Mary Sue Coleman, who now officially carries the title of University president, unpacked her bags this weekend.
Though the University’s first female leader arrived in Ann Arbor Thursday afternoon, today marks her first full day in the President’s Office on the second floor of the Fleming Administration Building.
Coleman said she’s spent the last month doing some homework and reading up on important information about the University – like the history of the Rock, University folklore and how to navigate campus.
“I am just excited at the whole process of being at such an amazing University,” Coleman said. “The University of Michigan is already a great public institution and it should aspire to be even greater.”
But now that she’s got the basics down, Coleman is ready for a more complex curriculum. Her schedule is already loaded with meetings and trips around the state. She is eager to begin working on the President’s Commission on the Undergraduate Experience report, started under former University President Lee Bollinger, and to find people to fill the empty positions in the administration and lead the Life Sciences Institute, she said in an interview Saturday with The Michigan Daily.
“I need to go out and talk to people. There are budgets I need to get on top of, and the undergraduate commission that I want to start working on,” Coleman said. “And I have to go around the state and talk about the University and really connect with people around the state, because I think that’s extremely important.”
Coleman, unanimously selected May 20 by the Board of Regents to become the University’s 13th president, left her position as the leader of the University of Iowa July 31. Iowa Law Prof. Sandy Boyd, who served as Iowa’s president from 1969 to 1981, stepped in as interim president Aug. 1.
While at Iowa, Coleman was known for her fundraising skills and accessibility to students. During her seven-year presidency, she held regular fireside chats and raised the school’s research funding increased from $178 million to $300 million. Annual fundraising raised from $82 million to $172 million.
At the University of Michigan, the 2001-02 operating budget is $3.8 billion for all three campuses, with $545 million in research expenditures in 2000. In 2001, the University earned over $218.1 million in gifts.
But some students, both from Iowa and Michigan, have raised concerns over how successful Coleman will be at leading such a large public institution. The University of Michigan has a larger student population, alumni body, endowment fund and more campus activism groups.
According to Iowa’s website, the school has 350 advertised student organizations and a student population of 29,000. Michigan, according to Maize Pages, boasts over 750 student groups and has a student population of 53,000. According to the University, Michigan also boasts the largest living alumni body “of any college or university.”
Despite the challenges, or because of them, Coleman said she is “excited” about leading the University.
Her first priorities, she said, are current University initiatives, like those in the life sciences and the arts, including the building of the Walgreen Drama Center and Arthur Miller Theatre. Theater construction was postponed after estimated costs went above and beyond what the University originally intended to pay.
“We have to see what is going to be feasible and what isn’t going to be feasible,” Coleman said. “(We have to) look at the impact (of the initiatives) and make some priority decisions, and we’ll be doing that.”
Coleman, who the regents have hailed as a strong leader of public and higher education, has said she intends to focus much of her time on improving students’ experiences. She has also continuously spoken positively with regard to the report released Oct. 25 by the President’s Commission on the Undergraduate Experience.
In the report, the commission, made up of 25 students, faculty members, and administrators, released six major goals, each of which entailed listings of more specific objectives.
The goals included making the campus more interconnected, connecting students to the community and world, treating the undergraduate career as a lifelong journey and creating a diverse and self-reflective student community.
The more particular objectives included creating a Sophomore Year Initiative, postponing fraternity rush until the end of freshman year at the earliest, overhauling the advising system and adapting residence halls to function like residential colleges.
“I was quite impressed. I thought the group had come up with some good ideas on how to help undergraduates think about the undergraduate experience,” Coleman said. “I’m always interested in improving the experiences students have … we always look to make it better.”