Former University President James Duderstadt and Anne Duderstadt, former vice president and secretary of the University and his wife, spoke on their experiences with the University at the Senate Assembly meeting on Monday as part of a bicentennial-themed conversation. They also discussed issues currently facing the University, with Senate Assembly Chair Bill Schultz facilitating the conversation.

James Duderstadt said the University’s decentralized system distinguishes it from other universities in the nation.  

“What has been unique about the University’s history over time is that we are also one of the most decentralized universities.” he said. “I’ve always portrayed the University of Michigan as this highly decentralized adaptive ecosystem, which fortunately has the capacity to repel invasive species as it has in the past.” 

James Duderstadt also said faculty members are essential to the success of the University because they uphold its values.

“The voice of the faculty is of immense importance to an institution,” he said. “Indeed, I would say it’s the most important voice of the institution because it’s the one that is responsible for the quality of the fundamental missions of the University.”

In response to a question concerning the role of faculty in guiding students in career decisions, James Duderstadt referenced the speeches he made as president to students at New Student Convocation.

“I would always start off and say, I’ve got some good news for you and I’ve got some bad news for you,” he said. “The good news is that it doesn’t make any difference at all what you major in at this University: Find something you enjoy, hopefully you’re good at it, and pursue that.”

James Duderstadt said the role of faculty is to instill in students a passion for continuing their educations. 

“Because we’re not trying to prepare you for your first job with an undergraduate degree, we’re trying to prepare you for your last job,” he said. “What you’re trying to develop is the capacity and love of learning. Because that’s my bad news: When you leave this institution, you’ve only started your education. For your generation, you’ll be learners for life.”

Schultz said James Duderstadt’s long relationship with the University in a variety of jobs provides him a unique perspective regarding faculty.

“From a lowly faculty member to almost being a SACUA member to going over to the dark side, being a dean, a provost, a president, now a president emeritus; certainly you must have different views of faculty governance in each of those different positions,” Schultz said.

Anne Duderstadt said an important role of University faculty is to create a sense of community among faculty members, which has decreased in recent years as compared with her own experience.

“You met faculty from all across the University and there were interest groups of books, gardens, all kinds of groups, cooking, that you would get together,” she said. “And you really did meet faculty from across the University. And we’ve lost that community. I think a lot of others as well.”

Anne Duderstadt also commented on the importance of collecting the history of the University, and how both she and her husband have written several books about University history using archived photographs. She said she began the project on the history of University presidents and the president’s house, during James Duderstadt’s presidency.

“I first became really interested in history when I first moved into the president’s house…” she said. “And so I went to the Bentley (Historical Library) and got photographs of all of the presidents and first ladies and the families and the pictures of the president’s house through the years and put together a story. And that’s how my interests started.”

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