At a time when lawsuits threaten the University’s admissions policies and state legislators threaten its budget, University President Mary Sue Coleman used her inauguration ceremony to address ideas from these problems by learning from our past.
Surrounded by former University presidents Lee Bollinger and James Duderstadt as well as current and former regents, Coleman centered her speech around the sankofa, a bird from Ghana that moves forward with its head turned backward. Coleman recalled the proverb associated with the symbolism of the bird, saying, “Look to your roots, in order to reclaim your future,”
“The glory of the University of Michigan resides in its ability to re-invent itself continually, to cherish its roots while inventing the future.”
Coleman spoke about Thomas Jefferson’s plans to make the University of Virginia a great institution, and his struggles to obtain a suitable appropriation from the state legislature. He repeatedly wrote to state legislators suggesting money be shifted from primary schools to higher educations.
“Some tensions have not changed in two hundred years,” Coleman exclaimed. “Because the state benefits from having an educated citizenry, the state supports it with public funds. The universities, in turn, have a reciprocal responsibility to the states. In this regard, our roots are not only deep, but also broad, extending hundreds of years and hundreds of miles.”
Coleman also addressed keeping the University accessible for all students and maintaining a diverse student body. She noted the University’s long history of a dedication to diversity and the importance of the U.S. Supreme Court hearings Tuesday where the University will defend its race-conscious admissions policies.
“We are asking the court to affirm America, by re-affirming affirmative action,” Coleman said. “At the University of Michigan, we have room for all points of view, and for the syntheses of those views.”
Preceding Coleman, the keynote speaker – Psychology Prof. James Jackson – also touched on diversity.
“Today, as a more mature country, we often appear afraid of changes of multiple races and ethnicities,” Jackson said. “We need to learn from the mistakes as well as the triumphs of the past.”
At a press conference afterwards, Coleman expressed her excited sentiments about the inauguration and the challenges she faces ahead.
“This is a dream that I could never have imagined, Coleman said.
“Sure it’s a hard job,” she said, adding however that she feels confident about the upcoming hearings and the budgetary crisis. “You can’t help to feel good about the job.”