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Martin Philbert, new University of Michigan provost, thanked University President Mark Schlissel and the provost team for his position and spoke on the importance of academia on a national scale at his hiring reception in the Michigan League Thursday afternoon. About 75 students and faculty members attended the reception and address.
The University has been without a permanent provost since former Provost Martha Pollack was appointed the 14th president of Cornell University last spring. Between Pollack’s departure and Philbert’s hiring, Public Policy Prof. Paul Courant acted as interim provost.
Philbert has served as dean of the School of Public Health since 2011 before becoming provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs.
In his opening remarks, President Schlissel described the provost position as one of great significance at the University, since the provost presides over all academic initiatives and oversees the University’s budget.
“The beauty and the challenge and the importance of the provost position is it sees the whole playing field,” Schlissel said. “The value of being able to see that whole playing field and make good decisions in a world where resources are always limited, putting the right people together, making the right proactive investments, the right capital decisions, a lot of our shared success, the provost has a very large component of.”
Schlissel went on to outline the search process for a new provost but, in the end, said Philbert was always the obvious choice.
“We actually did an open search,” he said. “I had no preconceived notion, although everybody was coming up to me with a little whisper ‘You know you should really just hire Martin’ … We did a proper search and we actually looked at outstanding candidates … The best talent and the best fit for the University of Michigan was already here in Martin.”
Philbert said in his remarks he wants to put academia on the forefront of national investment in the coming years, especially with regard to the Trump’s proposed $9.2 billion budget cuts to education back in May.
“It is an important time for us in academia,” Philbert said. “This is the time when the value of what we do, no matter the field, no matter the discipline or subdiscipline, truly matters in that we must now model to the nation both locally, regionally, nationally and across the globe, what it means to be driven by the analytic mind, by critical thought and by evidence.”
LSA senior Jad Elharake said he is optimistic about Philbert’s hire and the impact his new perspective will have on the student body. Elharake has been working for the past eight months to add a Middle Eastern/North African category as an ethnicity option to all University documents and forms. He had been working with Courant prior to Philbert’s hire and said in preliminary meetings, Philbert has been open to Elharake’s ideas.
“I think it’s a critical time here for Michigan, especially politically, globally and I’m just looking forward to the role that he’s going to play for students on campus,” Elharake said. “He’s kind of the go-to person when it comes to (this ethnicity addition) especially with figuring out the logistics of it and in reality, us educating him on the Middle Eastern/North African student population here at Michigan.”
Business sophomore Vin Kannan is the head of grants for Music Matters, an organization that promotes music marketing ventures and social change through music in Ann Arbor. He said the relationship between Philbert and Music Matters is aligned through their dedication to diversity and inclusion at the University. He also said Philbert’s comments on national academia relate to the University’s emphasis on real-world application.
“He seemed like he wanted to take pure academia and apply it to the world around us,” Kannan said. “Music Matters really embodies this sentiment by taking an entrepreneurial idea … and applying it to the real world and I think that that sort of action-orientated spirit is really my biggest takeaway from the new provost.”
Going forward, Philbert said his initiatives will take the University’s current budget into account and reflect its overall academic and moral goals.
“I’m certainly fully supportive of the president’s initiatives and we will make investments as we can to advance the mission of the University,” Philbert said.