Prominent leaders to discuss bargain between universities, society


The leaders of some of the world’s most distinguished universities will soon come together at the University of Michigan to discuss the evolving bargain between research universities and societies.

As part of the second of three bicentennial colloquia hosted by President Mark Schlissel during U-M’s 200th anniversary, the event — “Examining the Current and Future Compact Between University and Society: A Conversation with the Members of the Board of the Tanner Lectures on Human Values” — will begin at 1:30 p.m. June 26 in Hill Auditorium.

A reception will follow at 3:30 p.m. on the east side of Hill on Ingalls Mall.

While the colloquium is free, a ticket is required for admission.

The conversation will take place among the members of the Tanner Board.  Besides Schlissel, these include:

• Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, vice chancellor, University of Cambridge

• Nick Brown, principal, Linacre College, University of Oxford

• Nicholas B. Dirks, chancellor, University of California, Berkeley

• Christopher L. Eisgruber, president, Princeton University

• Drew Gilpin Faust, president, Harvard University

• David Ibbetson, president, Clare Hall, University of Cambridge

• David W. Pershing, president, University of Utah

• Louise Richardson, vice chancellor, University of Oxford

• Peter Salovey, president, Yale University

• Marc Tessier-Lavigne, president, Stanford University

Brown University President Emerita Ruth Simmons will serve as the moderator of the panel. The event will take place in conjunction with the annual meeting for the Board of the Tanner Lectures on Human Values.

“Our colloquium hosts leaders from some of the world’s most important universities for an unprecedented discussion around critical issues facing higher education and society itself,” Schlissel said.

The colloquium is organized by Interim Provost Paul N. Courant and Professor Susan Alcock, both of whom serve as presidential bicentennial professors. 

“The university’s bicentennial coincides with a fundamental questioning of the relationship between universities and society and the responsibilities they have to each other,” Courant said. “The issues raised are important and challenging and I anticipate a thoughtful and lively discussion.”

Alcock said three primary topics have been set out for discussion among the university leaders.

One issue is the complexity of discussing controversial topics and unpopular opinions on campus, and what university communities can do to frame such difficult but important conversations. 

The panelists also will examine the forces behind the frequently negative public perception of higher education and how universities can better communicate their value and positive roles in society.

Finally, a third subject will examine how elite universities can be viewed as “enablers of social immobility,” she said.

“Despite our best hopes and efforts, it is clear we still have a long way to go in terms of achieving economically diverse student bodies,” said Alcock, special counsel for institutional outreach and engagement, and professor of archaeology and classics, LSA.  ‘What new strategies can be devised to make higher education a more effective engine for changing people’s lives?”

Bicentennial Executive Director Gary Krenz said the bargain between universities and society is changing “in very interesting and dramatic ways” and that the colloquium provides an opportunity for leaders of some of the most prominent universities in the world to discuss the future. Krenz also is an adjunct lecturer in philosophy, LSA.

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