Opportunities, challenges addressed at New Faculty Orientation


President Mark Schlissel highlighted significant opportunities for research and teaching, as well as challenges that new University of Michigan faculty members will face as educators in the coming year.

Speaking to a packed Michigan League Ballroom at the New Faculty Orientation on Aug. 30, Schlissel outlined the positive aspects of the university that he first noted when he arrived three years ago.

He urged new faculty to take advantage of the intellectual breadth and excellence of U-M’s academic programs and faculty, its commitment to teaching and the quality of life in Ann Arbor.

And he emphasized the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration, inviting faculty to eventually look beyond their departments and schools, and find ways to connect with and work alongside scholars in other disciplines.

Schlissel also described the challenges he expected would play out on campus this year, including free speech, building an inclusive community, supporting U-M’s larger community of international scholars, and overcoming the public’s perception that institutions of higher education lack diversity of political thought.

“We fully expect challenges around how to balance free speech while at the same time keeping our students and our community safe, building an inclusive community where people can actually achieve what they came here for — to learn, to discover,” he said. “You can’t have a university that isn’t a marketplace of ideas, but you also can’t learn if you don’t feel safe.”

President Mark Schlissel spoke of opportunities and challenges for the coming academic year at the New Faculty Orientation. (Photo by Austin Thomason, Michigan Photography)

He urged faculty members to think about how they will engage with students about their lived experiences. Noting the recent Charlottesville tragedy, and derogatory and discriminatory messages that circulated in flyers and emails last year, Schlissel encouraged faculty members to have conversations in their classrooms and keep office hours open for students if difficult events occur on campus.

He said the university’s strongest tool in confronting people who wish to spread hate and threaten others is building a strong community. “Part of building that community is showing our students that our faculty are paying attention, they care, they want to help and engage,” Schlissel said.

The president also reiterated the university’s support of international students and faculty. He said the academic environment at U-M would not be as excellent as it is without the contributions of immigrants.

Regarding the perception that universities do not welcome different political points of view, Schlissel said, “We want people to use logic and fact, but we also want (students) to feel free and comfortable in our classes and outside the classroom to express all different kinds of viewpoints.”

Interim Provost Paul N. Courant touched on the university’s rich variety of academic resources, adding that whatever one’s field, faculty members can find someone who will help them develop their ideas, push them to re-examine their thinking and help them think in new ways.

Incoming Provost Martin Philbert said in the scholarly world, the only currency that truly matters is ideas. “Michigan is a wonderful community for the development of ideas,” he said. “The resources here are many and robust.”

Sandra Gregerman (left), director of the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program, talks with Anil Camci, assistant professor of performing arts technology, during the information fair that was part of the New Faculty Orientation. (Photo by Austin Thomason, Michigan Photography)

Bryan Goldsmith, an assistant professor of chemical engineering in the College of Engineering, said the orientation was an informative experience. He said he came to U-M in part because the university has top programs and expert faculty in his field. All that considered, he said he felt there was an opportunity at U-M to do excellent research.

And, Goldsmith said, “I wanted to work with excellent students, not only to drive my research forward by working with great Ph.D. students, but also to teach such excellent undergrads.”

Kristi Gamarel, an assistant professor of health behavior and health education in the School of Public Health, said she decided to work at U-M in part because her department is extremely focused on teaching and student education.

Regarding Schlissel’s comments on free speech and inclusion, Gamarel acknowledged the challenge of respecting free speech while standing firm against hate or disrespect in the classroom.

“I think it’s going to be really important to take action to make sure that those boundaries are clear from the beginning,” Gamarel said. “It will be interesting to see how and if it comes up in the classroom setting.

The annual campuswide New Faculty Orientation is sponsored by the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching and the Office of the Provost.


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