At a time when lawsuits challenge the University’s admissions policies and state legislators threaten its budget, University President Mary Sue Coleman used her inauguration address yesterday to address the future by learning from the past. Coleman, who has been University president since Aug. 1, was formally inaugurated on a stage surrounded by former University Presidents Lee Bollinger and James Duderstadt, as well as past and present regents.
Coleman centered her speech on 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 said. Coleman spoke about Thomas Jefferson’s plans to make the University of Virginia a great institution, and his struggle to obtain a suitable appropriation from the state legislature. Jefferson repeatedly wrote to state legislators suggesting money be shifted from primary schools to higher education.
“Some tensions have not changed in 200 years,” Coleman joked. “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 emphasized the importance of keeping the University accessible for all students and maintaining a diverse student body. She noted the University’s long history of 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 discussed 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 after the ceremony, 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.” Other events surrounding the day included a symposium and a two-hour reception at the President’s House. The symposium – titled “For a University of the World” – included five University professors who discussed the importance of internationalism and diversity in their various fields, and for the University to connect with the world.
“To be a University of the world, it is no longer enough to study the world,” American culture and musicology Prof. Amy Ku’uleialoha Stillman said. “Diversity is not bounded by political borders.” At the reception later on, Coleman personally greeted a mix of professors, alumni, celebrities and students in a receiving line at the President’s House. Many people commented on Coleman’s friendly attitude. “She has that personal direct feeling for people,” said Jim Holmes, a former Business School professor and alum who taught both Bill Martin and Red Berenson.
LSA sophomore Jeff Souva said he had heard about the reception through an e-mail from the Michigan Student Assembly. He said Coleman has been very receptive to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community during her tenure. “She’s taking her time and getting acquainted with the University. She has had a lot thrown at her,” Souva said.