Unveiling an aspirational agenda for the University of Michigan’s coming years, President Mark Schlissel on Friday outlined a broad range of programs and activities in which U-M will invest to enhance a third century of excellence.
His address to university leaders and other invited guests at the Michigan Union’s Rogel Ballroom — and streamed live to an online audience — covered matters related to academic excellence, diversity, sustainability and partnerships throughout the university community and beyond.
“The listening and learning I’ve done during year one of my presidency will not end with year one,” Schlissel said during his annual Leadership Breakfast. “I relish the opportunity to collaborate with all of you and tap into your expertise for the good of our university — and those we serve.”
The president opened his address by announcing the latest recipient of the university’s Thomas Francis Jr. Medal in Global Public Health. It is Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, founder and chairman of BRAC, a Bangladesh-based non-governmental organization fighting poverty in 12 countries.
He also announced that donations to the ongoing Victors for Michigan campaign recently passed the $3 billion mark — three-quarters of the way toward its $4 billion goal. The campaign also is more than halfway toward its $1 billion goal for student support.
Moving forward in his second year as U-M’s 14th president, Schlissel said his first focus would be to position the university “for perpetual excellence and public impact in research, creative work, performance and education.”
That focus consists of two key elements: encouraging research that addresses major societal issues, and scholarship and creative work that promote understanding and enrich the human experience; and providing the best and most forward-looking undergraduate, graduate and professional education available.
“The biggest problems we face as a society don’t conveniently set themselves up to be solved by one-source solutions. Problems don’t know what discipline they are supposed to fall under. They’re just problems,” he said.
“We can bring to bear the intellectual power of 19 outstanding schools and colleges to approach problems from every angle and every perspective.”
Citing current collaborations such as the Mobility Transformation Center, Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation, Data Science Initiative and Humanities Collaboratory, Schlissel stressed U-M’s “potential to be more than the sum of our many excellent parts.”
That approach will be apparent as the university moves to implement various recommendations submitted by the President’s Advisory Panel on the Biosciences, charged a year ago with identifying strengths, challenges and opportunities, and proposing ways to increase academic excellence and societal impact.
“If we can develop a way to invest and collaborate strategically across the broad expanse of disciplines, our potential for discovery, societal impact and outstanding bioscience education would be unmatched,” Schlissel said.
He announced the creation of a vice provost for biological sciences to spearhead work in this area, and said U-M will provide 30 new faculty positions and $150 million “with the goal of catalyzing the development of research and educational programs that tap into our great breadth.”
Pointing out that U-M received more than 51,000 applications for admission this year, Schlissel said students worldwide seek not only for the university’s curricular excellence and outstanding facilities, but also its opportunities outside the classroom.
“The internships, global experiences, research, and clubs and organizations available at the U-M help students develop skills in areas such as entrepreneurship and community service — and often inspire lifelong passions,” he said.
“I want to foster experiential aspects of the Michigan education, because I am convinced that they are an essential component of our excellence. I plan to examine how we can encourage and enable every undergraduate student to have a high-impact engaged learning experience during their time at the University of Michigan.”
Schlissel reiterated earlier declarations that improving diversity, equity and inclusion goes hand in hand with efforts to enhance academic excellence for the public good.
“As you know, we are developing a campus-level strategic plan to promote diversity, equity and inclusion. It’s wonderful to see a sense of community developing around the planning process, as the level of engagement across campus deepens,” Schlissel said.
He urged the U-M community to participate fully in a Diversity Summit scheduled for Nov. 4-13, including a Community Assembly Nov. 10. “We want everyone to be heard,” he said.
Also part of that effort are a new website for diversity, equity and inclusion, and Wolverine Pathways, a new initiative designed to increase the pipeline of college-ready underrepresented minority and first-generation students.
The program will begin in the Southfield and Ypsilanti communities in January, with up to 120 seventh- and 10th-graders from each district selected for a year-round program that continues through their completion of 12th grade. If these Wolverine Scholars successfully complete the program, apply and are admitted to U-M, they will earn a full, four-year tuition scholarship.
The president also announced efforts that grew out of recommendations from campus committees looking at landfill waste reduction, campus sustainability culture and greenhouse gas reduction.
He announced a unified campuswide recycling program, expanded composting, a major study on waste management in the U-M Health System, and called for a Zero Waste program for Michigan Stadium.
“We will also invest in a new natural gas-fueled turbine project to expand the capacity of our Central Power Plant,” Schlissel said.
“Combined heat and power co-generation from natural gas is far more efficient and cleaner than purchasing electricity produced by burning coal. The project has the potential to reduce the campus’ total annual greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent.”
Schlissel said the university must maximize its public impact by continuing to build, develop and enhance partnerships on campus and beyond.
He said he would look for more opportunities to develop faculty research and program collaborations among the Ann Arbor, Flint and Dearborn campuses; strengthen partnerships among the statewide higher educational community; build on the university’s special relationship with Detroit; and continue to drive international partnerships.
“Michigan’s approach will continue to be based on collaborations with outstanding universities and partners all around the world selected for their alignment with faculty research interests and ability to provide reciprocal educational opportunities for our students,” Schlissel said.
Finally, Schlissel praised the faculty, students and staff — along with various campus units and organizations — who are contributing to campus safety.
“All Michigan students deserve a safe and healthy educational experience,” he said. “The health and safety of our students is a responsibility that we all share, and we will continue to use the scholarly and other professional expertise of our campus community to inform the hard work ahead.”