University of Michigan PresidentsU_of_M_Presidents.html





Thank you Regent Deitch, and all our regents, for inviting me to lead this remarkable University, its three campuses, and its many schools and colleges. Greetings to all of you who traveled here today, whether your journey took you across the campus or across the globe. I come before you today to pledge my commitment to expand the excellence of all the endeavors of this magnificent community.

This is a day both to cast a look backward and to reach forward—contemplating our valued traditions along with the future aspirations of the University.

One of the joys for me today is to be able to surround myself with my own history. Joining us are many members of my family, whose love and dedication have been without boundaries. Many of you know my husband Ken, who has joined the ranks of students here at Michigan, and who is experiencing the intellectual challenges and exhilaration that are shared by so many whose lives have been touched by our university. My mother, Margaret Wilson, has enjoyed the delights of winter in Ann Arbor with us. Our son Jonathan and his wife Aimee are here, and my family has another cause for celebration today: Jonathan's 32nd birthday.

I am deeply grateful that so many friends and colleagues from our lives at the Universities of Kentucky, North Carolina, New Mexico and Iowa have traveled here to share this celebration. Their support and camaraderie have nurtured and sustained us in both good and trying times. We have been blessed beyond measure by their modeling of the notion of an intellectual community. I delight in their collective presence today.

And of course, I am surrounded by my future as well—the magnificent community of students, faculty, staff, regents and alumni of the University of Michigan. Your talents are large, and your ambitions even larger. Every day, you inspire me and instruct me. It is a privilege to join you.

The formal installation of a new president is a moment when an entire institution reflects upon its mission and its priorities.

All of us associated with the University of Michigan are constantly assessing priorities. Such moments can never be fully enumerated because they occur simultaneously throughout every minute of every day across a complex and diverse campus. Whenever a student is choosing a major, a department is choosing a new faculty member, or I am appointing a vice president, this university is making choices.

All of you who are long-time members of the University of Michigan community have made a multitude of decisions that contribute to our current stature. Today's university represents the accumulated choices of almost two hundred years of history, of hundreds of thousands of individuals who have studied here, taught here, done research here or provided service here. This rich history has built us an enormous web of alumni and external supporters that sustain all of us.

It is easy to think of this place as an aggregation of buildings and a congregation of faculty. But a university is so much more ethereal than that—a university is a concept more than a place.

And we bring that concept to life every day, at every hour of the day, in the classrooms, the laboratories, even the hallways.

One of the great marvels of a university is that it provides a culture where the dialogue of scholars can flourish. These dialogues range from the interaction within freshmen seminars to the collegial arguments that last long into the night and persist across decades. This life of the mind is the quintessence of a university, and soars beyond our physical walls.

But today, we find ourselves in the midst of a troubling time. Our country is at war, and many in our community are concerned for the welfare of our nation and of all involved nations, as well as for family members and comrades directly affected by this military action. In addition, our nation and our state are struggling economically. As a result, we are dealing with unfamiliar budgetary constraints every day.

How will we keep building and cultivating this university that we hold in such high regard?

I believe we can provide strength to ourselves and to the world by upholding the two notions I suggested at the outset: highlighting the traditions we value, while at the same time advancing our aspirations.

There is a symbol from Ghana, known as the sankofa, which embodies a message relevant to us today. The sankofa is a bird that is moving forward, while its head is turned backward. The proverb associated with the symbolism of the bird is: "Look to your roots, in order to reclaim your future."

The glory of the University of Michigan resides in its ability to re-invent itself continually, to cherish its roots while inventing the future.

I have now had time to contemplate the past of this great institution, and to consider our future. As I stretch out one hand toward our unlimited possibilities, I want to reach back to our past with my other hand.

We are not just a great university—we are a great public university, and that entails responsibilities to many constituencies. The University of Michigan was established in Detroit in 1817 to educate the young men of this state, with a generous gift of land from three Native American tribes. But within a few decades, it had been translated to this campus in Ann Arbor, and transformed into a university dedicated not just to teaching, but to the discovery and creation of knowledge.

Then, and now, public universities have had a contract with society, a quid pro quo. Because the state benefits from having an educated citizenry, the state supports it with public funds. The universities, in turn, have a reciprocal responsibility to the states. In this regard, our roots are not only deep, but also broad, extending hundreds of years and hundreds of miles.

One of the earliest proponents of public universities was Thomas Jefferson, who was determined to create what he termed a "natural aristocracy"an educated, egalitarian population that would not rely on the older social order of inherited wealth, or of birth into aristocracy.

No one knew better than Jefferson how difficult it would be to negotiate a social contract of public support for public universities. It took him decades to convince Virginia to fund such an enterprise—in fact, the University of Michigan already had been in operation for eight years before the University of Virginia opened in 1825.

Jefferson's attempts to shape a publicly supported university reveal the tensions of funding and priorities that we still face today. When confronted with a proposed legislative budget that was not adequate to his vision, Jefferson, a former governor of Virginia himself, wrote repeatedly to state legislators, imploring them with this request: "I think the Legislature might be induced to make a further appropriation towards the completion and endowment of [the university]. Some part of the money appropriated to the primary schools might be more usefully [applied to the university]."

Some tensions have not changed in 200 years!

Like Thomas Jefferson and Virginia, the state of Michigan established an ambitious plan for a new type of university—a public university, and one dedicated to new types of education, especially in the sciences, that would serve the public interest.

The University of Michigan established a curriculum and hired a faculty, but did not make provisions for hiring a president. But somehow, the University of Michigan managed to operate very well without a formally appointed president for its first 35 years!

But the regents finally did hire a president, who set the University on an ambitious course that we still attempt to sustain and surpass.

In his inaugural speech of 1852, our first president, Henry Philip Tappan, promised to bring distinguished scholars to the faculty, to enlarge the library and laboratory, and to establish an art gallery. He wanted the University to move from mere dissemination of knowledge to research.

With declaratory strokes of the pen, he set down our roots: concisely stated, yet broadly conceived.

Think of what he described, and what we enjoy today: He wanted distinguished scholars, a marvelous library, world-class laboratories and a home for the arts. And underpinning all of these: a university that continually expands the boundaries of know-ledge. We have attained President Tappan's vision, and much more than he ever could have imagined.

Two decades later, President James Angell began his long and illustrious term by reinforcing the mutual benefit of state and university, when he said in his inaugural address: "The state and the University should feel that their interests are identical. The prosperity of the University is bound up in that of the state. Michigan cannot grow stronger, wiser and happier, without strengthening her principal seat of learning."

Every new president of any organization has previous presidents peering over her shoulders. On our campus, they look to me from the great halls which bear their names: Tappen, Angell, Fleming and more. Six of them hover as gargoyles that scrutinize me when I enter the Law Quadrangle. Two of them are peering over my shoulders right now.

As we consider our history, I want to recall the contributions of my predecessors who are here today, Presidents Emeriti Lee Bollinger and James Duderstadt. All of us owe them an immense debt of gratitude.

Contemplating their legacies, and reflecting on the core ideals of this university, has revealed to me the enduring strengths that this university has valued. These are historic values that we must enrich.

To start, we must substantially bolster the multi-disciplinarity that the University of Michigan has long nurtured in departments and colleges throughout the campus, in the humanities, arts, sciences and professional schools. I have seen the benefits that result when scholars cross the boundaries of their disciplines to forge new alliances and ideas. I want to encourage the productive synthesis of ideas and cultures at the boundaries of academic disciplines to create new models of learning and discovery.

Consider this: Our engineers and our dentists are devising ways to re-engineer the tissues of our mouths; our mathematicians and physicians are discovering ways to model, diagnose, and treat epidemic diseases; and our geneticists and our ethicists are establishing a new world of medical care in the age of genetic information. These are creative syntheses launched before my arrival. My intention is that we shall see many more.

President Angell proclaimed: "[The University] enriches and strengthens and adorns the whole life of the state ... every appropriation to the University sows seeds in the most fruitful of all soils."

The research and creativity of the University of Michigan have a global impact, unfolding in this state and beyond its borders. As you will hear again at the symposium this afternoon, we are indeed a "University of the World."

America's great universities must think about an array of issues. How do we reconcile preservation of our environment with economic growth? Businesspeople in cities around our state are thinking about such topics. We should be, also. How do we maintain privacy and civil liberties in the information age? This is a dilemma not to be left to the American Civil Liberties Union and the federal government. We must become even more engaged in this area. How do we structure the ethical controls over science and technology? This issue should not be left to congressional staffers. We should be occupied in this process as well.

The University of Michigan has emerged as a leader in no small part because of its public character. We will not be working alone. To address broader issues will require collaborations far beyond Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint. The University of Michigan can bring vast intellectual resources to bear in our resolve to work on behalf of society.

Our interdisciplinary and collaborative traditions are greatly enhanced by the impact of information technology, which is transforming all areas of learning.

We now routinely get information from electronic sources all over the world. We can tear apart and reconstruct digital representations of everything: from works of art to the human genome, from the symphonies of Mozart to the elementary particles of nature. Michigan is a leader in such technologies through the vision of people like President Duderstadt, who saw the implication of that technology and invested in it.

Yet ironically, and thankfully, the glorious abundance of the virtual has created an even greater longing for the real: the original painting, the personal letter, the live performance of music or theater. We still want to sit with a crowd of friends and strangers, and to have a communal experience.

Perhaps the most exciting breakthrough is the realization that we do not live in an age of virtual or real, but in an era where the power of information technology allows us to create entirely new knowledge and beauty at the intersection of the virtual and the real. Technology enhances access to, and appreciation of, our Museum of Art, our Bentley Historical Library and our planned Miller Theater. It enlivens our theater and music performances. It allows the cultural, artistic and scholarly resources of the University of Michigan to be opened to the world in ways never before possible. Our programs in music, art, design, architecture and urban planning can now be partners with our programs in computer science and information, creating an exciting world of learning in which old constraints are overcome and new opportunities abound.

Just as our past has included such stellar moments as the multi-year residency of the poet Robert Frost in the 1920s, or more recently of the Royal Shakespeare Company, our future will lie in our ability to combine these experiences with the communication possible via technology.

Just as we will seek ways to cross boundaries in the humanities, sciences and professional schools, I want to find new ways to embrace and enliven the Life Sciences Initiative. During President Bollinger's tenure, the University made a significant commitment to the life sciences because this frontier of science promises a transformation of our world equivalent to space exploration in the 1960s, nuclear science in the 1950s, and previous revolutions in medicine that we now take for granted—resulting in antibiotics, vaccines and organ transplants.

Our institutional dedication to this enterprise grows out of our history, which has long embodied an uncommon breadth and depth of scholarly excellence and interdisciplinary traditions. Our aspirations for the life sciences have always gone far beyond the new research building. Our young institute extends widely across the campus, because the work of the life sciences flourishes best outside of disciplinary boundaries, such as in our program of Life Sciences, Values, and Society.

We have a distinctive "Michigan initiative" that brings together the human as well as the technical aspects of this enterprise—in short, bringing "life," in all its manifestations, to the life sciences, and inviting a fuller collaboration of biomedical scientists with those who study humanity, including programs for both graduate and undergraduate students across the campus.

Information that our scientists will generate, now locked in the secrets of the genome, will be of secondary importance to what we will do with that information as a people and a nation.

We will need to find ways to break through our self-defined boundaries of academic units in order to achieve these partnerships, inviting our social scientists, humanists and legal scholars to articulate, illustrate and debate the humanistic issues and policy implications that will surely emerge from the scientific discoveries. Now is the time to invest in the rigorous discipline that it will take to bring the potential of Michigan's initiatives in the life sciences to fruition.

Another distinctive feature of this University is its commitment to undergraduates. A recent faculty report described undergraduate education as a journey of self-discovery, and highlighted our responsibility to provide students with the navigational tools for that journey. I enjoy this imagery and the resourcefulness of the report. But I want to expand upon its challenge.

The multi-disciplinarity which characterizes our research enterprise, if pursued equally seriously in our undergraduate curriculum, will bestow enormous advantage on our students. The essence of a liberal arts education provides the reflective reservoir of learning upon which our graduates depend for full intellectual and cultural lives, no matter what field they have chosen as their life's work.

These cross currents provide tremendous opportunities to our students. Where else can an engineering student work with radiologists from the Medical School and archeologists from the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts to use an MRI to analyze an ancient mummy, as our students did this year at our wonderful Kelsey Museum of Archaeology?

But just as we are committed to the excellence of the educational experience of our students, we also are committed to keeping our programs as accessible as possible to all.

In this arena, we face a special set of challenges, because we ourselves are being challenged.

The University of Michigan is engaged in an historic struggle to preserve admissions policies that serve the widest possible array of communities within the United States and the world. This is a fight that the institution has been willing to wage because it is our pledge to create a broadly diverse university community.

The principle we are defending has become part of the fabric of our society, as reflected in the broad spectrum of support for our cases inside and outside the academy.

Everyone here today knows that the final legal battle is about to begin at the highest court in our nation.