In an exclusive meeting with The Michigan Daily Monday afternoon, University President Mark Schlissel discussed the search for a new athletic director and elaborated on his stance regarding the divestment from certain industries such as coal and oil.
Athletic director search
“We’re in a situation where we’re not doing this in the setting of a crisis,” Schlissel said Monday, referring to the search for a new athletic director. University officials confirmed the search a week ago.
Schlissel will serve as the chair on a committee to select the new athletic director, employing the help of interim Athletic Director Jim Hackett, Special Counsel Liz Barry, softball coach Carol Hutchins, women’s soccer player Corinne Harris, a LSA senior, Chief Financial Officer Kevin Hegarty, faculty athletic representatives English Prof. Anne Curzan and Stefan Humphries, who is a former Michigan and professional football player and the current medical director at a hospital in Reno, Nev.
Hackett will remain in office until the University finds a permanent replacement, which Schlissel said will be an asset during the search process.
“Interim Director Hackett continues to do a great job with the department,” Schlissel said. “He’s flexible enough to stay on as long as necessary to allow us to conduct a very thorough and broad search for the very best person who can do the job — and then to stay around to help the person we select come on board. So all that’s great, and that takes the monkey off my back in that I don’t have to do this in a three-week time frame. The longer we have to do this, the more thoughtful and better job we can do. A typical search takes months.”
Schlissel noted that campus outreach and input will be a large factor of the search process. He said he intends to meet with a number of governing bodies — including Central Student Government, the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs, as well as individual coaches and members of the Athletic Department’s staff, to evaluate what University constituents want most out of the new director.
While gauging campus needs, Schlissel has also begun to independently develop a broad set of criteria. He is looking for “someone who gets the cultural aspects” — “a person of unquestioned integrity” who is capable of both upholding the University’s athletic excellence while also placing an emphasis on the “student” portion of “student-athlete.”
“I’m looking for an athletic director that sort of gets it, that understands that athletics is a part of the University,” he said. “It’s not separate from the University; it exists to help build the community here, and to represent us, and to keep our alumni attached to the University, to develop student spirit, to give folks who care about athletics an outlet to either participate or, more often, to watch and cheer.
“It has to be a person of unquestioned integrity,” he added. “You know, winning is important, but it sure isn’t more important than operating at a highest level of value system — and do things really both by the rules, but even do things the ‘Michigan Way’ of really a high level, high standards.”
Divestment and rhetoric
“The irony here is that I am a strong proponent of sustainability and recognizing the significance of global climate change and the necessity of having a thoughtful way to quickly diminish the damage we’re doing to the environment,” he said. “I think where I differ with the community promoting divestment is whether the University of Michigan divesting will do anything to achieve the goals that we share.”
He noted the University’s internal commitment to sustainability, renewable energy and spearheading correlating research, adding that divestment could deter such efforts on a larger, corporate scale.
“The problem I have with a divestment approach is, I don’t understand how the University of Michigan changing its investment portfolio will diminish the release of greenhouse gases into the environment or promote sustainability,” he said.
What he has said in meetings with campus groups such as Divest and Invest — which recently garnered the support of the Faculty Senate Assembly with regard to endorsing University divestment from fossil fuels — is that University divestment would be more symbolic than impactful.
“I grant, it’s a symbolic action, and symbols are important in society,” Schlissel said. “But I think the situation’s way more complicated … the same companies, for example, that are harvesting coal and taking oil and gas from the ground, are the same companies that are doing research on renewable energy and trying to convert as quickly as possible away from coal toward gas and, ultimately, renewables.”
“Those very same companies that we would be divesting from need investment capital to convert from carbon source to renewables,” he later added. “So where is that going to come from if we put them out of business? — not that we could by Michigan divesting.”
Schlissel said the most productive thing for groups like Divest and Invest to do is not to lobby the University to divest, but instead to focus their advocacy toward tightening state regulations and laws.
Broadening his focus to include not only Divest and Invest, but groups such as the Students Allied for Freedom and Equality — which, as a part of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement calls for the University to create a committee to consider divesting from companies that they allege facilitate human rights violations in Israel — Schlissel noted that overall, divestment does not seem to be a feasible tool for the University to use.
“The endowment isn’t a vehicle for playing out political arguments,” Schlissel said. “It’s there to support the mission of the University, and it’s taken in trust from donors.”