University of Michigan PresidentsU_of_M_Presidents.html



APRIL, 14, 1980


Senator Levin, Lieutenant Governor Brickley, President Gray, Chancellor Shain, Regents of The University of Michigan, members of the faculty, students, alumni, distinguished delegates, and friends. The University of Michigan is honored by your presence here today and the good wishes that you bring us.

I particularly welcome our colleagues from our sister institutions of higher education with whom we share a distinctive dedication to teaching and scholarship. May I express my pleasure at your being here today and my hope that we will welcome you back to the University, not only on occasions of ceremony and dedication, but also for occasions even more directly related to our joint endeavors.

It is a great privilege for me to be able to share this platform with three former Presidents of The University of Michigan - President Hatcher, President Fleming, and President Smith. You have each contributed in a singular way to the enrichment of this University and its academic community.

May I also extend a special word of greeting and appreciation to my colleagues on the faculty and the students of the University, especially those from the Department of Economics. It was in the academic environment that you created and sustained that I was able to develop my own capacities both as a teacher and as a scholar. I am pleased that so many of you are able to be here today.

Finally, it is a pleasure to be able to share this occasion with my family and friends. Your influence on my life has been and continues to be important; your support has made possible whatever accomplishments I may be able to claim.  Indirectly, you now enter with me into the history of The University of Michigan.

It is an honor for me to be able to serve The University of Michigan as its tenth president. Michigan is today a University of international reputation. The University of Michigan community can proudly point to thriving programs in teaching and scholarship in the sciences, in the social sciences, in the humanities, in the creative and performing arts, and in the professions. Such a wide spectrum of efforts is typical of public universities in America, but the overall quality and excellence of Michigan's current programs places it among the relatively few truly distinguished universities, public or private, in this country. Moreover, the University can bear witness to a long tradition of such distinction in education and scholarship.

This achievement is the result of an enduring and rather unique collaboration between the University's faculty, its students, its alumni and friends, and the citizens of the State of Michigan. The University today is the historical culmination of the ideas, efforts, and resources of this dynamic partnership, and the partners have every reason to be proud of the result. Their efforts and vision have brought a reality of a very special idea, the idea of distinction in a large public university. This idea was given substance by the continuing commitment of the University community and its supporters to participate in an exciting and exacting intellectual voyage whose destination lay at the forefront of scholarship, teaching, and research.

The journey has not always been an untroubled or placid one. Rather, a general uneasiness and honest skepticism about our own efforts have been an important tradition that has helped us recognize our shortcomings, adapt to changing times, and to thus actively retain our position in the world of scholarship. In the coming decades, we will be challenged to find new ways to materially and intellectually sustain the University, but our strong traditions will help inform us regarding what is appropriate and where our priorities should lie.

Of course, The University of Michigan has its origins not only in its own particular conception, but also in the more general traditions of higher education in America. I would like to consider certain aspects of this more general tradition in order to bring before us a sharper perception of the relationship between the university and society and its future prospects.

American universities have their initial roots in the universities of medieval Europe. Even the ivy was brought from the university in Salerno to the walls of many of our earliest universities. A very important additional infusion of European influences came from the German universities of the 19th century, where modern training in science was being pioneered. In the United States, however, these influences underwent many important transformations in the construction of a very distinctive system of higher education.

One of the more significant transformations, in my judgment, was that American universities were always responsible to and, to a certain extent, shaped by the communities that founded them. Unlike certain of their European counterparts, they were never completely self-governing bodies of scholars and students.

Thus, from the very beginning, American universities had to balance their responsibilities to the world of scholarship with important responsibilities to the communities that supported them. This was true both of the early private universities as well as the great public universities that followed them. This tradition has important consequences for the current role of American universities and their responsibilities in our society.

The relationship between the modern university and society is a very complex and a very fragile one. The complexity and fragility stem from the university's dual role as society's servant and as society's critic. On the one hand, the university has the responsibility for training and research functions that serve society's current economic and cultural life. On the other hand, the university has a fundamental responsibility to be critical of society's current arrangements and to construct, entertain, and test alternative visions of organizing society's institutions, alternative approaches to understanding nature, and to rethinking society's values.

Over time, society's support for this dual concept of the university as an institution both serving and criticizing society has been ultimately sustained by faith in rationalism, faith in knowledge and science, and the resulting notion of human progress. Perhaps one of the most distinctive ideas of Western civilization is the idea that nature, by itself, cannot achieve its full potential. Rather, what is needed is a mutually beneficial interaction between nature, science, and mankind. The university plays an increasingly central role in this process. In the end, we all live under the sway of ideas, and the idea of progress both in our material and moral or spiritual condition has been an increasingly dominating idea of Western thought. In my view, the university now plays a critical role in strengthening the positive correlation between progress in science and the development of new knowledge, and progress in the moral and spiritual sense.

As we look to the future of our universities and their relationship to society, however, it is important to look specifically at the nature of our educational and research programs. Are these programs adequate to meet the traditional dual roles of the university as society's servant and society's critic?

What are the specific types of programmatic objectives that enable the universities to meet their responsibilities to the world of scholarship and the society of which they are a part? We can, I believe, identify three major categories of necessary commitments in this respect.

The responsibility for general and professional education.

The responsibility for the development of new knowledge.

The responsibility for advanced research training.

I would like to spend a few moments to amplify my view of the university's responsibility for general and professional education. The ultimate purpose of a general education is twofold. The first is to provide students with an understanding of what our society is, how it came to be that way, and how it relates to the larger human family. The second is to provide our students with that kind of knowledge and understanding that contributes to their ability to improve their concept of civilization, comprehending that the concrete present is but one alternative. In this context it is clear that not only training in science, but scholarly exposure to history, literature, and philosophy have direct relevance to society's most important goals: this knowledge puts our immediate concerns in the broadest possible human context. Without the understanding that flows from study in the humanities, we must fail to understand critical dimensions of the human experience and too easily deny the intractability of certain aspects of the human condition.

“The relationship between the modern university and society is a very complex and a very fragile one.  The complexity and fragility stem from the university’s dual role as society’s servant and as society’s critic.”

Thus, we have responsibility for providing an education that not only develops an individual’s technical expertise, but also relates an individual's experience to the broad human landscape of which we are a part, and moves people to a purpose and capacity beyond themselves.

The same approach governs professional education at a university. Professional education normally refers to the acquisition of skills for a particular purpose. At a university, however, it must also be involved in the extension of knowledge. Further, it must proceed within a critical framework that not only refuses to accept things as they are, but works to bridge the gap between professional practice and theoretical knowledge.

These are the fundamental characteristics of our educational programs that we must preserve in the years ahead. In addition, for reasons I will discuss shortly, our society has a great stake in maintaining the research capacities of the universities, especially the major research universities. Given our society's needs, attitudes, and resources, what are the prospects of achieving these objectives?

On the one hand, American universities are generally seen to be at some risk in a decade that is widely assumed to be characterized by falling student enrollments and by a general tightening of the resources available. Such developments would, of course, impact not only on the educational function and fiscal capacity of universities, but on the essential research capacity of our society.

On the other hand, the need for advanced training and research has never been greater. Globally we are on the brink, I believe, of another technological breakthrough in industrial and agricultural processes, and the extent of U.S. participation in these developments and the economic growth that will result is uncertain. Fortunately, or unfortunately, this is dependent, in part on the viability of the major research universities - of which this state is well endowed. In the United States we do not have "on line" any other institutions that can fully substitute for the traditional role of the universities in basic research and development. Perhaps by the year 2000 we will have a larger spectrum of research institutions in this country as exist elsewhere. But for the next decades here in the United States, our research and development capacity is inextricably tied to the health of the research universities.

In addition, we need new, creative ways to deal more effectively with a large number of outstanding social issues. Consider the challenge of the revitalization of the inner cities, the challenge of access to a full share of society's opportunities to minorities and women, or the challenge of a creative mediation of the conflicts that arise from time to time between traditional values and new developments in science. The solutions to these problems - and similar challenges - require careful, critical analysis of alternative ways of doing things and of organizing society's institutions. The need for an informed and thoughtful electorate has never been greater.

Moreover, we can fully anticipate that in the next decades important changes in our modes of thinking will be both necessary and substantial. The world will never again be so centered on Western Europe and North America and on the cultural history and experiences of these people and this particular civilization that has dominated world affairs in the last few centuries. We must, therefore, develop a new awareness, openness, and responsibility not only to certain populations in our own society, but to others around the world whose cultural development and expression we have yet to adequately appreciate.

For these reasons, and others, I believe our future as a society is importantly related to the vitality of our universities. What other institution can provide the humanistic understanding, the scientific developments, the technical training, the critical analysis, and the aesthetic experiences that can - at their best - produce both the new knowledge necessary and a thoughtful, informed citizenry capable of more wisely meeting the complex challenges of the next decades.

The major question that remains, however, is whether and how the society on the one hand and the universities and their faculties on the other will act in order to meet these needs and thus jointly realize our creative potential. Each decade in our history has its own challenges and requires new responses in order to enhance and contribute to what is a noble tradition.

In my judgment, a covenant of three commitments is required:

-Even in these difficult times, society must commit resources sufficient to attract quality talent to these institutions - both as students and teachers. It is not ordained that universities and their faculties be always richly endowed, but resources consistent with their role and mission are an absolute necessity.

-Society must continue to preserve the university's essential freedom to remain a critic of existing arrangements - whether in science or society. Our future depends even more on freedom retained than on full funding retained. New knowledge does not always require funds, but it does require freedom to determine the basic priorities of our critical investigations. This freedom is essentially an individual freedom, and we should not lose sight of the fact that at times academic freedom is threatened not only by forces external to the university, but by our colleagues among the students and faculty with little respect for views other than their own.

-The university community must show evidence of a commitment to its tasks and a capacity to make difficult decisions that rise above purely parochial concerns and demonstrate that it is deserving of such special responsibilities and treatment. Thus, the free exercise of reason, so essential to a university's life, cannot be confused with loose speculation. It must instead be associated with disciplined, unprejudiced testing of alternative ideas. Enlightenment does not emerge from the free association of emancipated minds at "rap sessions." The development of knowledge often proceeds in what may seem to be a wild and unpredictable way, driven by the powerful imaginations and impatient energies of creative investigators. In fact, however, it is given structure and direction by the disciplined use of reason in the evaluation of ideas, new and old.

If we in the university community are willing to use society's resources with discrimination and care and to rededicate ourselves to the truly important tasks facing us, the decade of the 1980's can be one of an opportunity gained - an opportunity to turn fully to the issues where we can make our greatest contribution.  We cannot simply wish away the difficult sections of the road before us, but we must not allow the difficulties to govern our course. To quote Emerson: "This time like all times is a very good time if we but know what to do with it."

We recognize that society has other important needs, besides those represented by universities. There are needs in health, in energy, in the inner cities, in old-age security, and other important problems. To qualify for support in view of these other pressing and legitimate needs, we must demonstrate our capacity to actually perform the functions we speak so fondly of and not to be sidetracked to less worthy efforts. The 1980's will surely be a time of testing for us all.

"For the next decades here in the United States, our research and development capacity is inextricably tied to the health of the research universities."

It will require courage - both by faculties and legislators - to look beyond the enormous pressures of daily events and to look to the preservation of the truly sustaining values of our society and the institutions that support them. It is difficult to rescue from our daily distractions the capacity to dedicate ourselves to the critical long-run concerns of society.  The university and the fundamental ideas it embodies is one of these concerns. I hope the community of scholars - both students and faculty - here at The University of Michigan will demonstrate that the University upholds its part of the covenant and is worthy of such special consideration.

The University of Michigan is preparing for the 1980's in an adventurous and optimistic mode. We are confident of our sense of community and our capacity to generate a quality response to the challenges ahead of us. We are completing new libraries and associated facilities to support our continuing commitment to scholarship. We expect, with the citizens of the State of Michigan, to build a great new Medical Center and have begun the development of new facilities for our College of Engineering.

Most important of all, we are focusing our efforts on attracting and retaining outstanding faculty and students.

We do not intend to stand politely by and thus risk slipping backward during the coming decade. Rather, we eagerly face the challenge ahead of us and commit ourselves, in a spirit of both pride and humility, to do whatever it takes to maintain and enhance the distinction of our programs. We should be aware, however, that this effort will severely test our resolve, and perhaps even our sense of community. It is easy to talk of distinction, a challenge to actually pursue it, and a great victory to actually attain it. In this effort, we will need the support of all the collaborators in our past successes - our sister institutions of higher learning, our alumni and friends, the citizens of the State of Michigan, and of course, our distinguished faculty, staff, and students. I have every confidence that we will succeed, and that the most exciting days of our long intellectual adventure lie ahead of us.