    This fall, we are also pleased to welcome a new dean in our Ann Arbor College of Literature, Science, and the Arts – Anne Curzan – as well as three new executive officers.

    Tom Baird began as our Vice President for Development in January.

    Rebecca Cunningham began as Interim Vice President for Research in June.

    And Deba Dutta is the new chancellor of the University of Michigan, Flint, having begun in August.

    Welcome, colleagues!

    This semester, Chancellor Dutta will update the Flint community on the progress of his campus’s strategic planning work.

    And U-M Dearborn Chancellor Domenico Grasso is in the middle of a strategic planning effort for that campus to be complete next semester.

    Dearborn and Flint have long been institutions of excellence in their regions, providing opportunities for students and leveraging their close ties to communities.

    Today, many of their executive teams and deans are here with us, and I want to thank them for coming to Ann Arbor.

    I also encourage everyone in their communities to engage with their planning processes.

    Honoring Vice President Royster Harper

    I know that many of us have had the chance these past few weeks to reflect on the numerous accomplishments of Vice President for Student Life Royster Harper.

    She’s retiring in January after four decades at U-M.

    Amongst student life leaders in our nation, Dr. Harper has set the standard – and it is a very high standard indeed.

    The slide you see behind me is a shot of the Michigan Daily in 1990, when Royster’s appointment as associate VP was about to go before the Board of Regents.

    In that story, she said:

    “I have spent all my life working with students. I plan on opening up lines and stabilizing communication so students have an opportunity early on to participate in decisions.”

    It would be just one of many regular discussions with the Daily’s reporters during her senior leadership career.

    Royster went on to say that student services “is about service to and for the student. We plan on redoubling our effort to reach out to students and bring them in.”

    Twenty eight-plus years later, we can see how she made good on that pledge.

    She pioneered fundraising for Student Life, resulting in $50.8 million in scholarship, programming and facility support during the Victors for Michigan campaign.

    Our renovated Michigan Union and the new Central Campus Recreation Building will serve students better, because she worked to “bring them in.”

    Our new Trotter Multicultural Center on State Street brings students together and advances understanding and unity.

    And she has led groundbreaking sexual misconduct prevention efforts and empowered survivors to report, recover, and seek justice.

    A hallmark of Royster’s leadership is her holistic commitment to students’ lives – from their academic and career aspirations, to their health, wellness and growth as individuals.

    I am continually amazed by the enormous amount of time she spends getting to know our students.

    Whether it’s during their late evening student org meetings or at her house for dinner, Royster is there for them – and her work always comes from a place of love for our students.

    Thank you, Royster.

    Arts Initiative

    Those of you who know me well are familiar with my affinity for the Sunday New York Times.

    Whenever I can, I sit out on my sun porch with a pot of coffee and read the entire edition.

    There is just such a wonderful feeling of having all of that knowledge and insight in my hands.

    One Sunday last November, the Times’ Magazine examined the theme, “What will become of us,” and specifically described “how technology is changing what it means to be human.”

    There were pieces on artificial intelligence, aging, proteomics and gender.

    Sprinkled throughout the issue were “Jokes from the Future” – and one is relevant to my announcement today.

    The joke went: “The other day, I told my A.I. that I love shrimp tempura, and it said, ‘What’s that?’ I said, ‘What’s shrimp tempura?’ and it said, “No, what is love?’”

    Over the course of our more than two centuries as a university, we have aspired to ask and answer humanity’s most profound questions.

    Some of them – like “what is love?” – we simply cannot even begin to answer without the arts, and the artists and artistic institutions that advance knowledge, creativity and understanding.

    I believe that no university can be truly comprehensive, or excellent, without strong programs in the arts, and a deep commitment to sharing them – and their many benefits – across the breadth of the academic enterprise and with the broader public.

    Over much of this past year, a group of leaders and I have been thinking through what a comprehensive arts initiative could look like at the University of Michigan.

    Our strengths and opportunities are clear.

    U-M is a leader in arts research, creation, education and presentation.

    We have well-established, world-class schools and colleges in the arts, an outstanding array of museums, cultural collections and programs, more than 250 student arts organizations, and an affiliated performing arts presenter that was honored with the National Medal for the Arts.

    We have alumni who have changed how we view the world, as we were reminded this week with the death of renowned soprano and U-M honorary degree recipient Jessye Norman.

    And of course, we have top faculty and attract outstanding students in virtually all forms of the arts.

    We currently have many collaborations and individuals who are creating valuable intersections between the arts and other parts of our academic portfolio.

    These range from Stamps Professor Anne Mondro having students creating arts programs and working with community members living with dementia.

    To several faculty collaborating to secure CDC and state support to present Painless, a musical addressing the opioid crisis, at schools around our state.

    Or the national A2RU Alliance for the Arts in Research Universities that was begun right here at Michigan.

    But there is also a deep desire to help this component of our excellence permeate further across all of U-M.

    Today, I am launching the startup phase of a comprehensive arts initiative at the University of Michigan.

    With funding from my office, the working group will collaborate with all parts of the university in creating the initiative.

    This two-year startup phase will produce a roadmap for the initiative through creative and inclusive engagement with our community, especially with our students.

    It will be a dynamic period of experimenting with new projects.

    And it will tackle many aspects and questions.

    How can we incorporate art and art making into the Michigan experience of all our students?

    How can we bring the world’s most compelling artists to campus for deep engagement and collaboration with us?

    And yes, how can the arts bring us together around solving problems or considering profound questions like “what is love’?

    The arts cultivate perceptual and imaginative capacities that promote innovation and discovery. They teach creativity, foster experimentation, and  encourage the empathy and mutual understanding we need to bridge social, political and cultural divides.

    They help provoke us to have thoughtful conversations on difficult topics.

    And while I believe our entire enterprise will benefit, I am cognizant of criticism that we must take care to not view the arts solely as an instrumental aspect of teaching and research.

    As this initiative matures in the years ahead, we will have the opportunity to create new dimensions of U-M excellence through the arts – ones that are perhaps unknown to us today.

    That’s one of the most beautiful qualities of the arts.

    Their power to unleash imagination and creativity leads not only to better, fuller and smarter humans, but they also advance humanity.

    And the forms we create take on a life of their own.

    The English poet Byron called this concept the “soul of my thought” – and expressed that creativity was life itself.

    For further inspiration, we can draw from our university’s wonderful history.

    One of our first professors, John Dewey, wrote that art “quickens us from the slackness of routine and enables us to forget ourselves by finding ourselves in the delight of experiencing the world about us in its varied qualities and forms.”

    And in his Great Society speech during a U-M commencement, President Lyndon Johnson expressed a hope that our nation would always be “a place which honors creation for its own sake and for what it adds to the understanding of the [human] race.”

    I want to thank the working group for the work they’ve done, and for agreeing to take on the task of building this initiative.

    Center for Academic Innovation 

    When we launched our Academic Innovation initiative in 2016, we envisioned it as the next step in the University of Michigan’s longstanding leadership in teaching, learning and research.

    In three short years, more than 200 faculty innovators have worked on projects.

    Ninety-two percent of U-M Ann Arbor undergraduates use its tools.

    And there have been 8 million MOOC enrollments worldwide.

    We have developed 28 teach-outs on topics ranging from the devastating effects of hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico to Gun Violence in the U.S.

    We have also created new technologies and platforms to enhance our mission and reach.

    For instance, U-M Dearborn is using the GradeCraft learning management system to build gameful courses.

    And U-M Flint is amongst those using Viewpoint, a role-playing simulation technology that allows students to hone skills.

    It’s now time for Academic Innovation to take another step.

    I’m pleased to announce that we have established the Center for Academic Innovation at the University of Michigan.

    And to support the center’s work with the campus, we are investing $10 million a year over the next five years, for a total of $50 million.

    The investment will allow the center to build on its success, supporting faculty in curricular innovation, educational data and research, and educational technology.

    This includes further supporting faculty and academic units that wish to develop online and hybrid programs, those using innovations such as Teach Outs to engage the public, or those conducting research in learning analytics.

    We will be able to build on our successes in new teaching technologies, and expand faculty and student fellowships and project grants.

    To facilitate all of this, we have named James DeVaney as the center’s founding executive director.

    A goal is to create not just new tools and platforms, but new models for education – ones that are more effective and equitable, and that provide access to learning experiences that are global, engaged, and lifelong.

    These can reach learners on our campuses and around the world – from K-12 students, to employees seeking career advancement or updating skill sets for an evolving economy, to alums and others with a thirst to learn about pressing societal issues.

    A major quality of our initiative is that unlike other universities, we are not driven by revenue generation in developing or measuring the value of our programs.

    We share our work broadly with other institutions and bring innovators in to further our expertise.

    In other words, the Center fully aligns with the public mission of the U-M.

    I believe our potential is virtually unlimited as a result.

    The Center has incorporated into its vision three values that will guide its work – and each is based on examples I have shared today.

    The values are:
    Extend academic excellence.
    Expand public purpose.
    And end educational privilege.

    It’s the last point that I’m most excited about.

    Our innovations have already personalized learning to students of diverse backgrounds, identified possible biases in testing, and empowered learners to make data-driven choices about how to allocate study time.

    They are leveling the playing field, and identifying opportunities that were previously unseen.

    We can apply the tools of data analytics to find gaps in preparation and tailor programs to unlock talent.

    We can better evaluate and represent the totality of students’ experiences, beyond a list of classes and grades.

    We can transform the educational experience and provide access to Michigan excellence for millions of learners.

    I am confident in the years ahead that even more of our faculty will collaborate with the center.

    And we will further establish U-M’s leadership in shaping the future of learning – and the future of higher education.

    Firearm Injury Prevention Research Initiative

    In 1969, more than 56,000 people died in motor vehicle accidents.

    The resulting public outrage led to the establishment of federal research efforts.

    And with support from the newly created National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the CDC National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, our nation’s researchers responded.

    It’s important to note that initially, manufacturers were very resistant to safety improvements.

    They feared that that motorists would not use them, or they would cost too much.

    But researchers persevered.

    The science of injury prevention expanded.

    Public knowledge increased.

    And lifesaving safety measures were implemented.

    As a result, we have experienced a nearly 60% decline in the rate of motor vehicle deaths compared to 1969.

    Nearly 20,000 fewer deaths today despite a growing population of Americans owning far more vehicles and a three-and-a-half-fold increase in the number of miles driven each year.

    And vehicle safety research continues its track record of success today.

    Public health research works, but we must commit to it.

    In 2017, firearms were the leading cause of death among high-school-aged children.

    More than 100,000 Americans are injured by guns every year, and the rate is increasing.

    Among children and adolescents, 35 percent of firearm deaths are classified as suicide, and nearly 60 percent of firearm deaths are classified as homicide. Unintentional or accidental injuries account for about one percent.

    We heard directly from students whose lives have been devastated by gun violence during our Wallenberg Medal ceremony last year.

    Representatives with the March for Our Lives movement in Parkland, Florida, and the B.R.A.V.E. youth leaders from the South Side of Chicago spoke about the tragedies of mass shootings and in communities where gun violence is a part of daily life.

    The United States is unquestionably facing a public health crisis as it relates to firearm violence.

    And while federal research support is miniscule compared to other leading causes of mortality such as cancer and car crashes, researchers have persevered.

    In fact, many of them are right here at U-M.

    In anticipation of today’s announcement, we’ve invited several faculty members who are leading research on firearm violence prevention and other related issues to join us here.

    They span many of our schools, colleges and institutes, with research interests that range from designing vehicles equipped with gun safes to examining how greenspaces in urban Detroit can reduce gun deaths. Others are working with gun owners in rural U.P. to improve rates of safe storage and decrease teen suicide.

    The University of Michigan has secured more federal research funding to study firearm injury prevention than any other U.S. university.

    We house the nation’s largest collection of firearm datasets.

    We are leading an NIH-funded consortium of more than 25 researchers across 12 universities and health systems to study firearm safety among children and teens.

    And, we have the excellence and commitment to our public mission to address this crisis.

    Today, the University of Michigan is launching a campuswide Firearm Injury Prevention Research Initiative to develop new knowledge and data on firearm violence.

    I’ve charged the initiative: To engage the breadth of expertise across the University of Michigan, with input from nonacademic stakeholders, to generate knowledge and advance solutions that will decrease firearm injury in the United States.

    The focus is not on gun control, but rather on injury prevention. We didn’t halve automobile deaths by taking cars off the road, but rather by making them and their drivers safer.

    The initiative will be run by our Office of the Vice President for Research, and Interim Vice President for Research Rebecca Cunningham is assembling a broad campus wide steering committee.

    We will also form an external stakeholder committee to ensure a diversity of perspectives beyond academia.

    This could include gun owners, faith-based and K-12 leadership, law enforcement, rural and urban community groups, firearm violence survivors and families.

    Our vision with this initiative is not to delve into Second Amendment politics, but rather, we will address injuries and death as the public health crisis that this is.

    We also know that we have many more faculty and students in virtually all of our schools and colleges who are anxious to engage, but thus far have lacked the opportunity.

    To help launch this initiative and broaden our research, my office and the office of the Vice President for Research will provide seed funding and staff support.

    We will have more information to share on this new initiative as details are finalized this semester.

    Biosciences Initiative

    I now will share a few brief updates on some of the initiatives and efforts I’ve discussed in the past.

    Our Biosciences initiative has demonstrated success in faculty recruitment, enhancing research core facilities, and fostering multidisciplinary collaborations that focus on outstanding problems or opportunities in the life sciences.

    We’ve added new professors as Biological Sciences Scholars and postdocs as Michigan Life Sciences Fellows.

    The creation of the Michigan Research Cores website provides an interface to 89 core facilities in one place, giving faculty a much easier way to explore shared lab capabilities and find key equipment or research services.

    And the launch of the 2019 Ideas Lab drew in 47 faculty applications from ten schools and colleges around the theme of Predicting Human Performance.

    The Ideas Lab promotes high-risk, high-reward research, and gives early-career faculty the ability to pursue big ideas and collaborations.

    During our initial town halls, we heard a lot of feedback that assistant professors often prioritized more “doable” research as they pursued tenure.

    The Ideas Lab addresses that concern, while also connecting faculty across the university in ways that could foster decades of exciting collaborations.

    Carbon Neutrality

    Our Commission on Carbon Neutrality has been very busy in the nine months since its launch.

    Faculty-led internal analysis teams are tackling important topics such as commuting, food, and campus culture, and they’ve issued a call for student researchers to join them.

    The Commission is also seeking proposals from outside firms with the expertise to help us analyze the heat and power infrastructure of the Ann Arbor campus.

    The electricity and heating needs of a world-class, residential research university are an enormous challenge we must confront to achieve carbon neutrality.

    Commission members are committed to a thoughtful examination of this, along with other key issues such as estimating methane leakage through the natural gas supply chain so we can more accurately quantify reductions in our release of greenhouse gases.

    Their first progress report is due this semester.

    And while the important work of this Commission is underway helping us to chart a pathway to get to carbon neutral, I call on all members of the community to get engaged in sustainability and to help us meet the challenges of climate change.

    Visit our Planet Blue website for information on organizations you can join to make your voices heard, events to attend that can inform your perspective, and steps that individual faculty, staff and students can take to reduce their own carbon footprint.

    Fifty years ago, this community helped to galvanize the environmental movement by celebrating the first Earth Day.

    We will commemorate that milestone this spring and I urge your participation in activities throughout the year to continue our legacy of leadership for the future of the planet.

    For our carbon neutrality efforts to really make a difference, we need to harness the incredible research capabilities of the university.

    As part of this effort, and with a generous gift from an anonymous donor, I have asked the Graham Sustainability Institute to set up and administer a fund of several million dollars to support faculty research focused on solutions that could help our campuses, cities and other entities achieve carbon neutrality.

    These funds will be available to faculty across all the schools and colleges, and will help us ensure that Michigan’s carbon neutrality work will indeed be scalable and transferable beyond our campuses.

    This approach will be amplified by U-M’s joining the University Climate Change Coalition.

    UC3, as it is known, is a “coalition of leading North American research universities that will prototype a collaborative model designed to help local communities achieve their climate goals and accelerate the transition to a low-carbon future.”

    The problem of global climate change is far too big for any one institution to solve alone.

    Collaboration and engagement are key to creating real and lasting solutions that will benefit our society.

    Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

    We are into year four of our Strategic Plan for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and

    thanks to the dedication and hard work of people across our campus, the values we share are

    becoming ingrained deeply in the conduct of our mission as a public university.

    This year’s DEI Summit features events throughout the month of October, including the Community Assembly next Monday with author and CNN commentator Van Jones.

    There will be many highlights to share in our forthcoming annual progress report, but I want to call out one in particular today.

    The Success Connects program, run by our Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives, has helped more than 1,000 students in its first three years.

    The program’s activities include personalized coaching, tutoring, workshops and social outings.

    It seeks to build a sense of community and support our talented students from diverse backgrounds, including first-generation students.

    Students who participated regularly earned higher GPAs in their first and second years compared with students who did not participate.

    Underrepresented minority students who participated regularly were more satisfied with the overall campus climate as compared with non-URM students.

    We have much more work to do before we are the campus we want to be, but I am committed to DEI continuing as a major focus throughout my presidency, beyond our initial five-year Strategic Plan.

    Sexual Misconduct Prevention

    Another component of our work to create a better university for all is a broad set of actions around sexual misconduct.

    This includes online training that is now mandatory for all employees.

    At last count, 52 percent have completed the module including all of our regents, executive officers, and deans from all three campuses.

    The deadline for completion is Dec. 31, and I encourage everyone in your organizations to complete the training as soon as possible.

    In the coming weeks, we will be begin seeking community feedback on an initial draft of a new umbrella policy that addresses sexual misconduct and applies to the entire University community.

    Later this month, we also anticipate sharing the results of this past spring’s AAU Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Misconduct.


    Before I open it up for questions, I want to note that I’ll be making my first trip to India as Michigan’s president next month.

    Our ability to partner internationally, exchange ideas, and provide opportunities for faculty and students that cross borders is at the core of our history and our future.

    Engagements in India have been central to our growth as a global university.

    I look forward to deepening our relationships, as I have in China and South Korea, and meeting some of the people behind our many activities there.

    The announcements and highlights I shared today speak to a University of Michigan that is confronting the challenges of its third century through transformative innovation and a deep commitment to solving problems.

    Thanks to all of you, we are forging ahead and enhancing a legacy that it unparalleled in higher education.

    We’re a Michigan that is ambitious in the pursuit of knowledge, equity, impact, engagement and excellence.

    And a Michigan that is willing to change to continue to lead the way in society.

    There is an exhibit in our Museum of Natural History that is part of the BSB I mentioned earlier.

    It’s called the Tree of Life, and its components show the linkages between life forms on earth.

    You can even trace species back to LUCA, the Last Universal Common Ancestor that scientists believe lived 3.5 billion years ago.

    While the University of Michigan’s history is much shorter, we are no less connected.

    Like life itself, our endeavors here at Michigan are linked together at a level so innate that’s it’s part of our DNA.

    For U-M, that DNA is our public mission.

    It’s our commitment to discovery, education, and service for the public good that connects us.

    Our Michigan DNA allows us to span the taxonomic boundaries of disciplines, departments, schools and colleges.

    It inspires us to a greater purpose.

    It makes us who we are.

    It gives us life – and drives us forward.

    Thank you all for your imagination – and for your passion and commitment to research, to education, to service, and to our great University of Michigan.