2022 Leadership Welcome

(As prepared for delivery)


Good morning!

Thank you all for being here, whether in the room or watching online.

Regent Hubbard, thank you. I remain grateful to you, Chair Paul Brown – who also is with us – and the entire Board for your faith in me. It is an honor to serve as Michigan’s 15th president.

I have been looking forward to this morning. I started as president on Oct. 14, and every day since has been an opportunity to immerse myself in the energy and vitality of this remarkable institution.

I want to thank our executive team, including our chancellors, for their guidance during these first two months. I don’t need to tell anyone here that this is a complex institution, stretching from Ann Arbor to Flint and Dearborn. This leadership team and its knowledge of U-M have been invaluable to me, and I’m grateful for the support.

And the welcome from our students has been extraordinary. I envy the professors who engage daily with these bright minds and work to instill the critical thinking skills that are so needed today.

This morning is an opportunity to talk about how we can make a great public research university even stronger – better positioned and prepared to educate tomorrow’s leaders and address society’s most pressing challenges.

I will share some early impressions and priorities, and then I want to hear from you.

Distinctly U-M

The University of Michigan is one of the most exceptional universities in the nation.

We embody excellence. It infuses our teaching, research, patient care, and service to society. It defines our libraries and museums, campus operations, and athletics program.

We believe in and promote diversity, equity, and inclusion. Diversity and academic excellence go hand in hand.

We are committed to integrity. Restoring trust in this university is my job as president. And it also is your job as university citizens. We all play a role in creating the best possible environment for learning, teaching, and working.

And we invest in people, from first-year students to senior faculty, staff members who are the backbone of our organization, and hundreds of thousands of patients who turn to us for care and healing.

All of this is what attracted me to Michigan.

And it is why I am committed to making us even more vital as a leading research university that serves our state and world.

We are surrounded by the best.

Our academic enterprise is vast and vibrant. We have more than 100 top-ten graduate programs. This translates into extraordinary choices for students, engaging opportunities for faculty, and scholarship that explores and explains our world.

Every day when I arrive on campus, I see the steelwork rising for our new Pavilion on the medical campus. It is the foundation of a 12-story hospital that will serve our region and state. It is a dominant symbol of the life-saving care performed daily by Michigan Medicine staff and faculty.

I recently stopped by the Alumni Association. On the lower level of the building, there is a wall of notable alumni: Nobel laureates, Pulitzer Prize winners, scientists, public servants, artists, inventors. It is a breathtaking display of leadership through the generations.

And the accomplished Michigan alumni of tomorrow join us today. Student leaders representing all corners of the institution are here, and I’d like them to stand so we can applaud their hard work.

Our dedication to academic excellence intertwines with our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

We cannot be excellent without being diverse in the broadest sense of that word. I am very impressed by the work carried out with DEI 1.0. And I look forward to launching DEI 2.0 in a year. Until then, we will continue to assess our progress, test new ideas, and have difficult conversations about challenging issues. We will listen, and we will learn as we move forward.

I’m excited to share news about how we live out our DEI values uniquely and creatively.

Our financial team is identifying investment managers who believe as strongly as we do in diversity, equity, and inclusion.

One way we are now doing this is to invest $300 million of the University’s short-term working capital exclusively in high-performing companies that maintain strong ESG practices, or Environmental, Social, and Governance procedures. This means they work to protect the environment, be socially responsible, and operate transparently while providing a strong financial return.

A second new investment approach we are taking is to work more closely with community banks in our own backyard. To strengthen ties with locally owned banks in Flint, Dearborn, Detroit, and Ann Arbor, we will be making long-term deposits with them for the first time in recent memory. These tens of millions of dollars in deposits are made with the understanding that the lending they support will allow banks to do more for underserved communities.

When we talk about DEI, we don’t always think about university finances. Yet ESG investing and supporting local banks are among the many ways we can work more strategically to reinforce and uphold our obligations to create a better and more just world.

A different type of investment has struck me, and that is Michigan’s commitment to the professional and personal growth of faculty, staff, and students.

That includes our new Well-Being Collective, which promotes good health for individuals and throughout our settings and organizations.

We have announced plans for a new childcare center to support Michigan Medicine professionals, whose schedules are among the most demanding on campus.

Our strategic approach to information technology sets us apart. We have transformed our infrastructure for a campus that relies heavily upon IT for teaching, scholarship, and patient care. We are the first university to give students a data privacy dashboard and will soon add faculty and staff. And we are creating a think tank for privacy advocacy, research, and innovation.

The University of Michigan-Dearborn is deepening its commitment to metropolitan Detroit students through a new partnership with a longtime friend, Henry Ford College. HFC graduates will now find it easier to transfer to UM-Dearborn, earn a Michigan degree, and achieve their career goals.

This is a win-win-win for HFC, UM-Dearborn, and our state’s economy.

At the University of Michigan-Flint, the investment in people includes deep support of military veterans and their dreams of a college education. Flint’s Student Veterans Resource Center is among the best in the state at serving those who have served our country.

And we are fully engaged in a strategic transformation process to strengthen UM-Flint’s overall academics and finances to best serve the region in the years ahead.

I’m excited to tell you that we are expanding our investments in people with new funding for staff development.

Jill Castro is a perfect example of how this support makes a difference. Jill is a senior counselor with the Faculty and Staff Counseling and Consultation Office. When she gave birth to her son a few years ago, she experienced post-partum depression and anxiety.

This is not uncommon for women. Jill got the treatment she needed and returned to work with a passion for helping new mothers navigate parenting and work. 

She received a grant through Voices of the Staff to become certified in treating perinatal mood disorders. And now, she provides individual counseling and a monthly support group for new moms. 

Jill, would you please stand?

Today we are launching a $1 million Staff Career Development Fund. It will provide grants to individuals or staff teams for professional growth and strengthen our three campuses’ already outstanding workforce.

I want to reiterate what makes Michigan stand apart:

People, who are our greatest resource.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Integrity and a culture of respect.

And above all, excellence across the university, on all three campuses, and throughout our health care system.

Strategic Visioning

We have essential work ahead of us. So, as we aspire to be distinctly Michigan in a perpetually disruptive world, I will look to all of you for ideas, support, and creativity.

First, we will embark on a university-wide strategic visioning process that builds on critical work already underway. This includes our Bold Ideas initiative, where we align our research strengths with global challenges and government, industry, and philanthropy priorities. It will draw upon our pioneering advances in academic innovation. And we are always looking to improve how we work across disciplines and between schools to unleash the power and potential of this university.

We know we want to solve society’s most significant challenges. We have the intellectual capacity and the human capital.

We need a shared vision.

We need to hear all voices. Your ideas are essential. A shared vision for our three campuses will allow us to sharpen our impact and determine what we stand for and where we want to go as a great public university.

I want us to spend the coming months in conversation, with a strategic vision in place for 2024.

This vision is not about me. It will be about what we want to do, together.

Let’s build upon our tremendous strengths: exceptional academics and research, dedication to a sustainable future, and a core belief in being inclusive and welcoming to all.

Academic Excellence

Shortly after the Thanksgiving break, I will make my first visit to the historic Detroit Observatory. It opened in 1854 and was the University’s first real commitment to scientific inquiry.

Our academic enterprise hasn’t slowed since.

We are the top public research university in the country. We rank first in social science research funding and third in the humanities. We have remarkable strengths in biomedical science and technology.

We are pushing the boundaries of residential and online learning through greater reach and lifelong engagement that is the foundation of a blended future for higher education.

Our environment for the arts and creativity, including our Arts Initiative, informs how we understand and interpret the human experience. For me, few activities provide greater joy than playing the cello and immersing myself in music.

I hope you noticed all the impressive honors earned by our faculty that appeared on the lobby screens during breakfast. Guggenheims, National Academies inductions, AAAS fellows, and much more.

The most effective way to accelerate and amplify this scholarship and research prominence is to provide our faculty with the tools and resources they need to succeed.

That is why I am pleased to announce a new strategy to strengthen support for faculty by identifying ways to be more competitive for a broader range of transformative grants. These external funding opportunities with the federal government, foundations, and corporations support research and scholarship across many disciplines where we excel.

We are so strong in so many fields. I want to invest in our current faculty to better enable their expertise for tackling significant societal challenges.

In addition, and building on our visioning work, we will look to recruit 100 faculty, in disciplines stretching from STEM to the arts and humanities. We will undertake this recruiting in 2023, with some of our new hires arriving in 2024. These new faculty will complement our annual hiring and support of brilliant scholars.

Our deans and directors are in the best position to know how to recruit and reward the intellectual talent of faculty for a more profound impact on society.

Sustainable Future

We cannot discuss immense challenges and not address the world’s most pressing matter: the climate crisis.

We live in a time of great promise and unprecedented dangers for our planet. 

Universities are societies within themselves, with cross-cutting research, massive operational footprints, and motivated students, staff, faculty, and alumni. 

That’s why we take climate action so seriously. Our collective future is at stake.

We’ve made considerable strides toward university-wide carbon neutrality and we have incredible scholars and leaders in this space.

We’re going to do more.

Today I’m pleased to announce we will launch a national search for a sustainability leader for our university.

This leader will address our operations, focusing on the campus as a living laboratory for achieving carbon neutrality. This person will report to the chief financial officer, whose responsibilities include nearly 37 million square feet of building space. 

This will be a senior-level professional who serves as an adviser to the president as we continue to build a culture of sustainability.

In addition, I will work with the provost and deans on a new initiative that further invests in our people and programs focused on climate action and sustainability. This is a priority for me, and will ensure that we leverage all resources across our schools and colleges to address climate change.

I’m also excited to share that U-M is partnering with Delta Air Lines to improve and use sustainable aviation fuel. This is an alternative to conventional jet fuel with far less damaging emissions.

We are the first university in the country to partner with Delta this way. We anticipate this collaboration will lead to rewarding research and increased global demand.

Ultimately, we need to disrupt how we think about climate change. It’s not merely for climate scientists and politicians to solve. And the University of Michigan cannot work in a vacuum.

We all have a role to play. That’s why I’m proud to announce U-M will now serve as the lead institution for the University Climate Change Coalition. The UC3 convenes 23 leading North American universities toward climate action on campus, in communities, and at a global scale. 

I know UC3 well. I previously helped lead it as president of the University of British Columbia. I look forward to working with presidents and chancellors toward our shared goals.

We can influence a network of leading universities and the higher education approach overall.

We can, and will, make an impact by reshaping and transforming what it looks like to address grand challenges in the world.

Inclusive History

A university president is in the privileged position of being the institution’s biggest cheerleader and greatest defender. And there is so much positive to say about the University of Michigan.

But this same presidential bully pulpit must acknowledge mistakes and imperfections. And we are far from perfect as an institution.

Michigan has a rich history of shaping American higher education.

Where we have stumbled in our past is by excluding and segregating individuals because of their race or gender, ethnicity, religious faith, or sexual identity. In doing so, we robbed people of the full U-M experience and deprived the university of ideas and talent.

Let me give you one example.

Marjorie Franklin was an Ann Arbor high school graduate accepted into our nursing school in 1924. But unlike all the other women training to be nurses, Marjorie was denied housing on campus. The University did not allow African American students like her to live in residence halls, and directed her to a boarding house in a racially segregated neighborhood.

Marjorie and her mother fought back. Finally, with the help of an attorney – Oscar Baker, a Black graduate of the Michigan Law School – they forced the University to relent and provide Marjorie with a dorm room.

I’m afraid Marjorie Franklin’s story is just one unfortunate episode of many.

We cannot move forward as a university until we acknowledge those we’ve excluded in the past. We must have the courage to understand the lived experiences of all those in our community, past and present.

This is why I believe so strongly in the Inclusive History Project and what it can tell us about our university and ourselves. This presidential initiative aims to create a more accurate narrative about the University, with an initial focus on race and racism.

Guiding this work is Professor Elizabeth Cole, who directs the National Center for Institutional Diversity, and Professor Earl Lewis, director and founder of the Center for Social Solutions. They lead a newly named committee of faculty, staff, and students. I appreciate their collective dedication to a critical project that we expect will take several years to complete.

The Inclusive History Project has many possible outcomes: New scholarship, new kinds of monuments and public art, a fresh look at how we name our buildings and public spaces, and more.

This will be a painful but crucial process of self-discovery. Yet acknowledging the truth is at the heart of a great university, and it aligns with our values as a place that generates knowledge.

Moving Ahead

I hope you can sense how excited I am to be leading Michigan. The scope and scale of our research, scholarship, and service to the world are a daily source of energy and pride for me.

I’ve had the opportunity since arriving to enjoy several student performances at Hill Auditorium, including the Men’s Glee Club, the University Band, and the Campus Band.

I’ve learned that a beloved campus song is “The University,” with lyrics that embody our mission:

To teach, to serve, to probe the unknown.

Eight words that summarize what I just spent 25 minutes covering.

I have always known that universities can and do transform the world for the better. We do so much so well at the University of Michigan.  

I want to reinforce what I said when I was appointed president: This institution has the ability, through the intellectual capital of the faculty, staff, and students, to address the world’s most existential challenges with impact and creativity.

We can do even more, and we will do it together.

Thank you.