Ann Arbor faculty, staff share desired presidential qualities


Integrity, empathy, good communication skills and a commitment to social justice top the list of qualities that University of Michigan faculty and staff members say they want in a new president.  

The input shared during two virtual listening sessions Feb. 18 — and four others this month — will help inform the search for U-M’s next leader. The Board of Regents is hosting the sessions and conducting an online survey to gather feedback from the university community about its hopes and expectations for the new president.

How to participate

“We want to hear from as many people as possible,” said Regent Denise Ilitch, who is co-chairing the Presidential Search Committee with Regent Sarah Hubbard.

Earlier this month, the regents appointed a committee of students, faculty, staff and alumni to assist in the confidential search for the university’s next president. Mary Sue Coleman, U-M’s 13th president from 2002-14, has agreed to serve as president until a new leader comes on board. The board removed former president Mark Schlissel in January.

Ilitch, Hubbard and representatives from the executive search firm Isaacson, Miller led the Feb. 18 sessions, which were geared toward faculty and staff from the Ann Arbor campus.  

Hubbard said U-M is one of the finest public research universities in the world.

“This is an exceptional institution, demanding an exceptional leader,” she said. “We look forward to having an inclusive process that provides ample opportunity for input as well as clear communication as the search progresses.” 

Several faculty and staff members said the next president should be committed to diversity, equity and inclusion. Another common theme was the need for the person to have strong morals and ethics.

“We need someone who is willing to listen, and who will be a moral leader and exhibit moral courage in taking one of the greatest public research universities ever in the world and helping it shine brighter than it ever has,” said Joshua Rubin, program officer for Learning Health System Initiatives.

Susan Funkenstein, lecturer II in the Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design, said she hopes the next president will be especially focused on justice issues.

“To me, it would also be important that the background of the person would be someone who is really steeped in DE&I (diversity, equity and inclusion), and anti-racism and pedagogies of anti-racism,” she said, adding the new leader should have previous experience “working with labor unions rather than against labor unions.”

Steven Cundiff, professor of physics in LSA and professor of electrical engineering and computer science in the College of Engineering, said the next president should view interdisciplinary research as a priority.

Empathy is also important, said Andrew DeOrio, lecturer IV in electrical engineering and computer science.

“A person who is empathetic — this is the kind of quality that will help rebuild trust in our institution,” he said. “If we have a person who can listen, who can come across as being empathetic, as caring about what other people think, that will rebuild trust in the leadership of our university.”

Christine Kitchens, a research lab specialist with the Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research in the School for Environment and Sustainability, was among the speakers who noted the importance of employee retention. Kitchens said she hopes the next president can create more opportunities for staff advancement.

“Having somebody who can prioritize making a system of advancement that is equitable across all kinds of education and experience would be great,” she said.

Katrina Wade-Golden, associate vice provost and deputy chief diversity officer, said she hopes the next president leads with inclusion when it comes to recruitment and selection processes.

Other qualities and priorities that people mentioned during the listening sessions included the implementation of carbon neutrality goals, a commitment to collaboration and transparency, health system experience, and the ability to authentically engage with students and other members of the community.

The virtual listening sessions conclude this week with sessions Feb. 21 for Michigan Medicine and the Medical School, Feb. 22 for Ann Arbor campus students, and Feb. 23 for the UM-Dearborn campus community.

While each session will focus on a particular university constituency, anyone can register for and attend any session that works with their schedule. All sessions will be conducted via Zoom. An online survey is available for those who cannot attend a virtual session, or who would like to share additional thoughts.


Leave a comment

Commenting is closed for this article. Please read our comment guidelines for more information.