In her first Board of Regents opening remarks since returning last month as University of Michigan president, Mary Sue Coleman reiterated how proud she is to be back on campus leading an institution she loves.
“From the time I first arrived at the university in 2002, I have been moved by the dedication and passion that students and alumni hold for this place,” she said as she opened the Feb. 17 board meeting.
“My pride in what this institution has stood for over its entire history is what brought me back now for this interim period. I look forward to working together to uphold Michigan’s purpose.”
The only U-M president to be known — by everyone — by her first name is back in the president’s office, the first to occupy newly renovated space in the Alexander G. Ruthven Building. Coleman was appointed Jan. 15 by the Board of Regents immediately following Mark Schlissel’s dismissal.
Her employment agreement calls for her to be paid at an annual rate of $927,000, the same as her predecessor. She has agreed to serve for six months or until a new president is on the job. Regents this week launched the first phase of the search for a new president, whom they hope to select by summer.
In her opening remarks for the board meeting, Coleman shared why she is so proud of the institution she led between 2002 and 2014 as U-M’s 13th president.
“As I progressed through those years, I began to understand the long continuum of events, challenges and triumphs that bind everyone to the University of Michigan and extend always to the new students who venture onto campus each fall. It is a profound connection,” she said.
She shared a brief story about an essay she recently read, written by a U-M alumnus, about how challenging it has been in recent months to remain loyal to his alma mater. “It is a place he loves very much, as do hundreds of thousands of alumni, but he feels disillusioned,” she said.
“And then he reminded readers about the essence of Michigan. For all its flaws, the University of Michigan has always been about learning. We are about that intellectual spark that creates a bond between teacher and student and ignites the learning that joins both. That purpose — that joy of learning — is what has carried us as an institution through the decades. It is why we endure.”
Coleman quoted the writer’s sense of Michigan: “The institution is the purpose made permanent.”
“The sentiment is relevant regardless of the decade, whether we are becoming the first university in the country to build its own hospital, or are working to eradicate polio, or are using art and the arts to confront racism,” Coleman said.
“Our collective commitment to learning and discovery holds true for yesterday and it will guide us toward tomorrow. It is what compels us as a university to take great risks, so that we may always pursue new knowledge for the good of society.”
Earlier in the day, Coleman wrote to faculty, staff and students that the best way to sustain the vibrancy of the campus community is to embrace “the values of mutual support so fully that sexual and gender-based misconduct becomes inconceivable.”
This has not always been the case at U-M, she wrote.
“Indeed, failure from some to live up to the standard of mutual support has persisted over decades and for that reason, communal trust has been shaken. The hurt that too many have experienced has made me very sad and even more committed to listening to individuals during my tenure as president.
“I have met with faculty and staff experts and Guidepost Solutions, the firm helping us with our work. I have heard from students about the need for change. Every conversation is based on the idea that each of us must do more to reduce misconduct and its traumatic consequences. I fully agree.”
As we learn, we must improve, Coleman wrote.
“I am fully committed to ensuring the safety and well-being of everyone in our community and to earning your trust through accountability when untoward incidents do occur. This is my highest priority. I am certain this pledge extends from our regents and our Equity, Civil Rights and Title IX Office professionals to every student, faculty, staff member and visitor.”
She also shared information during the Board of Regents meeting about how faculty and staff could directly share their input in the university’s initiative to improve culture and create a set of shared values.
“I encourage you to join in these vital efforts and in our overall work to improve our culture. We owe this pledge to each other and to all who will be part of our university in the future,” she said.