Inauguration Address

(As prepared for delivery)

Paul, thank you. I’m so grateful to you and the Board of Regents.

Thank you all for joining us, whether online or in this magnificent auditorium. Thank you again for your faith in me. It is such a privilege and honor to be inaugurated today to serve all of you as Michigan’s 15th president.

I would also like to thank our distinguished guests and speakers for joining us: 

Michigan’s Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist, an engineer by training and problem solver by vocation.

Victor Dzau, an internationally acclaimed leader and scientist who serves as president of the National Academy of Medicine. I’ve truly come to know Victor over the past decade, though we followed similar paths – he preceded me to McGill and then Harvard. At each step I looked up to you, and I’ve spent my entire career trying to be like you.

Hanna Holborn Gray, President Emerita of the University of Chicago. In addition to being an outstanding scholar, an exceptional president and a truly inspiring model of leadership, Hanna signed my undergraduate diploma in 1984.

Allen Liu – even more important than being the Chair of the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs, Allen is a fellow Vancouver-ite, and he earned his undergraduate degree at the University of British Columbia.

Earl Lewis, my mentor and guide, and one of the most outstanding people I know. Earl gave me the high gift of trust at Emory University, and he launched my career in administration. I continue to rely on his wisdom and counsel today.

My partner in academic leadership, Provost Laurie McCauley. I’m so grateful for Laurie’s selfless service, her dedication, and her steadfast and inspired leadership. And I’m so glad that we will be serving the University of Michigan together for many years to come.

My immediate predecessor, President Emerita Mary Sue Coleman. It’s hard to find words to express my gratitude to Mary Sue. I could not think of a better guide for this, my dream job, and she may be one of the greatest university presidents of our time.

I also want to acknowledge the members of our leadership team, including our chancellors, our vice presidents and our deans. I’ve been so impressed with your dedication and ability, and I’m so grateful to all of you.

I’d also like to welcome the members of our staff and faculty, from Flint to Dearborn to Ann Arbor. I could not imagine serving with a more committed or talented team.

To our students who have joined us – thank you! It is your energy, passion, intellect and confidence that will see us well in the days ahead.

Finally, I want to say something about my family, whose love and support of me over my lifetime has been foundational to everything I have achieved.

Some of you know that my parents, Takashi and Sachiko, immigrated from Japan shortly after the Second World War, all of their belongings in a single suitcase.

My father Takashi was a freshly-minted Ph.D. graduate from Nagoya University, and had been invited by Andre Weil and the then-Director Robert Oppenheimer to be among a select group of talented young mathematicians to be Visiting Members of the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study.

My parents gave birth to my brother Momoro in Tokyo, Japan and I was born in Vancouver where my father was an Assistant Professor of Mathematics at the University of British Columbia. My younger brother Ken was born [in Philadelphia] when my father was a Professor of Mathematics at the University of Pennsylvania.

Throughout my entire life, I’ve been inspired by the accomplishments of my grandparents, my parents and my brothers. Both Momoro and Ken are at the top of their fields in music and mathematics. Momoro is a Professor of Piano at Creighton University and Ken is a Professor of Mathematics at the University of Virginia.

Although my parents cannot be with us today, I know they are watching via livestream. Thanks Mom and Dad for everything. I love you very much.

And above everything else, I wanted to express my gratitude to my own family.

Wendy has been the rock of my life since we were married in 1989 and I am grateful for her enduring support of me. People say that being a university president is a challenging occupation. But I can tell you that being the spouse of a university president is much more difficult!

And of course, I am grateful to our two daughters, Juliana and Sarah, who have made me so proud from the days they were born to today. So Wendy, Juliana, Sarah, my son-in-law David, and our puppy Romeo:

As Debbie Boone sang,

“You light up my life,
You give me hope to carry on
You light up my days, and fill my nights, with song”

A number of my classmates from the University of Chicago have also joined us today. But I’m pretty sure they came to see our former president Hannah Holborn Gray.

As we open this new chapter in the history of the University of Michigan, let us begin by looking back to our beginnings.

The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 declared, in words inscribed on the parapet of Angell Hall, “Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”

That document led to our founding in 1817 by Judge Augustus Woodward, Father Gabriel Richard and the Rev. John Monteith.

And as our campus grew and evolved, our ethos became one of providing an uncommon education for the common man … and our aspiration of elevating society by lifting the distinct, ineffable potential of each individual, no matter their background, color or creed.

To be certain, we have had our shortfallings. And we will face them honestly, always walking with respect and humility.

Today, we are united around the same mission and purpose, the same commitment to inclusion and excellence, discovery and integrity.

Today, we have exceptional programs in science and engineering, law, medicine, and business, and the arts, social sciences and humanities. The liberal arts are crucially important for the development of critical thinking. They are more important than ever before.

Today, we are a proudly public university, still aspiring to be welcoming to all, inclusive of all, exceptional for all.

Today, the world needs the University of Michigan more than ever.

For everywhere we look, we see a world in distress, with tensions rising and conflicts raging.

Abroad, we face a fundamental challenge between democracies and autocracies, even as the bloody hands of tyrants are set against innocents aspiring to basic rights and dignities.

At home, we see a challenge between pluralism and zealotry, between the shrill cry of political tribalism and partisanship, and the quiet call of civic engagement and citizenship. Even today we are wrestling with racism and inequity and injustice, and as heirs to the unfinished work of Martin Luther King Jr., we must not falter in that task.

We are also grappling with the long-term impacts of the COVID crisis, even as we prepare for the next pandemic.

Above all, we must address the climate emergency. Our planet is growing warmer and warmer, our natural environment is deteriorating, and none of us is immune from its devastating impacts. The climate crisis is the existential challenge of our time.

The world is searching for solutions.

Let them look to Michigan.

For it was here, on the steps of the Michigan Union, that then Senator John F. Kennedy gave the speech that launched the Peace Corps. Since then, nearly 3,000 U-M alumni have volunteered to change lives around the world.

Today, through our Ford School, we are showing that collaboration and partnership are a better solution than anger and conflict. 

To give just one example, Luke Shaefer, the school’s Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, had a critical role in the expansion of the Child Tax Credit in 2021, which has received support from both sides of the aisle and has been hailed as one of the most successful anti-poverty measures signed into law.

Thanks to its multifaceted expertise, impact, and policy reach, the Ford School remains a leader in domestic and international policy education, and a leading hub for engagement with the foreign policy community.

Yet as we look to solutions abroad, we must acknowledge our challenges at home.

Racism is one of America’s original sins, and the University of Michigan has not been immune.

We have excluded and segregated individuals because of their race or gender, ethnicity, religious faith or sexual identity. In doing so, we robbed those individuals – and our university and our world – of their incredible talent and potential.

Our nation is searching for a better way to deliver on the promises of justice, inclusion and diversity.

So let us join hands together here at Michigan.

Previous U-M presidents Lee Bollinger and Mary Sue Coleman set an example by going to the Supreme Court to defend admissions policies intended to achieve a more diverse student body.

More recently, we have embarked on an Inclusive History Project, which is being led by Professors Elizabeth Cole and Earl Lewis.

This process of self discovery will be painful as well as crucial, for in acknowledging our past with clear eyes, we can better move forward together with a firm step.

In January, we released the results of our DEI 1.0 initiative, which made it clear that while we have made much progress, we still have much more to do.

So as we look to DEI 2.0, let us strive to nurture thoughtful and understanding citizens … and further establish campuses and communities where each individual can live in peace and safety …and can learn and grow and thrive.

As we do so, we must address the current and future threat of pandemics.

Across history, they have shaken societies and destroyed untold lives.

Yet we have the promise of healing at Michigan.

In the early 1940s two outstanding University of Michigan doctors, Thomas Francis Jr. and his mentee Jonas Salk, developed the first flu shot.

Several years later, Salk developed a vaccine against the dreaded polio virus, and Francis led the clinical trials that proved the vaccine was safe and effective. Within a decade of their announcement in 1955, polio was eliminated from the country, and eventually, most of the world.

Against the unremitting rise of new diseases, we continue to discover, innovate, explore, adapt and heal.

In 1999, we established the Life Sciences Institute, which was designed to foster interdisciplinary research and creative risk taking, and strengthen the connections across our world-class life sciences community.

And through our Biosciences Initiative, we are building on U-M’s strengths in areas of the biosciences that will have a global impact.

Today, our staff at Michigan Medicine continues to serve patients and their loved ones with relentless compassion and excellence.

As we attend to the physical health of our community, we must also support their full wellness.

Generation Z is facing a wave of anxiety and depression disorders. It’s a challenge our students, staff and faculty face every day.

I understand.

That’s why I’m so pleased that U-M was one of the first U.S. schools to adopt the Okanagan Charter, which commits us to promoting the health and wellbeing of each person across our three campuses.

We have also established the Well-Being Collective, which takes a holistic approach to the development and wellness of the whole person – and the whole community.

Student health and well-being will be one of my highest priorities as president.

So let us walk together in wellness and wholeness at Michigan.

Finally, we must address the existential challenge of our time, the climate emergency.

Here as well, U-M has long been on lead.

In 1881, we became the first U.S. university to offer classes on forestry. Over time, it became our School for Environment and Sustainability, SEAS, which today is a leader in environmental education, research and action.

We are building on initiatives that spur multidisciplinary innovations toward climate action, like the Graham Sustainability Institute, the Institute for Energy Solutions, MI Hydrogen, and the Carbon Neutrality Acceleration Program.

As we work toward carbon neutrality on all three campuses, Michigan Medicine and Athletics, we will procure 100 percent of our purchased electricity from renewable sources by 2025, and we will eliminate all of our greenhouse gas emissions from direct, campus sources by 2040.

We are incorporating carbon neutrality into new building projects and engaging with our communities to ensure that our strategies are just and equitable.

We are seeking extensive on-campus solar power installations, and collaborating closely in this effort with the city of Ann Arbor.

Today we are in the midst of a national search for a sustainability leader. And we are developing a university-wide structure designed to elevate and unite sustainability scholarship, teaching and community engagement.

Our world is facing the fiery challenge of our time, as well as others ranging from aging populations to the ongoing rise of increasingly sophisticated AI.

Together, let us find solutions at Michigan.

Let us transform our excellence into action.

And let us create a brighter, stronger and more vibrant university, one dedicated to egalitarian excellence in service to humanity, and one even better positioned and better prepared to educate tomorrow’s leaders.

I trust that each student who graduates from this exceptional university, whether this year or in ten or twenty-five years from now, will have a deep sense of gratitude for the education they received, as well as a profound understanding of the responsibility that comes with that opportunity, and a lifelong commitment to leverage their learning to make a difference in society and in service to others.

So let us build that university together.

For at the University of Michigan, we have the capacity to connect, and we must connect as never before.

We have world-leading experts, exceptional graduate programs, and incredible strengths in interdisciplinary studies. We also have an outstanding diversity of students, each with unique perspectives and talents, and the high confidence that we can change the world.

We can.

And we will, if we do so together.

I aspire to see us become even more interdisciplinary and interconnected.

Today we have an incredible range of multidisciplinary efforts and programs, ranging from our recently announced Arts Initiative to our Center for RNA Biomedicine to the Space Institute. But we can build on those efforts, connecting in new ways across academic boundaries and opening new horizons.

We must also come closer together across our campuses, strengthening the bonds between Flint, Dearborn and Ann Arbor, and building deeper connections to centers across our state such as the Sparrow Health System in Lansing and the U-M Center for Innovation in Detroit.

As we come closer together as a university, we must also come together as a state and national and global community.

Our leadership of the University Climate Change Coalition and our partnerships with AAU, the Association of American Universities, the U7+ Alliance of world universities and others – to say nothing of our research engagement with a vast range of federal agencies – these are all essential.

Yet we can do so much more together.

For that reason, we have embarked on a strategic visioning process, one designed to sharpen our impact and determine who we are, what we want to stand for, where we want to go, and what we aspire to achieve as a great public university.

Over the next year, our entire university community will engage in a collective process to imagine our future, and chart our course ahead.

This vision will be about what we can do, and what we aspire to do, together.

It’s crucial we do so.

If we look at history, universities typically evolve and change gradually. It is at a deliberate, considered pace that they add new infrastructure, hire new staff and faculty.

Yet universities may also go through periods of sudden, rapid change, through a punctuated equilibrium that opens new horizons and sets them on a decisive new trajectory.

To give a few examples, in 1854, President Henry Tappan had a vision of creating here at Michigan the first true American research university. That vision was followed with decisive action, the installation of the third-largest refracting telescope in the world at our Detroit Observatory, and the recruitment of U-M’s first Ph.D. faculty member, Franz Brünnow, to use it for research and education. 

Astronomers used the telescope to make numerous discoveries, and they established U-M as a leading research university. It drew other outstanding researchers, even as many of our students went on to become astronomy’s leading lights.

President James Angell then framed U-M as an institution as a champion of academic freedom, committed to inclusiveness and dedicated to the service of our democracy. President Marion Burton, after whom the Burton Tower just outside is named, then transformed our central campus with the first overall campus plan.

Years later, President Harold Shapiro developed a strategic plan which reanimated our pursuit of excellence. His work of renewal and revitalization was continued and strengthened by his Provost, James Duderstadt, who as our next president developed a vision focused on three elements – knowledge, globalism and pluralism, further shaping the campus we know today.

Today, it is time for a new vision, a new punctuation, a new opening of possibilities.

It is time to dare great challenges and dream bold dreams.

As we envision, imagine and aspire, we will also build.

Concurrently with our strategic visioning process, we will develop a long-term campus plan to fulfill that vision, and to ensure that we establish the living, working, and learning environments needed for our staff, students and faculty in the days and decades hence.

I encourage you to engage, for this vision will be ours together – who we are, what we stand for and where we are going as a great public university.

For I am convinced that the brightest days for the University of Michigan lie ahead.

And I am certain that by constantly discovering, learning, connecting and aspiring, we can transform our world.

This is our time to renew our rise.

This is our moment to dream bold dreams.

So let us begin today.

Let us set free our full power and potential as one of the world’s great universities.

Let us come together like never before to address the world’s most pressing challenges, live our best traditions as a university, and create a future beyond our dreams.

Together we can.

So thank you again, and Go Blue!