At his first Leadership Welcome on Nov. 17, President Santa J. Ono shared details about the strategic vision that will define his first few years as president of the University of Michigan.
He outlined transformative initiatives ranging from efforts to amplify U-M’s research and scholarship activity to new opportunities for staff development; and from new sustainability developments to socially conscious investing.
Ono, who became U-M’s 15th president Oct. 14, spoke about his excitement to join the university community.
“The scope and scale of our research, scholarship and service to the world are a daily source of energy, inspiration and pride to me,” he said. “We are pushing the boundaries of residential and online learning through great reach and lifelong engagement that is the foundation of a blended future for higher education.”
One of Ono’s top priorities will be embracing diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.
The university’s DEI 1.0 initiative recently concluded, and Ono said he looks forward to launching DEI 2.0 next fall. In the meantime, he is eager to continue assessing programs, testing new ideas and having difficult conversations about challenging issues.
“We cannot be excellent without being diverse in the broadest sense of that word,” he said.
To help strengthen DEI progress in communities as well, Ono announced the university is investing $300 million in companies that follow Environment, Social and Governance procedures — practices that work to protect the environment, are socially responsible and work transparently while providing a strong financial return.
He said the university also will deposit tens of millions of dollars into locally owned banks in Flint, Dearborn, Detroit and Ann Arbor to allow them to do more for underserved communities.
“ESG investing and supporting local banks are among the many ways we can work more strategically to reinforce and uphold our obligations to create a better and more just world,” Ono said.
Throughout the speech, Ono emphasized his commitment to bettering all three U-M campuses.
He said the new strategic transformation process to strengthen UM-Flint’s overall academics and finances will help serve the region in the years ahead. And a recently announced partnership with Henry Ford College to help graduates of HFC transfer to UM-Dearborn is “a triple-win for HFC, UM-Dearborn and our state’s economy.”
Other initiatives that will provide support for all three campuses and Michigan Medicine include the Well-Being Collective to promote healthy living, and a new child care center at Michigan Medicine.
Ono announced that the university is launching a $1 million Staff Career Development Fund to provide grants to individuals or staff teams for professional growth. The fund will provide $200,000 in this and each of the next four fiscal years.
And, he said, there also will be a new strategy to strengthen support for faculty.
“We are strong in so many fields,” he said. “I want to invest in our current faculty to better enable their expertise for tackling significant societal challenges across all 19 schools and all three campuses.”
The university will begin identifying ways to be more competitive for a broader range of transformative grants. These external funding opportunities with the federal government, foundations and corporations will support research and scholarship across many disciplines.
Also, in 2023, recruiting will begin for 100 new faculty members in disciplines stretching from science, technology, engineering and math to the arts and humanities.
“As we aspire to be distinctly Michigan in a perpetually disruptive world, I will look to all of you … for ideas, support, inspiration and creativity,” Ono said.
This ties into a new, universitywide strategic visioning process designed to build on critical work already underway, including the Bold Challenges initiative that aligns U-M’s research with global challenges and government, industry and philanthropy priorities.
Another key point of the address was Ono’s commitment to fighting the climate crisis. He pointed to strides U-M has already taken toward universitywide carbon neutrality and said there is much more to be done.
Ono announced a national search for a sustainability leader at U-M who will address operations, focusing on the campus as a living laboratory for achieving carbon neutrality. The person hired will serve as an adviser to the president and will report to the chief financial officer.
In addition, Ono said he will work with the provost and deans on a new initiative that further invests in people and programs focused on climate action and sustainability.
“This is a priority for me, and will ensure that we leverage all of our resources across our schools and colleges and all of our campuses to address the climate emergency,” Ono said.
U-M also is partnering with Delta Air Lines to improve and use sustainable aviation fuel that will have fewer damaging emissions.
Ono went on to reveal that U-M will now serve as the lead institution for the University Climate Change Coalition. The UC3 convenes 23 leading North American universities to work toward climate action on campus, in communities and at a global scale. Ono previously helped lead the UC3 as president of the University of British Columbia.
“We live in a time of great promise and unprecedented danger for our planet,” he said. “Ultimately, we need to disrupt how we think about climate change. It’s not merely for climate scientists and politicians to solve.”
Finally, Ono outlined the new Inclusive History Project, an initiative to create a more accurate narrative of the university’s past, with an initial focus on race and racism.
“We cannot move forward as a university until we acknowledge those that we’ve excluded in the past,” Ono said.
A newly named committee of faculty, staff and students will collaborate on the project for several years. Possible outcomes include new scholarship, new kinds of monuments and public art, and a fresh look at how buildings and public spaces are named.
“This will, at some times, be a painful but a crucial process of self-discovery,” Ono said. “Because truth is at the starting point of reconciliation. Yet, as I said, acknowledging this truth is at the very heart of what it means to be a great university, and it aligns with our values as a place that generates knowledge.”
Ono concluded his address by reinforcing his passion and dedication for the university, and his excitement about what is to come.
“This institution has the ability, through the intellectual capital of the faculty, staff, students and alumni — almost like no other institution — to address the world’s most existential challenges with impact and creativity. We can do even more, and we will do that together.”