At the University's Board of Regents meeting Thursday, University President Mary Sue Coleman announced her intention to retire after her term expires in July 2014 without seeking a contract extension.
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“Leading the University of Michigan is the most challenging and rewarding work of my career. It's a tremendous privilege and one that continuously energizes me,” she said at the meeting.
Coleman began her tenure as the University’s 13th president in August 2002, succeeding Lee Bollinger, now president of Columbia University. Her successor will be chosen by the Board of Regents, which has already been preparing for her long-expected retirement.
Coleman is the fourth-longest serving president in the history of the University, and the first president to serve more than a decade since Robben Fleming’s regular appointment ended in 1979.
After receiving her undergraduate degree in chemistry from Grinnell College in Iowa, she received a doctorate in biochemistry from the University of North Carolina. Coleman served as the director of a cancer research center at the University of Kentucky for 20 years before serving as president of the University of Iowa for seven years.
“The University of Michigan deserves the best in a leader, and I want to give the Board of Regents ample time to select the next president,” Coleman said in a statement.
In an interview after the meeting, Coleman said she has no plans to decelerate her busy schedule during the remaining 15 months on the job. She will continue to engage other donors throughout the alumni community.
“I love to listen and I have this great group of people around me that helped me create the vision and I really try to translate the vision and help people understand when they’ve given a big gift, it will be the happiest day of (their) lives,” Coleman said.
In addition, Coleman said she will focus on completing other renovations and implementing a strategic plan for health-care changes.
“We just have a lot of work to do, and I’m going to be excited by that work and not slowed down for a second,” Coleman said.
University Provost Phil Hanlon praised Coleman’s efforts during her tenure at the University — citing her work to improve academic quality, increase international reputation and recognition, grow the application pool, reduce costs for students with need and oversee the most successful capital campaign in University history as evidence of leaving a legacy with the University.
“It’s just really amazing what she’s done just as a friend and a mentor,” Hanlon said. “I’ve learned so much from her. She’s been a terrific leader.”
Regent Andrea Fischer Newman (R) echoed Hanlon’s positive statements, praising Coleman’s ability to keep the University thriving and prosperous during harsh economic times with decreased state appropriation and federal support.
“This University is doing phenomenally under her leadership,” Newman said. “This is a huge, huge loss, you know, but it’s her decision.”
Her tenure at the University has faced a number of challenges — foremost building a new budget model in the face of declining state revenues. State support for the University of Michigan has declined from around 35 percent of the University’s budget in 2002 to less than 17 percent this year. Coleman also was forced to confront the University of Michigan Health System's six-month delay in reporting a medical resident's possession of child pornography to University Police and a scandal in which former basketball team booster Ed Martin admitted to running an illegal gambling operation from which he laundered money to members of the Michigan men's basketball team.
In a presentation to the regents, Martha Pollack, vice provost for academic and budgetary affairs, said tuition has increased by more than 5 percent per year over the last decade in order to help make up for losses in state appropriations.
At the same time, the University has also made substantial contributions to centrally allocated financial aid to help offset costs for disadvantaged students.
Early in her presidency, Coleman also championed the University’s defense of race-based affirmative action admissions policies before the U.S. Supreme Court. In two separate rulings, the court decided that the University could use a “holistic” review process, meaning each candidate would be judged by the individual contributions they might make to the overall campus environment.
Despite a very public campaign by Coleman, Michigan voters adopted Proposal 2 in 2006, which outlawed the use of race-based admissions in higher education. She has maintained her stance on affirmative action and spoken out on more recent rulings on the controversial policy as well.
Coleman also spearheaded the University’s largest capital campaign, The Michigan Difference, which ended in 2008 and raised $3.2 billion. The campaign helped finance renovations to or construction of a number of campus buildings, including the Public Policy School's Weill Hall, the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, and the Ross School of Business.
The University is set to launch its next capital campaign this fall. The total goal has not yet been set, but according to a tweet sent by Regent Mark Bernstein during his Twitter Town Hall on Wednesday, the campaign will aim to raise at least $1 billion for financial aid.
Besides the projects funded through the capital campaign, Coleman has shepherded the Residence Life Initiative to renovate a number of University Housing facilities. Since 2002, Alice Lloyd, Mosher-Jordan and others have been renovated in the first phase of the program. Construction of North Quad Residence Hall was completed in 2010 and South Quad and West Quad Residence Halls are slated for renovations in the next two years.
As the president of the University, Coleman has also traveled to a number of countries to establish partnerships and engage with alumni and educational leaders around the world. In her official capacity, she will have traveled to China, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates, Brazil, Israel and Ghana. She will take her final official trip abroad to India in November.
While Coleman was chair of the Association of American Universities for one year — from October 2011 to October 2012 — she served as spokesperson for the association.
Primarily focusing on research, Coleman represented AAU in meetings with national policymakers to discuss issues related to research and graduate, professional and undergraduate education.
After AAU appointed her, Coleman said she hoped to represent the University’s work in research well in her future meetings.
“The contributions and discoveries of research universities are integral to the forward momentum of our country,” Coleman said. “I look forward to giving voice to our important work in the upcoming year.”
AAU — a nonprofit association of 62 U.S. and two Canadian public and private research universities — focuses on developing and implementing better national and institutional policies related to research and scholarship, graduate and professional education, undergraduate education and public service in research universities.
Coleman has also been on the board of directors of Johnson & Johnson, a pharmaceutical company based in New Jersey, since 2003.
As stated on the company’s website, “Having served as president of two of the nation’s largest and most prestigious public universities and having a long and decorated career in the sciences, Dr. Coleman brings to the Company’s Board a unique point of view regarding organizational management and academic research vital to a company competing in science-based industries.”
In 2010, The New York Times questioned potential conflicts of interest pertaining to Coleman’s position on the board. Soon after, the University Medical School became the first in the country to refuse drug company funding in medical education class, citing the need to eliminate any biases.
Coleman said in a statement that she intends to remain active in advocating for higher education, scientific research support, and diversity at the national level. As part of this involvement, Coleman will serve on the Board of Directors for the Society for Science and the Public and on the Advisory Committee to the Director of the National Institutes of Health.
Coleman also plans to remain in Ann Arbor.
“We have always lived in college towns and there’s really no place like Ann Arbor. We did not think twice about where we wanted to call home after the presidency,” she said.
While Coleman and her husband have purchased a home in Ann Arbor, they will split their time between Michigan and Colorado, where their son and his family reside.
Correction appended: Due to a typographical error, a previous version of this article misquoted University President Mary Sue Coleman.