The first of three bicentennial colloquia hosted by President Mark Schlissel will feature a discussion between U.S. Justice Sonia Sotomayor and German Justice Susanne Baer, and will explore the future university community.

Presidential Bicentennial Professor Martha S. Jones said the justices will discuss this theme in part through the perspective of “firsts.” Sotomayor became the first Latina justice on the Supreme Court in 2009, and Baer was the first open lesbian, and the first scholar known as a radical feminist, elected to the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany.

Sonia Sotomayor

Susanne Baer

“They also want to talk about the role of the university in civic life, in shaping public participation, in shaping citizens and citizenship, and what can/should be the place of a university,” said Jones, an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, professor of history, and Afroamerican and African studies, LSA; and adjunct professor of law in the Law School.

Sotomayor is scheduled to receive an honorary degree when she visits campus for the event. Journalist Michele Norris, former host of NPR’s All Things Considered and a 2013 U-M honorary degree recipient, will moderate the discussion.

The colloquium will take place from 10-11:30 a.m. Jan. 30 at Hill Auditorium and is open to the public. The event, which requires a free ticket for admission, is sold out. A waitlist is available through the Michigan Union Ticket Office. Overflow seating for those without a ticket will be available in the Michigan League Ballroom, where the event will be broadcast. Doors will open at 9:30 a.m.

As U-M embarks on its third century, the President’s Bicentennial Colloquia will discuss the challenges that both the university and higher education face.

Bicentennial Office Executive Director Gary Krenz said as brainstorming took place for the bicentennial celebrations, the idea of the university community very quickly emerged as an obvious choice for a colloquium topic.

Krenz, adjunct lecturer in philosophy, LSA, said as demographics and social norms and expectations shift, the population that the university draws on is changing. He added there are issues around diversity, equity and inclusion and “various tensions” in the larger society, which are then manifested at the university.

Krenz said there is “a particular issue” for an academic institution like U-M, one that is built on a foundation of academic freedom and the free expression of ideas.

 “The history of the country and of this institution throw up issues for us as a people to understand and sort out. We have to find ways to build academic community within an ever more pluralistic population, taking account of the changes in the composition of our community, and recognizing that people bring all kinds of things with them when they enter the university,” Krenz said. “So it just seemed to be a very rich topic that can be explored in lots of different ways to good effect.”

Jones said besides framing community in terms of diversity and intellectual communities, another way to think about the third century for Michigan and what community might mean is through the lens of scale.

Jones said organizers wanted to underscore the way in which the scope of the university community has changed in the past 100 years to include even students and alums spread across the globe.

“That has real implications for us as we go forward because how do we think about our relationship to the world when we think of the world as our campus?” Jones said. “What does it mean to say the public good if you recognize that our campus encompasses the globe?”