-The good news is it doesn’t make any difference what you major in as an undergraduate at the University. Ten years later no one is going to care. A Michigan education is only the start down a long road of a lifetime of education, and that’s the reason it doesn’t make a difference.

Brian Merlos
(FILE PHOTO)

-In the past, most Michigan presidents have either sailed off to other Universities – Harold Shapiro or Lee Bollinger – or retired and disappeared or died. I’m still here.

-I chair a lot of committees. I sometimes call myself a professional chairperson.

-I viewed my own role as much more strategic leadership. In other words, focusing more on what the University could and should become 10, 20, 30 years out, recognizing that these are institutions that, while they serve the needs at the moment, also have a responsibility to preserve their capacity to serve the future.

-It’s very hard to predict the future. This operation has an awful lot of balls in the air. I’m on at any point in time a dozen efforts – commissions.

-Some go splat. Some bounce. To work in this kind of activity, you have to be able to tolerate the occasional failure.

-We had the opportunity to take on a contract from the federal government to link a number of universities to what were at that time a number of very unusual super computers scattered about the country.

We called it the internetwork. You can see where I’m headed.

That was the Internet. That’s an example of leadership that you just cannot anticipate.

-Some of the themes I’m working on right now are, ironically, the same things I talked about in my inauguration speech in 1988. They are changes in our world caused by globalization, by changes in demography, by technology. They are continuing to be the three drivers of change in our society.

-I wish I could have written Thomas Friedman’s book 10 years before he did. He gets paid quite a lot per speech, and I usually buy my own lunch.

-The transition (from president to faculty member) was a transition from delegation to execution. When you’re president, or dean, who can say, “Wouldn’t it be great if someone did, this, that or the other,” and someone will try it out. In my role now, they’ll say ‘Well, why don’t you do it.’ I’ve learned how to make coffee and get airplane tickets and do a lot of things I didn’t have to do as president.

-We practice engineering the same way we did a century ago. We pretend that an undergraduate education is good enough to be an engineer. We pretend that U.S. engineers are the best, so therefore we don’t need to worry about engineers in China or India and so forth.

I believe engineering must go through the same transition that medicine and law did and become a graduate professional school.

-There are perhaps as many as 250 million people (worldwide) that will be ready for a college education by 2010. We would have to build a university the size of the University of Michigan every week to meet that need. The next question is how you meet that need, because if you don’t have an education you’re kind of out of it. Your personal welfare depends on it.

-Any institutions that last a long time have a kind of mythology about them, whether events or people or buildings or fight songs. And those mythologies take on a life of their own and begin to shape the institutions into what they are. And part of the challenge to lead institutions is to figure out what that mythology or saga is. If you build on it, you’re generally successful. If you don’t understand it, or don’t care about it, you’re in trouble because these institutions last for hundreds of years. They’re like big ocean liners. You can’t just turn them around fast.They keep on going.

-The University’s role, when it has been successful, has always been that as a pathfinder, a trailblazer. In other words, we’re best when we try and do things that are different. We’re good at that. We’re not very good about following. If we see someone else doing something interesting and try and imitate them, we sometimes fall flat on our faces.

-The University throughout its history has been a public-private hybrid. It’s had a public character, but yet had the aspiration of excellence more characteristic of an elite private institution.

-Student activism on campus has had kind of a change-the-world attitude. That’s good. But when they take over your office in the Fleming Administrative Building, it can be kind of a hassle. Students have the capacity, sometimes, to sense issues that people who have been around too long just can’t sense.

-I think Michigan will be the university that figures out how to go to 20 to 30 years as a privately supported public university.

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