From Ingalls Mall to beneath the shadow of Lurie Bell Tower on North Campus, University President Santa Ono traveled throughout campus Friday to meet community members and celebrate his first official week in office. After a formal interview with Ono Tuesday, The Michigan Daily shadowed the new president throughout his day, documenting some of his first interactions with students and their impressions.
This type of close interaction with campus community members is one Ono has promised since day one, having repeatedly expressed that his commitment to “being available” will inform his actions as president. Prior to Friday, this action had mostly taken the form of meetings with groups such as the Faculty Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs, campus unions and Central Student Government.
The day began bright and warm, with a walk from the Alexander G. Ruthven Building to Ingalls Mall for the first of two meet-and-greets hosted by the Office of Student Life. Before the event began, Ono made a quick stop at the University of Michigan Alumni Association Center, eagerly soaking up the sights of a new campus. Pausing to ask for directions, Ono remarked on his continued unfamiliarity with the city.
“I am like a freshman,” Ono quipped.
University President Santa Ono eagerly explores the University of Michigan Alumni Association Center Friday afternoon. Grace Beal/Daily. Buy this photo.
In the Alumni Center, Ono stopped to admire the wall of notable U-M community members, pointing to figures such as Tom Brady, Sanjay Gupta and Gerald R. Ford. A lull passed as Ono stood framed by the unfinished display, with slots left open for future Wolverines who display excellence. Ono then turned his attention toward the event, the first interaction of many that will shape how Ono fits into the storied tapestry of the Leaders and Best.
At the event, Ono was met by the cheers of students and a rousing rendition of “The Victors” from the University of Michigan Pops Orchestra. Joined by Student Life staff, volunteers and Vice President of Student Life Martino Harmon, Ono immediately began chatting with students, asking about their semesters, their course loads, their hometowns and their adjustment to campus life after the lifting of COVID-19-related restrictions, among other topics.
LSA junior Amanda Sachs, a volunteer at the Central Campus event, said she attended partially for a chance to meet Ono. This kind of opportunity at a highly populated University, she said, was rare.
“It’s awesome to have that connection,” Sachs said. “Previous presidents were involved … but I feel like (Ono is) actually trying to talk with us about our interests and get to know us on a deeper level, which I really appreciate.”
Emerging after the era of former University President Mark Schlissel — whose administration often faced criticism for a lack of consideration of student opinion on issues such as COVID-19 policies and tuition raises — a focus on student relationships has been a common hope among students for Ono’s leadership, from students on all three campuses.
At his previous institution, the University of British Columbia, Ono received criticism for his administration’s handling of a number of issues similar to those in Ann Arbor, including tuition increases during the COVID-19 pandemic, sexual misconduct and a lack of financial transparency.
According to Ono in his first interview, the trajectory of his potential impact at the University of Michigan remains fluid, though. The administration has not announced formal plans, but Ono said in the interview that he intends to support existing initiatives aimed at addressing issues such as sexual assault and misconduct, DEI and climate change.
For U-M community members, the first three months of Ono’s relationship with the University have fostered an optimistic tone on campus, a sentiment reiterated by LSA sophomore Ella Mannino.
“It seems like Santa Ono really cares about what students think,” Mannino said. “It seems like he is going to actually try and communicate with students and that he will listen to them.”
Ono also mentioned his desire to communicate with students in his brief remarks at the event, after first apologizing to any students he was unable to speak to.
“If I haven’t been able to see you today, I will be around campus, and there will be other events as well,” Ono said. “But it really means a lot to me that you came out and I hope you are doing well.”
Throughout the event, Ono spoke with a number of students, winding around the tables and often taking a seat to converse with a group. The #SelfieWithSanta trend continued in earnest, stretching student interaction to the digital world in a way Ono has become known for.
To conclude the Central Campus event, Ono utilized his skills as a trained cellist to conduct Pops in a final rendition of “The Victors.” Throughout the famous anthem, the crowd stopped to look on and joined each other, at Ono’s encouragement, to sing the final chorus.
University President Ono conducts Pops as they perform “The Victors” for the crowd on central campus Friday afternoon. Grace Beal/Daily. Buy this photo.
Ono then traveled to North Campus for a more structured event, with campus community members lining up for the chance to talk with him and snap a photo. Throughout the hour, Ono met a wide variety of campus community members, from students to U-M hospital volunteers to Engineering Dean Alec D. Gallimore. Ono’s presence on North Campus seemed to be highly appreciated by event attendees such as Engineering seniors Alanna Smith and Zachary Goldston.
“I never saw Schlissel on North Campus (in) all of the years I have been on campus, even before the pandemic,” Smith said.
Students enjoyed apple cider, donuts, fruit and live music after meeting Ono. The interactions on North Campus were more brief than those at the Central Campus event, but a crowd of campus community members gathered after meeting Ono to enjoy the fall air and each other’s company while pondering the future of the University under Ono.
In terms of hopes for Ono’s presidency, Smith said she wants to see an improvement in the level of trust and ethics on the part of the University.
“As a University of Michigan student, having that emblem on your diploma should mean something,” Smith said. “I think (Ono) is going to re-establish a lot of that trust.”
Prior to Friday’s event, Ono addressed the same issue at his first regents meeting as president on Thursday night. At the meeting, Ono announced his intention to create an independent ethics, integrity and compliance office to serve all three U-M campuses. The goal of the new department, which would take on the responsibility of handling ethics and compliance from the Office of the Vice President and General Counsel, is to reestablish trust in the University administration, as explained by Ono.
Goldston reiterated Smith’s hopeful sentiments, again bringing the conversation beyond communication to the topic of trust.
“In the last few years, we have seen not only distrust increase, but also a lack of confidence in our leadership,” Goldston said. “I am hoping that Santa can bring a lot more confidence back, that he can restore that connection.”
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