By Claire Bryan, Daily Staff Reporter
Published September 5, 2014
Students, faculty and administrators filled Hill Auditorium Friday afternoon for University President Mark Schlissel’s inauguration, the ceremony where he was formally installed as the University’s 14th president.
With speeches from Republican Gov. Rick Snyder; University Provost Martha Pollack; Ruth Simmons, Brown University president emerita; and Schlissel himself, the inauguration focused on the significant issues facing modern public higher education.
In his inaugural address, Schlissel articulated his vision for a University community marked by inclusiveness, accessibility and a vibrant civil exchange of diverse viewpoints.
“I firmly believe that we cannot achieve true excellence without leveraging the experiences and perspectives of the broadest possible diversity of students, faculty, and staff,” Schlissel said. “This is challenging work. Not only building a diverse student body, but also creating an inclusive campus climate that is open to difficult discourse.”
Despite delivering a clear promise to aggressively pursue an agenda of inclusion, Schlissel said the process of exploring the University he now leads in ongoing.
“I am walking in new directions, and I am asking a lot of questions,” Schlissel said. “I am meeting with students, staff, and faculty, learning their aspirations, what they are most proud of, and what they are anxious about as we move forward together.”
Pollack, the University’s provost, gave opening remarks welcoming the community and introducing the University’s governing Board of Regents, deans and faculty, as well as Schlissel and his extended family. She also stressed the responsibility Schlissel has to respond to the challenges and trials facing public higher education.
Following her speech, Snyder noted Schlissel’s eagerness to learn, alluding to the new president’s recent trip around the state. He added that Schlissel will serve as the cornerstone of humanity at the University.
“What makes the University of Michigan a truly special place is not one area or sectors, it is the humanity of the University, the people,” Snyder said.
In an address that elicited thunderous applause multiple times, Simmons, who served as the president of Brown University and appointed Schlissel it’s provost, called on universities to devote more attention to ensuring students leave prepared to resolve conflict and treat others with respect — even as they increasingly push forward new innovations in science and technology.
“Respect for others is a goal worth setting and worthy of presidential leadership,” she said.
Regent Kathy White, who is the chair of the Board of Regents, outlined a history of past University presidents, concluding with Schlissel’s formal inauguration. The crowd gave an overwhelming standing ovation.
An hour before the inauguration ceremony, Schlissel joined the regents, executive officers, deans, faculty and representatives from 100 other universities for a formal robing ceremony held in Rackham Auditorium.
In an interview with The Michigan Daily during the ceremony, Schlissel said he was impressed by the number of guests who came to represent their university, department or college.
“It is one of the most amazing days of my life,” he said. “I’m humbled.”
Though he technically assumed the presidency in July, Schlissel said the past week has been an experience apart from the rest of his time at the University.
“It really changed a lot when the students came back to town a few days ago,” he said. “I’ve been running into students all across the campus. The energy level went up a notch and it’s just really exciting.”
However, Schlissel said there’s more he can do to become further acquainted with the campus community.
“I have to continue my efforts to getting to know people, getting to know the faculty, students and staff and what their aspirations are and how I can add to the work of the University to make it better,” he said.
After the ceremonial robing process, a processional of hundreds of gowned academics and officials marched down the steps of Rackham Auditorium and through the Diag, ending at Hill Auditorium.
Students and members of the community who lined the pathway cheered and applauded. Some event attendees reached for members of the processional, including President Emerita Mary Sue Coleman, to snap a photo.
In the Diag, student volunteers in maize T-shirts created a tunnel for the processional to walk through. Students chanted, “It’s great to be a Michigan Wolverine” and sang Hail to the Victors.
When Schlissel exited the student volunteer tunnel, many students jumped at the opportunity to give him a high five and take a selfie.
Dozens of those participants also took positions in a post-inaugural community festival set outside the auditorium. A few hundred people gathered for University-sponsored food and music set up around Ingalls Mall.
LSA sophomores Kasey Wright and Stephanie Saravolatz served as event volunteers earlier in the day and helped cheer on the processional as it passed through the Diag.
“I am a scholarship student here and this was something I could do to give back to the University (that) has given me so much,” Wright said.
“Students started joining even though they didn’t have t-shirts and I thought that was pretty cool and I think everyone enjoyed it a lot,” Saravolatz said.
LSA junior Joe Murray, another student volunteer, said he was impressed with Schlissel’s inaugural speech and his push for valuing all voices, despite conflict or disagreement.
“I would love to see him implement those ideas he talked about as far as making sure the University stays really open to people and that we seek people from Michigan and around the country and the world, making sure everyone who deserves to go here has the opportunity to.”
A full recording of the inauguration ceremony is available here.