Schlissel reviews first semester in open letter to University community

By Michael Sugerman, Daily News Editor
Published December 17, 2014

In a look back upon his first semester in Ann Arbor, University President Mark Schlissel released an update to students, faculty and staff detailing the experience and also identifying areas where he plans to focus in the coming months.

In the letter, Schlissel announced several new plans for the winter semester, including his intent to convene a leadership breakfast focused on diversity and begin plans for a trip to China to represent the University.

Diversity and community feedback

In late August, Schlissel met with the leaders of numerous student organizations for an informal lunch.

In his letter, he stressed that he’d like to maintain a strong connection with the student body and plans to enhance it by hosting a “leadership breakfast on diversity” early in the Winter 2015 semester.

President Emerita Mary Sue Coleman traditionally held a leadership breakfast in October to deliver a state of the University address. University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said Wednesday that additional details about the breakfast were not immediately available.

The meeting is one piece of a large body of work to create what Schlissel called a “university-wide strategic plan for diversity, with clear metrics for measuring our process,” which he plans to push forward immediately.

“As an initial step, I am asking each of our schools and colleges to develop specific plans for their units, with the support of the Office of the Vice Provost for Equity, Inclusion and Academic Affairs, and the National Center for Institutional Diversity,” he wrote.

Recommendations for these plans will come from numerous sources, Schlissel explained, including suggestions from a faculty committee convened by Provost Pollack last spring.

The committee’s recommendations examine ways to recruit and retain a more diverse range of faculty members, reevaluate parts of the admissions process and “assess the existing academic support structures,” among other potential initiatives.

Schlissel’s calls for more specific policy regarding diversity at the University come in the wake of numerous protests against racial profiling and police brutality in the last two weeks.

Last year, during Coleman’s presidency, members of the University’s Black Student Union created the #BBUM movement, which called on the University to address several demands, including increasing minority enrollment.

BSU organizers worked with University leadership through much of last winter to address the campaign’s demands. So far, the University completed renovations at the Trotter Multicultural Center and have preliminarily agreed to relocate the center to a location closer to Central Campus.

Though Schlissel focused on inclusion and accessibility in his inaugural address, he is yet to outline specific plans to approach these issues.

Athletics

Schlissel provided a brief tip-of-the-hat to interim athletic director Jim Hackett in his letter, writing “Jim is a highly experienced and respected leader, a person of integrity, and a devoted Michigan alumnus, who … is already hard at work on reaching out to Michigan Athletics’ many fans and supporters.”

Hackett was hired after former Athletic Director Dave Brandon resigned Oct. 31. Brandon, who had been appointed by Coleman, left the University after five years in the role and amid student outcry for his removal.

Schlissel said in early November that the search for a new athletic director had not yet started. In his letter, he gave no sign as to whether or not Hackett will stay in his current position for the long haul.

Life sciences development

“Michigan’s accomplishments and potential are even greater than what I appreciated when I accepted the job,” Schlissel wrote.

However, he added, part of developing the University’s potential will involve ensuring the development of proper resources and infrastructure across all of the its schools and colleges. For this reason, he convened the President’s Advisory Panel on the Biosciences in the fall.

The panel, led by Provost Martha Pollack, is set to present an interim report to Schlissel in February 2015.

According to the University website, the panel “is charged with developing a recommended strategy that will propel Michigan to the forefront in critical areas of life science research by optimally leveraging our comprehensive experience.”

Last month, the University’s Board of Regents approved schematic designs for the construction of a $261 million biological sciences building.

Coleman, a biochemist by training, also focused on developing the University’s life sciences research during her time at the University. Early in her presidency, she helped complete the launch of the University’s Life Sciences Institute, which focuses on interdisciplinary life sciences research.

Trip to China

The president announced that his first international trip will be to China, although he did not mention what the purpose of the trip will be or with whom he will meet.

Fitzgerald also said that the trip’s details are still being worked out and additional information was not immediately available.

Coleman generally traveled internationally on behalf of the University once per year. Coleman’s first international trip was also to China. During her tenure, she also held meetings in Ghana, South Africa, Brazil and most recently, India.

The trips are often designed to strengthen relations with international alumni, establish research collaborations and develop study abroad or educational exchange programs.