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At his annual Leadership Breakfast Tuesday morning, University President Mark Schlissel outlined his goals for the University of Michigan and significant achievements of faculty over the last year to an audience of approximately 200 in the Ross School of Business.
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
In his introductory remarks, University Provost Martin Philbert said he had utilized the mentorship of many members of the University’s administration and commended the president’s efforts to address social and racial tensions on campus.
“Prominent amongst my teachers is the University’s president, and our speaker this morning, Mark Schlissel,” Philbert said. “One of his predecessors, Harold Shapiro, described the role of universities as being servants and critics of society. Mark takes both of these responsibilities seriously. Mark’s steady focus on how universities can contribute to the exploration of problems deepens our understanding of root causes and develop pathbreaking routes forward.”
While Schlissel denounced the many racist incidents on campus as “disgusting and discouraging,” he praised the responses of people and communities on campus — including both Public Health student Dana Greene, who knelt in the Diag for 21 hours in protest, and the University’s chapter of College Republicans.
“But I am also heartened when I see and hear from members of our community, like U-M student Dana Greene, kneeling on the Diag in peaceful protest against inequality and inspiring others to do the same in support,” Schlissel said. “Or when the U-M College Republicans paint the Rock with the words ‘Unite Against Hate,’ as we saw yesterday morning.”
The racism Schlissel described on the University’s campus has not abated –– as Schlissel was speaking, racist flyers imploring students to “Make America White Again” were found in various locations across campus.
Schlissel said he was proud of the progress the University made on the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion plan in its first year. Schlissel listed some of the program’s most significant achievements, such as LSA’s new Collegiate Postdoctoral Fellowship Program, which focuses on promoting inclusivity and intellectual diversity, and Student Life’s Intercultural Development Inventory, a measure of the student body’s intercultural learning in terms of promoting effective cross-cultural engagement. He also applauded staff training programs implemented throughout different departments, such as the School of Public Health’s “Unconscious Bias in Everyday Life” and “Disability Awareness and Etiquette” seminars.
Faculty Public Engagement
According to Schlissel, the increasingly negative public perception of universities in general is one of the main challenges for the University of Michigan. He noted this was reflected both in public opinion polls and the decreased financial support the University receives from the government.
“I do not believe that our intrinsic value is trending in this direction,” he said. “Our labs, classrooms, field projects, performances and service efforts are more robust and impactful than ever before. But research from the Pew Foundation and others reveals that we need to do a better job demonstrating our importance and value to the public we serve. We are valuable not just because we provide an outstanding education to the most talented students in each rising generation, but also because we create new knowledge.”
In order to improve faculty members’ outreach to the general public, the University is launching an engagement initiative featuring and utilizing existing departments and units.
Teach-Outs hosted by the Office of Academic Innovation provide faculty with a channel to respond more immediately to current events. Research and government administrators will boost federal and state service opportunities to faculty members and track participation. Lastly, the Office of the Vice President for Communications will ramp up resources to make faculty members available to media outlets for expert comment on current events.
To these ends, Schlissel bestowed two inaugural presidential awards celebrating faculty: Aerospace Engineering professor Ella Atkins and Psychology professor James Jackson received the President’s Award for National and State Leadership, while Meghan Duffy, associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, and Political Science professor Arthur Lupia received the President’s Award for Public Impact.
The University launched a new multidisciplinary program Tuesday entitled Precision Health, which uses big data to find personalized solutions to illnesses and diseases. Schlissel highlighted genomic data as a major tool many University researchers are already wielding, noting they have collected data related to health, lifestyle and genomic DNA for more than 42,000 individuals.
“The project will examine ways we can predict how much pain medication someone will need, based on their individual genetic profile, physiological condition, and social, environmental and lifestyle factors,” Schlissel said. “This will allow physicians to tailor how they help individual patients manage their pain. … There is no better university in our nation to tackle a problem like this.”
In addition to the opioid crisis, Schlissel said Precision Health will also conduct research on depressive illnesses, metabolic diseases and cancer.
At the end of his address, Schlissel thanked members of the Bicentennial Office for their contribution to the Bicentennial celebration and remarked on goals the University had achieved in its bicentennial year.
The Victors for Michigan fundraising campaign, he noted, had surpassed its goals of $1 billion for student support and $4 billion overall. That fundraising was part of the reason the University was able to create the “Go Blue Guarantee,” which guarantees free tuition to students in Michigan households with an annual family income under $65,000.
“These students will likely be eligible for even more financial aid for books and room and board,” Schlissel said. “Many other students from in-state families who make up to $180,000 per year also receive substantial financial aid from U-M. We can do all of this because of the sound financial management of our resources and the generosity of our donors.”
After Schlissel ended his remarks, one University alum thanked Schlissel for instituting the Go Blue Guarantee, something she said would have made a difference in her own life.
“I can’t tell you how important it is to have the Go Blue Guarantee,” she said. “That would have made such a prominent difference in my life when I was a student here. I’m currently a mother of three boys, and the oldest is 13. And I was debating, if they actually get in here, how we were gonna swing that. And now we know.”