- Erin Kirkland/Daily
Before University President Mary Sue Coleman reached the podium at her annual leadership breakfast Tuesday morning, the atmosphere inside Ross School of Business’s colloquium had already become bittersweet.
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In her final State of the University address, Coleman’s impending departure was evident in her reflections on development, research and student life with rounds of applause and cheers. The gathering of administrators and University supporters lauded their president not only for the last year’s work, but for more than a decade spent at the University’s helm.
“It would be easy to be a bit melancholy, but there’s no time for that,” Coleman said. “There’s simply too much momentum to do anything but look ahead.”
During her speech, she laid out lofty goals for “the Michigan of tomorrow,” including a $1-billion campaign fundraising goal for financial aid alone — nearly double the $545 million raised for that purpose during the previous campaign, The Michigan Difference. Coleman said student support must be the top priority of The Victors for Michigan Campaign, set to begin Nov. 8.
“We want every student, no matter where they hail from, or what their family circumstance, to have access to a Michigan education,” she said. “No goal is more important. We must provide financial support for talented students we admit to ensure the academic quality of Michigan.”
Coleman also addressed the national concern of college affordability, which has been compounded by rising tuition rates at the University. Between the 2004 and 2012 academic years, LSA tuition increased 60 percent for in-state students and 55 percent for out-of-state students.
To ensure that students see financial aid rise with tuition, the campaign will work to ensure that higher education is “an intellectual passport, not a fiscal anchor,” she said.
“Investing in Michigan provides life-long dreams,” Coleman said. “Higher education is the single most important investment students can make for their futures.”
Coleman and her husband, political scientist Kenneth Coleman, contributed to student aid with aa $1-million gift that will provide financial support for study-abroad programs.
She will leave the University only a few months into the new development drive.
“Campaigns are not the vision of the president, but rather the aspirations of the broader University community,” Coleman said. “The immense planning that has gone into it is a wonderful gift to the University’s next leader.”
Coleman also touched on an array of accomplishments from the previous year. When she began her tenure in 2002, she completed former University President Lee Bollinger’s work with the Michigan Difference campaign.
She also oversaw the completion of the Life Sciences Institute, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. Throughout her years as president, Coleman launched the Residential Life Initiative, which continues with the renovation of South Quad Residence Hall, and approved the renovations of the student unions and recreation buildings.
The breakfast was not only the last for Coleman, but also for various administrators who plan to step down from their roles. Ted Spencer, executive director of undergraduate admissions, and Lester Monts, senior vice provost for academic affairs, will resign from their respective positions, serving for more than 25 years and 20 years, respectively.
Additionally, Constance Cook, the executive director for the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, and Ruth Person, the chancellor of the University of Michigan-Flint, will retire from their roles.
Though Coleman’s speech urged the University to push forward, she did not end her final State of the University address without lingering in the past.
With the University’s 2017 bicentennial, Coleman said the anniversary serves as an opportunity to redefine the campus. Coleman appointed Gary Krenz, who serves as special counsel to the president, to work as the co-chair for programs surrounding the milestone.
“The bicentennial compels us to rediscover this impact, tell it and celebrate it,” Coleman said.
Prompting the audience to visualize the University’s vast history early in her speech, Coleman asked attendees to imagine “a seminal moment” when a stranger came forward to support the University.
“It’s 1840,” Coleman began. “And what we know was the Diag was a scrubby pasture. A lone classroom building faces State Street ... And now a gift arrives. It is a German encyclopedia from a fur trader who has never been to Ann Arbor. We don’t know why he chose the University, but we know he believed strongly in educating the next generation, including his own children.”
Channeling that distant moment from the penthouse of a building she helped bring to reality, Coleman allowed a speech on the University’s future to dip into its past.
“The University of Michigan is about legacies, and it is about futures, about historic encyclopedias and talented freshmen,” she said. “We’re reflecting on all of them, on everything that’s been accomplished in using those experiences to move forward on bold ideas, crazy dreams, and using them to create the University of tomorrow.”
Correction appended: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this article incorrectly stated the origin of the fur trader who supported the founding of the University.