Statement at September 2022 Board of Regents

(As prepared for delivery)

Good afternoon and welcome to the September meeting of the Board of Regents.

Today is our first meeting of the new academic year, and tomorrow is an important anniversary for our institution: the University of Michigan-Flint will mark the 66th anniversary of opening its doors. It became the first of our two regional campuses and has served the students of Genesee County and our state since 1956.

As it approaches its seventh decade, UM-Flint is facing unprecedented challenges. Chancellor Dutta has provided me and members of the Board with the realities he and his leadership team are facing:

  • Enrollment is down 30 percent from the fall of 2014. Although we learned last week that numbers are up for new students, the overall enrollment trend is unsustainable.
  • Six-year graduation rates are the lowest of the state’s 15 public universities.
  • More and more students from the Flint area are choosing to enroll elsewhere or not attend college at all, at the same time our state is seeing an overall decline in the number of young people.

We must make changes and they must be bold if UM-Flint is to thrive.

To that end, I have charged Chancellor Dutta with developing a strategic plan for transforming UM-Flint. The work begins tomorrow morning when he and I will host a town hall meeting with the campus community.

The transformation plan will be inclusive and transparent. It will be driven by comprehensive data, including labor and student market demand for academic programs. It is critical that the Flint campus align its programs with the needs of our state’s workforce.

It is also critical to have stable leadership for this process, which is why I have extended Chancellor Dutta’s current appointment by two years, to June of 2026. This will allow him to complete a transformation plan and put it into action. I fully expect that work will be carried out with a financial investment from the University.

I want to add that President-elect Ono is aware of the challenges we face and fully supports this approach.

Tomorrow’s conversation is an important first step toward a revitalized UM-Flint campus that is strong both financially and academically. I will join the town hall meeting remotely and, along with Chancellor Dutta, look forward to working together on this essential transformation.

Here on the Ann Arbor campus, we are looking to the future and the demands for student housing. Our residence hall system is vibrant and we anticipate the need to build additional residential spaces in the upcoming years.

We do not yet have specifics on locations, designs, or construction schedules. But we do know that we want a future residence hall to honor a longtime campus leader.

Royster Harper served the University for more than 40 years, including 18 years as vice president for student life before she retired in 2019.

She was an unrelenting champion of students and their experiences on campus. Among her many accomplishments was overseeing an extensive renovation and expansion of our residence hall system, including the construction of North Quad.

This makes it my pleasure today to ask for the Board’s approval to name a future residence hall the Dr. E. Royster Harper Hall. And it is an even greater pleasure to request this knowing Royster is with us today, along with her husband, Charles.

Royster, you are a dear friend, not only to me but to so many others on campus. Please stand so we can thank you!

This weekend is Homecoming and we will welcome back thousands of alumni for reunions, dinners, and a football game.

Few people on our campus have done more to embrace our graduates than Steve Grafton, longtime director of the Alumni Association. Steve’s upcoming retirement after 28 years is bittersweet because it means saying goodbye to a devoted University citizen who is most deserving of a new adventure.

I am particularly proud of the Alumni Association’s deep commitment to equity and inclusion and Steve’s dedication to welcoming all. He has always focused on the future diversity of our student body.

It was Steve who came forward with the idea of establishing the LEAD scholarships for deserving students who represent leadership, excellence, achievement, and diversity. For 15 years now, LEAD scholarships have helped provide a Michigan education to hundreds of Black, Latinx, and Native American students at all three of our campuses. This program is a powerful testament to Steve’s vision, the generosity of donors, and the appeal of a Michigan education.

Steve, thank you for your service.

This is my final Board meeting as president, and the way this meeting has started is the perfect example of what I love about the University of Michigan. When we face a challenge, we seek solutions. We always focus on tomorrow. And we celebrate the people who make the University such a special place for our students, faculty, staff, and alumni.

It has been an honor to be able to step in during a difficult time for the University. I want to thank members of the Board for your confidence in me.

I also owe a debt of gratitude to the executive officers at this table for their support and counsel. They are the best in higher education.

I feel very good knowing that Dr. Ono will have such a dedicated governing board and talented leadership team when he begins on October 14.

I also want to thank my husband, Ken, who is here with us. I could not do this work without him. Michigan will always be special to us, and we’re profoundly grateful for the experiences and opportunities you have given us.

Thank you, and Forever Go Blue.