Photo by Michigan Photography
PRESIDENT SCHLISSEL ANSWERS YOUR QUESTIONS
Having completed his “freshman” year as U-M president, Mark Schlissel looks back on what he’s learned as he looks forward to his second year leading the University.
Where’s your favorite place on campus to think and why? —Amy J. Moore, ’83
Whenever I have a particularly challenging day, I try to get out of my office and walk around the Diag. It’s a place of such historical significance, and the energy of our students makes it so invigorating. When you consider the people who have walked across the Diag over the years, you really begin to understand the remarkable impact we have made as a university.
What has been the biggest surprise about U-M in your first year on the job? —Susannah E. Koontz, ’96
I’m not sure I would call this a surprise, but I am constantly impressed by our faculty, our students, and our staff members.
Our faculty members are not just outstanding scholars, they also love to teach. The deans and department chairs throughout U-M do a great job of identifying and recruiting the very best scholars.
I have been very impressed by our students on more occasions than I can count. They are passionate about making an impact, are entrepreneurial, and are socially conscious. Their research, inventions, performance skills, and engaged learning projects are remarkable.
Our thousands of staff members make this massive place run smoothly. Often, they are the primary points of contact with our thousands of students, visitors, and patients. The way they represent the University is outstanding. And I’ve seen that my predecessors worked hard to make sure campus facilities are in great shape. Space really does matter for learning. In addition, our health system is taking very good care of patients from all over the region and around the world.
What has challenged you most during your first year, and what are you looking forward to? —Jennifer Davis, ’95
I said in my inauguration speech that I would make diversity, equity, and inclusion a focus of my presidency, and we’ve made important headway over the past year. I’ve also focused a great deal on ways to enhance our academic excellence.
I am focusing broadly on about a half dozen areas as I move forward into year two.
I want to find ways to position U-M for perpetual excellence in research, through public impact projects that address major societal issues and through scholarship and creative work that enriches the human experience.
I want U-M to provide the best and most forward-looking undergraduate and graduate education available today. To best achieve this, I plan to support our faculty and students’ entrepreneurial spirit and to leverage the remarkable range of U-M’s academic portfolio. Our potential to be more than the sum of our many excellent parts is truly exciting.
Diversity is a key ingredient in excellence. Learning across differences is essential for preparing students for the world they will inhabit after graduation.
We’ve maintained our focus on keeping a Michigan education affordable. We will continue to look for additional areas for operational efficiencies, while also making important investments to enhance academic excellence and compete with the best universities in the world for talented faculty and students. Finding that right balance is critical. The University has done a good job during some tough economic times over the past decade. The goal is to keep the increase in tuition as small as possible.
We continue to enhance financial aid for students. More than 70 percent of our instate undergraduates are receiving needbased financial aid. And the Victors for Michigan campaign, now under way, has an aggressive goal of raising $1 billion for student support. I’m happy to report we are more than halfway there.
I also want to enhance collaboration and partnerships with our regional campuses in Flint and Dearborn, along with other universities throughout the state. I want to foster U-M’s global footprint, ensuring that the U-M Health System is the best it can be in research, teaching, and patient care.
What are your plans, now that you’ve served a year, to increase diversity at Michigan?
At a luncheon this fall, I charged our faculty, staff, and students with developing a strategic plan for improving diversity, equity, and inclusion throughout the University community. More than 30 individual units, including all 19 schools and colleges, are a part of this process.
During the luncheon, we were able to highlight some of the new approaches we are trying in order to be more accessible and inclusive. For instance, the HAIL scholarship program covers four years of full tuition and fees for academically qualified low-income students.
And, of course, the Alumni Association’s LEAD Scholarship Program is a tremendously important way of helping Michigan students. The emphasis on leadership, excellence, achievement, and diversity are all the right attributes that we would like to see in our students. (For more about diversity initiatives see page 15.)
How have you interacted with students when there are so many in different disciplines and at different levels? —Daniel Rivkin, ’84
It’s been a real treat to be able to meet with students from so many disciplines and on all three of our campuses. We’ve dished up ice cream together during Welcome Week and handed out treats at Halloween. I’ve attended a wide variety of student performances and hosted fireside chats with students throughout the year. I meet regularly with the Michigan Daily reporters and editors, and I started offering office hours where students can sign up to talk with me for short periods of time about whatever is on their minds. I also accept as many invitations as I can from various student groups.
What group of people or persons has assisted you most during your first year? — Meghan Brown, ’13
Everyone has been very helpful. We have a great executive team in place and the additions we have made are very positive for the University. I enjoy the opportunity to work with them on a daily basis as well as with the people in their organizations. They have helped me get up to speed very quickly in understanding the depth, scope, and complexity of Michigan’s worldwide footprint.
Michigan has great professional schools. Is there still value in getting a liberal arts education? —Wendy Clark, ’83
One of the reasons I was attracted to U-M is because of its excellence across so many disciplines. Liberal arts education is an essential component of our excellence here, with 26 of the graduate programs in our College of Literature, Science, and the Arts ranked in the top five nationally.
A strong liberal arts education teaches students to think critically, communicate clearly, and be sensitive to diverse perspectives. It prepares students to lead in increasingly multicultural workplaces and community environments, while also teaching them how to more fully appreciate that world. A liberal education teaches citizenship.
Our LSA college is especially adept at uniting these values. It offers an outstanding personalized education to a very large number of students. More than 200,000 of U-M’s living alumni graduated from the college. Of those, 93.5 percent of the college’s graduates, according to a 2013 survey, were employed or attending graduate or professional school. Many others are volunteering in programs like the Peace Corps.
You met with alumni around the country during your first year. What did you learn from your visits, and what would you want alumni who haven’t yet met you to know? —Dave Schueler, ’92
I committed my first year to listening — to students, faculty, staff, alumni, and other supporters. I met members of our community here in Ann Arbor, Dearborn, Flint, and other Michigan cities as well as around the country. I also traveled to China and met alumni in Shanghai and Beijing. I learned a lot about the University, the community, the state and region, and the people who make the U-M family so special.
What impressed me most about our alumni is their depth of passion, support, and commitment toward the institution. For many of them, Michigan is a family thing. I heard numerous stories of extended families, where many members attended the University.
Our alumni love hearing about campus activities and they come back to Ann Arbor regularly, whether for a football game, a student performance, or to reconnect with lifelong friends during a special event. We are a big, impressive, tightly connected family.
All these different conversations helped me appreciate the many strengths of our great university and assisted me in identifying which areas I want to focus on in the years to come. Many of them are priorities of the alumni, and people have been asking me how they can help. Stay tuned!
What would I like alumni to know? I feel a responsibility to them, just as I do to our current students. On campus, we are striving for even greater excellence at the highest levels across the full breadth of the University — in our academics, research labs, hospitals and medical centers, student life, and athletic programs. I have personally seen how alumni enhance so many aspects of our community through their support and expertise, and by taking the time to mentor students. It’s such an exciting time to be part of the Michigan family.