University of Michigan leaders met at the Ross School of Business Robertson Auditorium Monday morning to hear University President Santa Ono’s Leadership Welcome address. Ono outlined his priorities for the University, including building a collaborative university environment and repairing community relationships. Ono also announced the University’s approach in reforming their approach to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) and announced the University’s search for a director of sustainability.
University Regent Sarah Hubbard (R) opened the Leadership Welcome by remarking on Ono’s qualifications as the new president.
“We set the bar high and we looked for the best,” Hubbard said. “(President Ono) could champion our public mission, educational excellence and (support) transformative research in carbon neutrality and sustainability and in diversity, inclusion and equity.”
Ono began his talk by giving his thanks to those watching online, the board for their faith in his leadership and Hubbard for opening. He spoke of the honor to serve as the University’s 15th president.
“I started as president on Oct. 14, and every day since has been an opportunity to immerse myself in the energy and vitality of this remarkable institution that I’ve already grown to love,” Ono said.
Throughout his talk, Ono emphasized the theme of “strategic visioning” and creating University goals as a process of discussion.
“I’d like us to come together as one community to spend the coming months in conversation and through dialogue to develop a strategic vision that will be in place for this university in 2024,” Ono said.
Ono went on to discuss the importance of rebuilding trust in the campus community. Ono’s tenure follows a tumultuous year for the University’s administration after former University President Mark Schlissel was fired. Ono said rebuilding trust in the administration entails working towards a more stable administrative culture. He particularly encouraged students, staff and faculty to help him in creating that culture.
“Restoring trust in this university to all stakeholders is my job as president,” Ono said. “But it is also your job as university citizens, every single member of this community, to earn the trust of those who support us.”
At the October Board of Regents meeting, Ono announced his intent to establish a central ethics, integrity and compliance office to restore trust in the University’s administration. In his address, Ono emphasized a collaboration with student and faculty groups to achieve this goal and noted that he would not be making a “task force,” which he sees as inefficient and exclusionary to the actual groups they affect.
“Our approach is going to be different,” Ono said. “As you probably know, we sat down with (campus organizations) to have a conversation to co-create the path forward.”
Ono also spoke to the need for an intensive approach in prioritizing efficiency and effectiveness. He said it was important to him to keep a strict time-table to prevent delaying important social issues.
“So (campus organizations are) gonna come back to us with their reaction to our suggestions, and then we’re gonna roll up our sleeves and get to work and we want to move thoughtfully about what we want to move at a quicker pace than is typical,” Ono said.
Ono then moved on to describing ongoing and upcoming DEI initiatives, giving specific attention to the Inclusive History Project guided by LSA professors Elizabeth Cole and Earl Lewis. Ono noted the project’s comprehensive approach to supporting marginalized communities on campus and the opportunities for reflection the project can provide.
“(The Inclusive History Project) can tell us about our university and ourselves, our history that informs who we are today and our thoughts about what we want to become moving into the future,” Ono said.
The project aims to acknowledge the history of discrimination that the University has been involved in as well as recognizing the position of privilege that certain community members hold. Specific initiatives include a new emphasis on diversity in scholarship, public art works and renaming some University buildings, Ono explained.
Ono also discussed the need for the University to continue developing childcare resources on the medical campus for students and faculty with children — an issue that was recently raised at a Senate Advisory Committee of University Affairs meeting.
“We’ve just announced plans for a new childcare center to support Michigan Medicine professionals whose schedules are among the most demanding on campus,” Ono said.
In an interview with The Michigan Daily after Ono’s address, U-M Health President David Miller expressed his support for the new childcare center, saying it aligns with Michigan Medicine’s goals for its employees.
“This is an initiative that’s been developed in partnership between the campus and the medical school to create greater childcare access for members of the health system,” Miller said. “I think it reflects lots of feedback from members of our community about a great need, and we’re excited to bring that forward.”
Miller said that plans for the childcare center may be in their final stages and may be in use as soon as 12-18 months from now.
Ono then moved on to emphasize his commitment to environmental regulation, promising to invest in Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG)-conscious companies.
“Our financial team is identifying investment managers who believe as strongly as we all do in diversity, equity and inclusion,” Ono said. “One way we’re going to do that now is to invest $300 million in universities’ short-term working capital exclusively in high performing companies that maintain strong ESG practices or environmental, social and governance procedures and principles.”
Ono then announced the University is now in the process of hiring a University sustainability leader, who would be responsible for creating a sustainable culture and making specific recommendations and programs to achieve sustainability goals.
“This leader will address our operations focusing on the campus as a living laboratory to achieve campus neutrality in an accelerated way,” Ono said. “This person will report to the financial officer and to myself.”
Ono also declared another new position: leader of the University Climate Change Coalition (UC3), a group of North American universities committed to combating climate change.
“University of Michigan will now serve as the League institution for the university climate change coalition first launched at the University of California by Janet Napolitano,” Ono said. “The university climate change coalition (includes) 23 leading North American universities (working) towards climate action on campus in their communities and at a global stage.”
Miller also commented on Ono’s vision for DEI and ESG, saying he believes they align with the University’s health system as well.
“(It was important) to address some impact major and complex challenges in society, including health, wellness and the particular areas of prioritization around diversity, equity and inclusion and ESG,” Miller said. “(Ono’s) priorities are very well aligned with some of the key priorities in the health system as well.”
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