When economist Harold T. Shapiro stood before a capacity Hill Auditorium crowd in 1980 and delivered his inaugural address as U-M’s 10th president, few could have imagined the longevity of his words.
“The relationship between the modern university and society is a very complex and a very fragile one,” he said. “The complexity and fragility stem from the university’s dual role as society’s servant and as society’s critic.”
Nearly four decades later, Shapiro and all of his presidential successors will gather to discuss the tightrope walked by today’s universities as they increasingly, as he foreshadowed, “balance their responsibilities to the world of scholarship with important responsibilities to the communities that support them.”
The conversation Thursday will bring together President Mark Schlissel and former presidents James J. Duderstadt, Lee C. Bollinger, Mary Sue Coleman and Shapiro.
Their discussion is part of the second President’s Bicentennial Colloquium, “The Evolving Bargain between Research Universities and Society,” and a signature event of the UMich200 Spring Festival. It will be from 4:30-6 p.m. at Rackham Auditorium, and is open to the public.
“This is a critical question as we enter our third century: What should society expect from the University of Michigan, and how should the university respond to those expectations?” said Susan E. Alcock, special counsel for institutional outreach and engagement in the Office of the President.
Alcock is joined by Interim Provost Paul N. Courant as presidential bicentennial professors who are organizing the colloquium. They also are co-teaching a graduate course — offered through the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy and the School of Education — that explores the future public missions of the research university.
“What is the compact between universities and society, and what should it be? We have a strong sense that the relationship is deteriorating,” said Courant, the Harold T. Shapiro Collegiate Professor of Public Policy. “The level of support from the state has been falling for decades and there has been a trend of increasing skepticism about whether higher education is ‘worth it.’
“How can the bargain between the research university and society be strengthened and renewed? This is the question we are asking of both our students and the presidents who have led our university.”
The discussion will draw upon a wealth of leadership experiences.
At age 82, Shapiro is the oldest living U-M president. His 1980 appointment capped a U-M career that began in 1964 as assistant professor of economics. He chaired the Department of Economics and served as provost under President Robben Fleming. He left U-M in 1987 to become president of Princeton University, from which he retired in 2001 and currently is president emeritus and a professor of economics and public affairs.
Succeeding Shapiro as U-M president was Duderstadt, a nuclear engineer who joined the faculty in 1969. He served as dean of the College of Engineering and provost before being named U-M’s 11th president. Today he is president emeritus and University Professor of Science and Engineering. He teaches a graduate-level research seminar in science, technology and public policy at the Ford School, in addition to serving on several major national boards and study commissions.
Bollinger was appointed U-M’s 12th president in 1997 after a brief tenure as provost of Dartmouth College. He first joined U-M in 1973 as an assistant professor of law, honed his expertise as a First Amendment scholar, and rose to dean of the Law School in 1987. He is in his 15th year as president of Columbia University and is the dean of Ivy League presidents.
Before becoming U-M’s 13th and first woman president in 2002, Coleman was president of the University of Iowa for seven years. A biochemist, she earlier was provost at the University of New Mexico. She retired from U-M in 2014, and currently is president of the Association of American Universities, which represents 62 leading public and private research universities in the United States and Canada.
Schlissel was named president in 2014 after three years as provost of Brown University. He is the first physician-scientist to serve as U-M president.