Whether it is in areas of sustainability or diversity, new medical frontiers or the fight against poverty, informing public policy or standing up to bigotry, the University of Michigan has made — and must continue to make — strong, positive impacts on society, President Mark Schlissel said Tuesday.
Speaking at his annual Leadership Breakfast before approximately 200 university leaders in the Stephen M. Ross School of Business’ Robertson Auditorium, Schlissel highlighted achievements from the past year, introduced a new initiative in precision health, and announced further efforts to help faculty engage with the broader public.
“As we embark on Michigan’s third century, I believe our future success will be defined in part by our ability to contribute to the solution of society’s most daunting problems, bringing to bear the full intellectual might of our academic breadth and depth,” Schlissel said.
“More than any other university, we have the potential to be so much more than the sum of our many excellent parts. It’s this potential to have a positive impact on the society we serve that represents our greatest value as a university. It drives our work. It reflects our values as a 200-year-old public university. And I hope it inspires our elected leaders, donors, partners and all members of the public to support our faculty and students.”
Looking back on U-M’s bicentennial year, the president ticked through a variety of achievements: numerous faculty honors, six new deans and a new provost, a new School for Environment and Sustainability, initial milestones in a five-year strategic plan for diversity, equity and inclusion, and celebrating the university’s storied first 200 years.
“Our bicentennial has given us the opportunity to think about U-M’s future in the context of our remarkable, and influential, past,” he said. “Through much of our history, it has been Michigan teams that have truly made a difference. When you think about it, ‘teams’ are at the heart of every part of this speech.”
In announcing Precision Health at the University of Michigan, Schlissel outlined a new initiative that will use big data to provide insights into human health and disease, and use powerful new tools to predict, prevent and treat those diseases.
“U-M is perfectly positioned to be a global leader in this area because of our spectacular breadth and our collaborative ethos,” he said. “With outstanding schools of public health, dentistry, nursing, pharmacy and engineering to complement our top-ranked medical school, world-class academic medical center, and Institute for Social Research, we can bring together researchers and physicians in teams of unmatched intellectual capacity and complementarity.”
Precision Health’s first new project will address the nation’s opioid crisis, with future projects expected to include depressive illnesses, metabolic diseases and cancer.
Schlissel went on to outline new ways in which the university will encourage its faculty to expand public engagement — building on efforts to inform federal, state or local policy-making, contribute to the understanding of important issues, and elevate the level of public debate.
“The Michigan faculty is an intellectual powerhouse with expertise in an unmatched array of critical and timely areas,” he said. “As a great public university, I believe that faculty who are interested in doing so should be encouraged to contribute that expertise more directly to the public good and be recognized for this activity.”
He also announced the inaugural recipients of two presidential awards that honor and celebrate faculty public engagement: the President’s Award for National and State Leadership and the President’s Award for Public Impact.
Aside from these new projects, Schlissel also detailed progress in previously announced initiatives, and unveiled ways in which they will expand their efforts.
Poverty Solutions, announced a year ago, has engaged in numerous activities and programs aimed at preventing and alleviating poverty in Michigan, the nation and the world. Schlissel said Poverty Solutions is preparing to announce a formal partnership with the city of Detroit to enhance economic mobility and break the cycle of intergenerational poverty in that city.
The university’s strategic plan for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion has made key gains during its first year, from the initiation of unit plans across campus to incorporating DEI into basic aspects of university operations to providing base funding and progress assessment as part of the annual budget process.
“Our student and faculty leaders, unit leads, and all members of the Office of the Chief Diversity Officer have embraced the important work of our five-year plan. We have completed extensive surveys to assess our campus climate. The results will be released in early November and used to target our efforts and measure our progress,” Schlissel said.
“All of our collective efforts in this first year will help to inform our programs going forward. We are also planning a Diversity Summit Week from Nov. 6-10, during which we will share our year one report on diversity, equity and inclusion.
“When we introduced our strategic plan last year, we reinforced the idea that it was both a plan and a pledge that would guide our community. I am so grateful for all of you that are helping us strive to live up to our most cherished ideals.”
The president also touched on darker aspects of that topic that have arisen this fall — the expressions of bigotry that emerged in the form of anti-Latinx messages painted on “the rock” and racist graffiti in West Quad.
“As I’ve said on numerous occasions, racism and bigotry in all its forms have no place at the University of Michigan. I denounce these and any expressions of hate at our university,” he said. “But I am also heartened when I see and hear from members of our community, like U-M student Dana Greene, kneeling on the Diag in peaceful protest against inequality, and inspiring others to do the same in support. Or when University of Michigan College Republicans paint the ‘rock’ with the words ‘Unite Against Hate,’ as we saw yesterday morning.”
Schlissel invoked the words of Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, superintendent of the U.S. Air Force Academy, whose video address to cadets in the wake of racist messages found recently at the academy’s prep school went viral.
“The general’s message was that those who ‘can’t treat someone with dignity and respect’ should go elsewhere. He said, ‘You should be outraged not only as an airman but as a human being,'” Schlissel said.
“Of the Academy, the general said that ‘this is our institution, and no one can take away our values.’ He noted that ‘the power of that diversity comes together and makes us that much more powerful. That’s a much better idea than small thinking and horrible ideas.’
“I salute General Silveria for upholding with clarity and eloquence the values of diversity and inclusion we share at U-M.”
Finally, Schlissel thanked everyone who contributed to the last nine months of events celebrating U-M’s bicentennial, and encouraged the campus community to come out Oct. 26 for the third Bicentennial Colloquium — featuring student projects that envision the Campus of the Future — and the three-day Bicentennial Fall Festival, which begins that same day.
“We are now on the cusp of our third century, and the power of the Michigan team is stronger than ever,” he said. “I look forward to everything we will accomplish together in the years ahead.”