While sharing his ideas and strategies for the University of Michigan’s future, President Santa J. Ono told U-M faculty members that he wants to hear their ideas as well.
Ono addressed the Faculty Senate on Nov. 21, meeting with about 30 members in person at University Hall in the Alexander G. Ruthven Building, and with more than 200 people tuning in via Zoom.
“I heard loud and clear from many of you that it hasn’t been clear what kind of University of Michigan we want to be in the future. It hasn’t been clear where we’re headed,” Ono said. “We want to harvest your ideas, your innovation, too, so that we can all have a clearer understanding of where we’re headed.”
Addressing the challenges brought upon by the COVID-19 pandemic, Ono praised the faculty for adapting to the situation while supporting students.
“I want to first thank all of you for everything that you have done to manage during these challenging times,” he said. “My goal — my primary goal — as president of this university is to be of service to you.”
Ono, who became U-M’s 15th president in October, recapped the main ideas in his Nov. 17 Leadership Welcome — including academics, diversity, equity and inclusion, and sustainability— and emphasized his commitment to restoring trust and integrity within the U-M community.
He touched upon the launch of an independent Ethics, Integrity and Compliance Services Office, the Inclusive History Project and sustainability partnerships to help combat climate change.
Throughout his first month on campus, Ono has met with leaders across all three campuses, and he said he hopes to receive feedback from faculty and staff to further help develop these initiatives.
“We hope that within a year we’ll have a clearer vision of where we’re headed so we can all go in the same direction and really maximize the efficiency of this great institution,” he said.
The Faculty Senate includes more than 4,250 tenure-track faculty, researchers, librarians, deans and executive officers from all three campuses.
Ono’s speech was followed by a question-and-answer session moderated by Faculty Senate Chair Silvia Pedraza. The first question asked about Ono’s vision for academic advancement at the Flint and Dearborn campuses.
He said he is committed to developing educational opportunities and collaborating with leaders across all three campuses to help students thrive in their academic endeavors.
“There’s a great amount of passion in each of those communities in the history, the three communities, and I respect each campus equally, regardless of their size,” he said.
Asked whether the university should invite and welcome speakers who could potentially spread harmful rhetoric, Ono cited U-M’s policy that calls for freedom of speech throughout the campus.
“Protecting your academic freedom, your freedom of speech, has to be a bedrock for me as your leader,” he said. “I can tell you as someone who has experienced hateful speech — in different jurisdictions — that I fully understand it’s painful, but it’s a very slippery slope to determine what can be said, what can’t be said, what should be canceled.”
The final question asked was, “What plans do you have to build and invest in a culture of innovation, which would be more like the ones that exist in east and west coast schools?”
Ono said he is impressed with current research initiatives on campus and is excited to see how innovation continues to flourish in the years to come.
“You know, I taught at Harvard University and this business about the east coast and west coast being, for some reason, superior isn’t the case,” he joked. “Remember, Harvard is the University of Michigan of the east.”
Following those pre-submitted questions, Ono took questions from the virtual and in-person audience.
Two Faculty Senate members expressed concerns about the challenges Iranian students face in light of atrocities currently taking place in Iran. They noted that a number of universities have already made public statements of solidarity.
Ono replied that while president of the University of British Columbia, he issued one of these statements, and he will look into what actions he can take at U-M as well.
Another member mentioned President Emerita Mary Sue Coleman’s commitment to internationalization and expanding opportunities for students overseas, and asked if Ono planned to continue that initiative.
Ono said that he plans to have discussions with leadership and develop a clear vision about fostering global links within the next year.
“I certainly am a believer in international links in student mobility, in international relations between universities and other institutions globally. I’m a product of global education,” Ono said. “So I certainly, personally, am passionate about global education.”