Schlissel highlights arts, firearm injuries, academic innovation


Emphasizing the University of Michigan’s ongoing focus on transformation, President Mark Schlissel unveiled new initiatives and updated the campus community on a variety of other developments during his annual Leadership Breakfast.

He launched initiatives on firearms-injury research and the arts, announced the creation of a Center for Academic Innovation, and shared that an anonymous donor’s gift will enable a multimillion-dollar fund to support research toward carbon neutrality.  

“The announcements and highlights I shared today speak to a University of Michigan that is confronting the challenges of its third century through transformative innovation and a deep commitment to solving problems,” Schlissel told university leaders at the Oct. 3 event.

“Thanks to all of you, we are forging ahead and enhancing a legacy that is unparalleled in higher education.”

Photo of President Mark Schlissel delivering his 2019 Leadership Breakfast remarks.
President Mark Schlissel outlined new initiatives that U-M will undertake in the coming years at the 2019 Leadership Breakfast. He also updated the audience about a variety of ongoing developments. (Photo by Roger Hart, Michigan Photography)

Arts initiative

Schlissel spoke of his fondness for the arts and noted U-M has world-class art schools, colleges, organizations and museums. He said he believes that no university can be truly excellent without strong arts programs and a commitment to sharing them across the breath of the academic enterprise and with the public.

To that end, he announced the launch of a comprehensive arts initiative. The two-year startup phase will involve a working group collaborating with all parts of the university to create a roadmap for the initiative. Schlissel’s office will provide funding to the group.

“It will be a dynamic period of experimenting with new projects,” Schlissel said. “And it will tackle many aspects and questions.

“How can we incorporate art and art-making into the Michigan experience of all our students? How can we bring the world’s most compelling artists to campus for deep engagement and collaboration with us?”

Full video of President Mark Schlissel’s 2019 Leadership Breakfast remarks.

Firearm Injury Prevention Research Initiative

Calling gun violence in the U.S. a public health crisis, Schlissel announced the creation of a Firearm Injury Prevention Research Initiative.

He noted that the statistics around firearms violence are grim: Guns injure more than 100,000 Americans every year; firearms were the leading cause of death among high school students in 2017.

The initiative will engage the breadth of expertise across the university, with input from nonacademic stakeholders, to generate knowledge and advance solutions that will decrease firearm injuries in the U.S.

Schlissel said the initiative’s intent is not to delve into Second Amendment politics but, rather, to address the injuries and death resulting from gun violence as a public health crisis.

The Office of the Vice President for Research will run the initiative. Interim Vice President for Research Rebecca Cunningham is assembling a broad, campuswide steering committee.

Center for Academic Innovation

Following the success of the Academic Innovation Initiative that launched in 2016, U-M has established a Center for Academic Innovation.

Schlissel said the university will invest $50 million over the next five years in the center’s work. The funding will be used, among other ways, for educational technology and to support faculty in curricular innovation, educational data and research.

“A goal is to create not just new tools and platforms, but new models for education — ones that are more effective and equitable, and that provide access to learning experiences that are global, engaged and lifelong,” Schlissel said.

James DeVaney, associate vice provost for academic innovation, has been named the center’s founding executive director.

Photo of President Mark Schlissel addressing university leaders at his 2019 Leadership Breakfast.
Schlissel addressed university leaders at his 2019 Leadership Breakfast. (Photo by Roger Hart, Michigan Photography)

Ongoing efforts

Schlissel acknowledged the work of the President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality, highlighted the issues it is tackling, and encouraged all members of the community to get engaged in sustainability to help meet the challenges of climate change.

“For our carbon neutrality efforts to really make a difference, we need to harness the incredible research capabilities of the university,” he said.

As part of this effort and with a generous gift from an anonymous donor, Schlissel said he has asked the Graham Sustainability Institute to set up and administer a fund of several million dollars to support faculty research focused on solutions that could help U-M’s campuses, cities and other entities achieve carbon neutrality.

“These funds will be available to faculty across all the schools and colleges, and will help us ensure that Michigan’s carbon neutrality work will indeed be scalable and transferable beyond our campuses,” he said.

“The problem of global climate change is far too big for any one institution to solve alone. Collaboration and engagement are key to creating real and lasting solutions that will benefit our society.”

Schlissel announced he will make his first trip to India as Michigan’s president next month.

“Engagements in India have been central to our growth as a global university,” he said. “I look forward to deepening our relationships, as I have in China and South Korea, and meeting some of the people behind our many activities there.”

The address also highlighted points of pride, including a new Biological Sciences Building and plans for a 12-story, 264-bed hospital tower.  Schlissel said the new tower will “transform inpatient and surgical care in Michigan Medicine.”

“Drawing on the power of the Michigan Family — our intellectual capacity, our commitment to discovery for the public good, and support from the public and our friends — we create and advance knowledge,” he said.

“We teach and we learn. We drive the cadence of human progress. We also heal.”

The president thanked Vice President for Student Life E. Royster Harper, who recently announced her retirement, for her more than 40 years of service to U-M. Harper’s accomplishments include helping to raise more than $50 million for Student Life and leading groundbreaking sexual misconduct prevention efforts.

Photo of the audience applauding Vice President for Student Affairs E. Royster Harper.
The Leadership Breakfast audience stood to applaud Vice President for Student Affairs E. Royster Harper (in red jacket at left), who will retire at the end of this semester. (Photo by Roger Hart, Michigan Photography)

“A hallmark of Royster’s leadership is her holistic commitment to students’ lives — from their academic and career aspirations, to their health, wellness and growth as individuals,” he said. He added that her work “always comes from a place of love for our students.”

In a question-and-answer session, Schlissel addressed foreign influence on research. He noted there is heightened anxiety on a national level around the security of global competitiveness, which has led to increased pressure on U-M and greater regulations around the transparency of research and declarations of potential conflicts of interest.

He said the Office of the Vice President for Research will continue to help faculty and students comply with the heightened regulations.

“However, not for a moment are we going to diminish our commitment to being a global university, to being a welcoming place for students and faculty from all around the world, and to enhance the ability of our faculty and students to establish collaborations and partnerships with talented, hardworking colleagues in every country around the world,” he said.

Schlissel also noted that U-M has applied to host a presidential debate in 2020. Officials will learn in the coming weeks whether the university has been selected.

“Hosting a presidential debate is really part of our effort to elevate the focus on civic life during the education of our students,” he said.

Updating the audience on various other efforts, Schlissel noted:

• The university is in the fourth year of its Strategic Plan for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Schlissel said thanks to the dedication and hard work of people across campus, “the values we share are becoming ingrained deeply in the conduct of our mission as a public university.” The Success Connects program, which is run by the Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives, has helped more than 1,000 students in its first three years with personalized coaching, tutoring and other services. The university’s monthlong DEI Summit begins Oct. 7 with a community assembly featuring Van Jones.

• U-M has a broad set of actions around sexual misconduct, with online training now mandatory for employees, more than half of whom have completed it, including all regents, officers and the deans from the three campuses. Officials will soon begin seeking feedback on an initial draft of a new umbrella policy that addresses sexual misconduct.  

• A Biosciences Initiative has demonstrated success in faculty recruitment, enhancing research core facilities and fostering multidisciplinary collaborations that focus on outstanding problems or opportunities in the life sciences. The creation of the Michigan Research Cores website provides an interface to 89 core facilities in one place, making it easier for faculty to explore shared lab capabilities. And the launch of the 2019 Ideas Lab, which promotes high-risk, high-reward research, drew 47 faculty applications from 10 schools and colleges around the theme of Predicting Human Performance.

• Central Student Government, along with other individuals and groups, partnered with the Ginsberg Center to make the Big Ten Voting Challenge very successful. The rate of Ann Arbor students voting in the midterm elections tripled from 2014 to 2018, with turnout increasing by more than 10,000 students.


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