Vice president for research reflects on career at the University
S. Jack Hu is the current vice president for research at the University of Michigan, but will be joining the University of Georgia as its next vice president for academic affairs and provost beginning July 1. Hu has spent the past 30 years at Michigan, first as a masters and doctoral student (’86, ’90), then as a faculty member. He is a J. Reid and Polly Anderson professor of manufacturing, professor of mechanical engineering and professor of industrial and operations engineering. Prior to his role as vice president for research, Hu served as the associate dean for academic affairs and the associate dean for research and graduate education in the College of Engineering. The Michigan Daily sat down for an interview with Hu to discuss his time at the University as he reflects on his academic and administrative career.
The Michigan Daily: As your time at Michigan comes to an end, how do you feel?
Jack Hu: I’m not completely leaving Michigan — I have a few students, I have a few active grants, so those will continue in some way. But as a graduate of the University, I will always be affiliated, associated with the University. I may be departing from here, but the University will never leave me.
TMD: In this position, what are you the most proud of while you have been here?
JH: I would say I changed the culture somewhat in a number of areas. We (the Office of Research) really instilled a service attitude, and I think in our value statement we have the word ‘altruistic.’ The words we use are that we take joyful satisfaction in faculty success, so I think that really is what we do: supporting faculty, catalyzing research. I think Michigan has done well as the top public research university for seven years in a row, in spite of challenges with uncertainty in federal support for research. We tried to diversify sources of funding, tried to have more support from industry, from foundations and from individuals … together, the University has done well. The reputation is always excellent, other universities — big and small, good and not so good, they all come to Michigan to benchmark. Whether we’re doing the right thing or not, people come to us, but I think we are doing the right things. Maintaining that leadership role as the top public research university, of course credit goes to faculty. If they’re not writing grants, they’re not doing research — we would not be as successful.
The second area we have done well is change the culture in research compliance. We have a research safety committee — that committee works with faculty and students across campus, trying to improve the culture around research safety. We also strengthened an animal care and use program … In 2016 and 2017, we went through a transformation of the program — integration, centralization … Through the integration we improved the centers of care, improved the consistency in the monitoring … Michigan now is recognized as a university who went through a transformation and are achieving excellence in animal care and use. So our staff now get invited by other universities and professional societies to teach them how to transform animal care and use programs. So those are just examples of what we do in research.
I think a third area is enhancing innovation, continuing to improve faculty engagement in innovation and entrepreneurship. I think our technology transfer every year we seem to do more, faculty reports more innovation … We spent a lot of effort by building interdisciplinary initiatives for research. When you bring multiple faculty from many different units together, to bring faculty from U-M Ann Arbor, Dearborn, Flint together so we spent a lot of effort cultivating the collaboration.
TMD: What is something you feel you have not quite completed or seen come to fruition?
JH: We want to create an innovation hub on campus. That is still a work in progress — we’re just at the beginning. Schools and colleges, they all have entrepreneurship programs, they’re distributed. It would be nice to have some common space where we could bring faculty startups, student startups together and also maybe have space for companies to locate, whether research centers or advanced offices. Some place that is central but closely tied with our academic operations. That’s something we just started discussing, but we’ll need a few years to really have a finalized plan.
TMD: Three decades is a significant amount of time — what made you stay here for so long?
JH: I never had to pursue any outside opportunities — different opportunities just came. I embraced those, tried to do my best in each and every leadership role, so I think that’s why I have been here. I mean the University and Ann Arbor of course — both are excellent. Outstanding academic reputation, outstanding quality of life, really can’t find too many combinations of such, not many universities that have such a combination. I would say it’s the quality of the faculty and the quality of the students that is a draw for outstanding faculty.
TMD: What are you most looking forward to in your new position at the University of Georgia?
JH: The senior vice president and provost has a very diverse set of responsibilities, so the vice president for research reports to the provost, in addition of course (to) education, faculty affairs, public engagement and also IT — information technology — they all report to the provost. In such a role, with such broad responsibilities, (it) will allow me to learn how a university operates in a much more holistic (sense) rather than just one area. I will be able to leverage my experience from Michigan — so research, faculty affairs, budget, space, graduate education — and also strengthen my leadership experience in undergraduate education because the University of Georgia does have an outstanding reputation for undergraduate education.
TMD: Is there anything else you want to add about the University or your time here?
JH: When I was associate dean for academic affairs in engineering, I helped recruit many faculty members to engineering, so now after 8 to 9 years, they’re all doing extremely well, (everyone) sees them getting awards in the University, in other professional societies — that makes me very, very happy. Even though I was just part of the recruiting, I’m very proud of the faculty the University has.
The best research is… always at the leading edge, so you start something and then other people will follow and do the research. That process will never end, if you’re leading researchers at a leading research university we should be creating ideas and pursuing research in those.