Full text: Schlissel outlines goals during leadership breakfast

Friday, October 23, 2015 - 6:36pm

University President Mark Schlissel announced several new initiatives on Friday focused on the biosciences, collaboration across University satellite campuses and sustainability.

(As prepared for delivery)

It’s great to see so many distinguished colleagues and campus leaders here this morning.

I have gotten to know most of you from our many conversations over the past year.

I cannot thank you enough for everything you have done to make me feel welcome, and to help me gain a better understanding of this big, complicated and wonderful place we serve.

I spent much of my first year listening and learning, and taking every opportunity I could to observe the excellent work you do.

The many conversations I’ve had with faculty, students, staff, alumni and supporters have helped me identify the areas I would like to focus on as I move forward in year two of my presidency.

So as I talk about our plans for the coming years, I hope you will recognize in those plans the contributions you have already made to shape our future, and the aspirations we all share for an even greater University of Michigan.

We are joined by some in our community who have been honored at the highest levels in recent months, whether it is a national medal, academy or society membership, fellowship, or other award. Thank you, honored colleagues, for your accomplishments and contributions to the U-M.

I would like to begin with an announcement that celebrates the University of Michigan’s excellence and impact on humanity.

The Thomas Francis, Jr. Medal in Global Public Health is awarded every few years to individuals who have contributed to the significant advancement of global public health.

It is of course named after one of our most distinguished faculty members – one whose accomplishments led to the near eradication of polio from our world, and who truly exemplifies the power and impact of the University of Michigan’s excellence in education and research.

Dr. Francis built a virus laboratory and a Department of Epidemiology that focused on a broad range of infectious diseases. He taught Jonas Salk the methodology of vaccine development.

After Salk developed the vaccine, Dr. Francis was asked to design, supervise, and evaluate massive field trials.

And on April 12, 1955, sixty years ago, the world watched and listened as Dr. Francis walked into Rackham Auditorium and announced that the Salk vaccine was “safe, effective, and potent.”

I am pleased to announce that the Francis Medal will be awarded to Fazle Hasan Abed.

Sir Fazle is the founder and chairperson of BRAC, an organization based in Bangladesh whose vision is to achieve “a world free from all forms of exploitation and discrimination where everyone has the opportunity to realize their potential.”

BRAC has been called the largest non-governmental organization in the world, with a staff of 120,000 and programs in 12 countries.

BRAC’s approach is driven by the idea that poverty is a system whose causes are manifold and interlinked.

In July, Sir Fazle added the World Food Prize to his outstanding list of honors.

He will visit our campus April 6th and 7th to accept the Francis Medal, to speak to our community, to meet with our faculty and students, and to inspire the next generation
of global leadership in public health.

Dean Martin Philbert of our School of Public Health chaired the Francis Medal committee, and I thank him and his fellow members for their work to award this honor to such a deserving individual.

Academic Excellence

I began this morning by saluting some of our top faculty and announcing the Francis Medal
because they align closely with how I plan to approach the years ahead.

My primary focus will be to position U-M for perpetual excellence and public impact in research, creative work, performance and education.

Regent Emeritus Phil Power published a piece in Bridge Magazine last week that captures this idea through a distinctly Michigan lens.

He said that, “What is remarkable and compelling about true excellence is that it brings with it the impulse for aspiration… The notion of excellence provides an aspirational standard for those who struggle for great achievement, and who see in that struggle, a link to their better selves.”

For nearly 200 years, we have sought out that struggle at the U-M.

We seek it every day as we unlock the limitless potential of our students. As we pursue the best in patient care. As we inform new policy and bolster economic prosperity in Michigan and across the nation. And as we discover the new knowledge that will transform our society.

There simply is no university better suited to advance the highest ideals of what a public research university should be.

For me, positioning the university for perpetual excellence has two key elements:
First, I want us to encourage research that addresses major societal issues, and scholarship and creative work that promote understanding and enrich the human experience.

Second, I want us to provide the best and most forward looking undergraduate, graduate, and professional education available today.

Academic Excellence: Research

To achieve the greatest impact possible in research and scholarship, I hope to tap into our faculty’s culture of innovation and collaboration, and to leverage the remarkable breadth of U-M’s academic portfolio.

Our potential to be more than the sum of our many excellent parts is truly exciting.

I am looking for opportunities to bring university resources to bear on the biggest challenges and opportunities confronting modern society.

The biggest problems we face as a society don’t conveniently set themselves up to be solved by one-source solutions. Problems don’t know what discipline they are supposed to fall under; they are just problems.

We can bring to bear the intellectual power of 19 outstanding schools and colleges to approach problems from every angle and every perspective.

We are doing this already in collaborations across campus.

Our Mobility Transformation Center, and its M-City test environment, involve researchers from engineering and the sciences, public health, urban planning, business, and law. Our Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation brings together a wide range of scholars from 17 of our schools, colleges and institutes.

We have announced two new initiatives in recent months that will enhance high-impact collaborative research across the full breadth of the university.

Our Data Science Initiative will increase our faculty’s ability to conduct research and foster new methodological approaches related to big data. Through this initiative, we will hire 35 new faculty over the next five years, develop enhanced computational infrastructure, and support a range of new student research opportunities.

Initially, there will be a focus on data intensive approaches to precision medicine, learning analytics, transportation, and social science research.

The second initiative is our Humanities Collaboratory, a new and more comprehensive approach to humanities research. A $5 million commitment over four years will allow teams to work on major projects that create new models for humanities research, enhance the humanities’ impact on society, and train the next generation of humanities scholars.

The teams will be led by humanities faculty and include faculty from other disciplines, as well as librarians, students and fellows.

I think we would all agree that the humanities have been underappreciated in some quarters, but here at the U-M it represents the heart of our liberal arts community. Humanists teach judgment and interpretation in a way that enables students to deal with uncertainty and contingency. They work at the interface between values, history, ideas and culture.

As Tiya Miles, one of this year’s Distinguished University Professors, said in her book, Ties That Bind:

“For the void that remains when we refuse to speak of the past is in fact a presence, a presence both haunting and destructive.”

Our influence in arts education has been boosted, thanks to a recent announcement from our School of Music, Theatre, & Dance.

A new international chamber music competition called M-Prize will bring together the highest caliber students and young professionals from around the world and present a grand prize of $100,000, the largest award of any competition of its kind in the world.

The inaugural grand-prize winner will be selected from performances during a gala concert May 20 next year at Hill Auditorium.

This is an exciting new contribution to the performing arts, and it will become a true mark of distinction for our university. Thank you Dean Dworkin and Provost Pollack for making this possible.

A little more than a year ago, I announced the creation of the President’s Advisory Panel on the Biosciences.

The panel was comprised of leading life science faculty from several of our schools, colleges and institutes, and was chaired by Provost Pollack.

It was charged with identifying our strengths, challenges and opportunities, and proposing ways in which we might achieve increasing levels of academic excellence and societal impact across this broad spectrum of research and teaching.

One of the great advantages of the U-M in bioscience is that we have world-class schools of Medicine, Dentistry, Pharmacy, Kinesiology, Natural Resources and Environment, Public Health, and Nursing in addition to an outstanding academic medical center, the Life Sciences Institute and large biological sciences departments in LS&A.

Few if any other institutions can match our scale and breadth in this arena.

Importantly, scholars in many academic disciplines well represented at U-M including chemistry, physics, math, statistics, computer science, and engineering are also converging on the life sciences as a ripe target for discovery using tools from their disciplines.

I believe the key to our future success and leadership, as I mentioned earlier, is our potential to be more than the sum of our many excellent parts. If we can develop a way to invest and collaborate strategically across this broad expanse of disciplines, our potential for discovery, societal impact, and outstanding bioscience education would be unmatched.

The panel spent several months gathering data and engaging a broad spectrum of stakeholders and external experts. Members of the Panel are here today, and I thank them once again for their important work.

Last month they submitted their report, and the provost and I have been discussing their observations and recommendations with the regents, provost, deans, and other key stakeholders from across our campus. It is clear that we are in concurrence on many points raised in the report, and we will now begin to implement various aspects of those recommendations.

We will create a new campus level position, Vice-Provost for Biological Sciences, who will report directly to the provost, work closely with the president, and serve as the overall leader of one of our most critical academic priority areas.

This position will be filled by an outstanding senior bioscientist with broad creative vision and significant leadership experience. We will begin an international search in the coming months.

The Vice Provost for Biological Sciences will chair a coordinating committee comprised of leaders from the many units that do life science and related research. The committee will serve as a forum for schools and colleges to discuss and coordinate their recruitment, space and infrastructure plans, so they can strategically leverage one another’s efforts.

In addition we will provide 30 new faculty positions plus $150 million to be allocated by the Vice Provost and coordinating committee with the goal of catalyzing the development of research and educational programs that tap into our great breadth.

The goal of this initiative is to make U-M a powerhouse in the biosciences, a global leader in discovery and societal impact.

After five years, we will assess our progress and consider next steps.

Academic Excellence: Education

The full Michigan educational experience is remarkable, attracting the very best students from all over the world.

The number of applications we received this year was again an all-time high. More than 51,000 students applied to study at U-M.

They were drawn to us because of our intellectual capacity – the curricular excellence that plays out in our classrooms and labs.

They were drawn to us because of our physical strengths – including new academic spaces in Music, Theater & Dance, and Nursing, and residence halls like Munger and West Quad that bring students together to not only live, but to learn.

And they were drawn to us because of the opportunities we provide outside of our classrooms and buildings.

I believe U-M’s experiential breadth is as formative for our students as our disciplinary strengths.

The internships, global experiences, research, and clubs and organizations available at the U-M
help students develop skills in areas such as entrepreneurship and community service – and often inspire lifelong passions.

First year student Erica Dombro was part of a group that traveled to the Indian state of Gujarat in 2013. She connected with Harish Sheth, a Michigan Engineering alumnus and founder of an auto parts manufacturer in India.

Sheth’s charitable foundation began a collaboration with Erica and some of her fellow students to help local villagers. Through a U-M student organization called BlueLab, the students returned to India to assess health and sanitation.

They noticed that the cooking stoves in the village were poorly ventilated, causing excess smoke inhalation. During their next trip, the students worked with a local stove maker and people from the village on a design that better ventilates the smoke, and that could be reproduced locally.

This year, the team is testing designs for composting toilets to improve sanitation in the village.

I want to foster experiential aspects of the Michigan education, because I am convinced that they are an essential component of our excellence.

I plan to examine how we can encourage and enable every undergraduate student to have a high impact engaged learning experience during their time at the University of Michigan.

In the months ahead, I will work with Provost Pollack, other members of the executive team, and deans, chairs and faculty, to examine how we can best implement this idea and take advantage
of the many outstanding opportunities that are already in place.

For instance, the university this year launched a minor in entrepreneurship program that provides great engaged learning experiences as does our new Center for Inter-Professional Education, a shared effort by our health services schools.

There are a wealth of engaged learning experiences here and plenty of student demand to match. I want to explore this enormous potential.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Inseparable from our efforts to enhance academic excellence for the public good is our work to improve diversity, equity and inclusion at the U-M.

We cannot be excellent without being diverse in the broadest sense of the word. We also must ensure that our community allows all individuals an equal opportunity to thrive.

I am proud that we have come together as a campus to address this issue head on.

As you know, we are developing a campus level strategic plan to promote diversity, equity and inclusion.

It’s wonderful to see a sense of community developing around the planning process, as the level of engagement across campus deepens.

Individual school and unit plans are due by the end of the academic year, but in the meantime, we have already started making considerable progress toward our goals.

This year, we enrolled our most racially diverse freshman class since 2005. Underrepresented minority students comprise 12.8 percent of this fall’s incoming class. Last fall, the number was 10 percent.

I want to thank the many individuals who have worked very hard to achieve these gains in a relatively short time. Associate VP for Enrollment Management Kedra Ishop and her team have made changes to financial aid, admissions and recruitment consistent with state law that are making a difference.

Our momentum will continue next month with our Diversity Summit that runs November 4ththrough the 13th. It will include a panel on the history of diversity efforts and activism on our campus; a national conference of the presidents of minority serving institutions; a meeting on health inequities including an address by former surgeon general Regina Benjamin, and many more opportunities to engage and raise the visibility of these topics.

I hope everyone can attend – and that members of your teams will be there as well.

I am inviting the entire campus community to the November 10th Community Assembly that is part of the summit. We want all voices to be heard. The success of our strategic plan will depend on the level of engagement that members of our community feel with it.

Every time we bring people together to speak about this issue, I learn a great deal. I look forward to seeing you at this very special assembly.

The full schedule of events for the summit is available on our new website for diversity, equity and inclusion – which we have just launched. The site also includes resources for students, as well as a new tool that will allow us for the first time to have online, communitywide discussions, share ideas, and even weigh in on the ones we as a community feel are the best.

I am very excited to announce another new initiative to support our diversity goals.

We are calling it Wolverine Pathways.

The Provost’s Committee on Diversity, Equity & Inclusion recommended investments in new partnerships with school districts to increase the pipeline of college-ready underrepresented minority and first-generation students. And earlier this month, Governor Snyder called on universities to work more closely with K-12 districts to help get students ready to attend college.

The University of Michigan has a longstanding history of success in its K-12 partnerships, including initiatives and research in our School of Education and our Center for Educational Outreach.

Wolverine Pathways will select students in the 7th and 10th grades for a year-round program that continues through their completion of 12th grade.

We will begin Wolverine Pathways in the Southfield and Ypsilanti school districts starting in January. The 120 students selected for the program will be our first Wolverine Scholars.

They will participate in fall, winter and summer sessions provided by U-M tutors and mentors that include project-based learning modules in English, science and math. The program will also include service and leadership opportunities; cultural events, test prep; resources for parents and guardians; and visits to our campus.

If the scholars successfully complete the program, apply and are admitted to U-M, they will earn a full, four-year tuition scholarship.

Medical Enterprise

Keeping the University of Michigan’s Health System at the forefront of patient care, education, and discovery is another major focus of my work to advance excellence at the U-M.

A world-class public research university with a premier health system is a combination that few can match.

Our health system is built on a solid foundation of strengths – patient care and education linked directly and deeply to leading biomedical research and discovery – that provide a great platform
on which to build for our future.

The reorganization we launched last month will explicitly and visibly link responsibility for the health system’s tripartite mission of research, education and patient care in a single leader. That leader will be assisted by a team with shared responsibility for the entire enterprise.

This will help foster seamless connections among the people and resources of the Medical School and the hospitals and health centers – while creating a transparent structure for timely action and accountability.

Stronger connections will facilitate the best translation of medical discoveries to patient care.


Environmental sustainability has been one of our most important campus-wide efforts in recent years.

We are leading by example in improving our own sustainability practices while driving new research and education approaches to have broad applicability and impact.

Last fall, I asked committees comprised of faculty, staff and students to review our sustainability goals in three key areas: landfill waste reduction, campus sustainability culture and greenhouse gas reduction.

Nearly 50 members of our community served on these committees. They are represented by their chairs this morning, and I thank them for their work.

I am continuing to evaluate the reports, but I am ready to move ahead on some of their recommendations. The first of these efforts will involve the entire campus in a coordinated program to reduce our landfill waste and enhance our sustainability culture.

We will establish a unified campus-wide recycling program, and expand composting.

We have been a leader in campus recycling since 1989, but over the years, different types and styles of bins and signage have emerged and the level of success has varied across the campus.

Currently, recycling paper in Fleming looks different than it does at the NCRC – and that has caused confusion and limited our ability to affect change in behaviors.

A unified program will standardize bins, signage and messaging across our campus, and make it easy for our faculty, staff and students to do the right thing all the time and all across the campus.

We will also invest in new infrastructure to enhance and expand our composting program, which is showing great success in residential dining halls. And we will launch a major study on waste management in our Health System, where nearly half of our solid waste is generated.

With respect to campus culture, I am renewing commitments to many of the successful programs, such as Planet Blue Ambassadors and our sustainability culture survey, that have allowed us to make progress in recent years.

To further empower our community and amplify our commitment, I am asking our Athletic Department to work with campus experts to design a Zero Waste program for Michigan Stadium, the Big House.

We will select one game next year to test the prototype of a Zero Waste game day. This test should tell us a great deal about how to design a long-term sustainable system.

A Zero Waste game day is a goal of Central Student Government President Cooper Charlton as well, and we will need active participation of the students to make it successful.

Finally, to reduce our greenhouse gas footprint, we are implementing ideas that involve both energy conservation and cleaner energy generation.

We will enhance our energy conservation program by expanding its reach into our health system, Athletics, and student housing.

We will also invest in a new natural gas fueled turbine project to expand the capacity of our central power plant.

Combined heat and power co-generation from natural gas is far more efficient and cleaner than purchasing electricity produced by burning coal. This project has the potential to reduce the campus’s total annual greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent. This is the emissions equivalent of removing more than 30,000 passenger cars from the road each year.

The turbine investment is important, but we recognize it is only one step.

Committee recommendations related to renewable energy such as solar, wind, landfill gas, and geothermal are more complicated, and we are working through many of those issues in preparation for future investments.

As a start, we will create a new fund for Renewable Energy Demonstration Projects that will incentivize innovation in research and create learning opportunities for our students.

Moving forward, I have asked that these highly productive committees remain engaged to assist us as we roll out these changes, make progress on our goals, and further analyze their recommendations.



Many of the initiatives I have discussed this morning involve partners, both on campus and beyond. For the U-M to maximize its public impact, continuing to build, develop, and enhance our partnerships will be crucial.

Our three campuses, Ann Arbor, Flint and Dearborn, serve a broad range of stakeholders and provide a wealth of benefits to people, communities and businesses in the state of Michigan.

While my overall philosophy is to work strategically with all of our stakeholders, I want to mention a few specific areas of focus.

First, I am looking to develop more opportunities to increase faculty research and programmatic collaborations amongst our three campuses. In addition, I would like to make it easier for students to transfer between our campuses and to earn an undergraduate degree from one campus and go on to pursue graduate studies at another.

I have created a new position in my office to help me work with Chancellors Borrego and Little on these and other related goals. I have been to Flint and Dearborn on many occasions and spoken with city and regional leaders who are deeply appreciative of the contributions of their home campuses.

All three of our campuses are known for their impact, and they all have indelible places in both the past and the future of our great university.

Second, I want us to strengthen partnerships among the members of our statewide higher educational community. We have successful partnerships, like the University Research Corridor
with Michigan State and Wayne State, and our Office of Tech Transfer’s program that helps other universities take their faculty inventions to market.

But I also see plenty of untapped potential.

Third, we have always had a very special relationship with Detroit, having been founded there in 1817. Our faculty, students and staff are doing very exciting work there.

The Detroit Center alone works with 17 academic units on our campus and has 20,000 annual visitors. The city is an exciting source of inspiration and creativity for us, and I am eager to see our collaborations continue.

Finally, I want to drive our international partnerships, consistent with our role as a global university.

Michigan’s approach will continue to be based on collaborations with outstanding universities and partners all around the world selected for their alignment with faculty research interests and ability to provide reciprocal educational opportunities for our students.

We also derive tremendous strength from our friends and partners in the U-M family.

For the second fiscal year in a row, our donors exceeded the $400 million mark in pledges and cash payments. And our number of donors set a new annual record.

The Victors for Michigan campaign is in terrific shape. In fact, I am proud to announce the latest milestone in our $4 billion campaign.

Donors have just recently pushed us over the $3 billion mark.

And we are also more than halfway toward our critical $1 billion goal for student support.

This level of success is the result of hard work by leaders across campus – but it also extends much farther. Everywhere I go, I meet members of the Michigan community who tell me they have connections to one of our libraries or museums, or an academic department, or a particular scholarship interest because of someone they have met from our university.

It’s our faculty and students, our deans and chairs, our variety of excellent programs, and our strong campus initiatives that inspire the Michigan family.

Thank you for making so much excellence possible at the University of Michigan.

As we continue to pursue academic excellence, I want to make one final pledge to you this morning.

The listening and learning I’ve done during Year One of my presidency will not end with Year One.

In fact, just last week, the Regents, Chancellor Borrego and I heard from members of the Flint community in a terrific open forum before the Regents’ meeting.

I relish the opportunity to collaborate with all of you and tap into your expertise for the good of the university – and those we serve.

One area I care deeply about but haven’t yet mentioned provides an example of the way I aspire to continue to work with you.

The health and safety of our students is one of my most important responsibilities. All Michigan students deserve a safe and healthy educational experience.

I am very proud that many faculty, students and staff are making huge contributions to campus safety. Student Life, SAPAC, CSG, Public Safety, the Institute for Social Research, and faculty and staff from other key departments are just a few of those involved.

The health and safety of our students is a responsibility we all share, and we will continue to use the scholarly and other professional expertise of our campus community to inform the hard work ahead.

Our University’s first president, Henry Tappan, had a remarkable appreciation for the impact that a great university could provide. He wrote that a university is “a collection of finished scholars
in every department of human knowledge, associated for the purposes of advancing and communicating knowledge. They create an atmosphere filled with inspirations to thought, research, and culture.”

As we draw closer to our bicentennial in 2017, I will continue to look to all of you – our faculty and staff, our students and supporters – for those inspirations.

There simply is no university better suited to fully realize Henry Tappan’s vision for the modern research university; to heighten understanding and address big, societal problems
with urgency, intellect, and innovation; to advance the highest ideals of what a public research university should be.

I have every confidence that your ideas and hard work will enhance the University of Michigan’s excellence into our third century and beyond.

And that together, we will set new standards for impact and achievement.

Thank you very much.