This is an excerpt from the Daily’s 2014 Orientation Issue. To read the rest of the issue, click here.
F. Scott Fitzgerald probably got it right.
“Life starts all over when it gets crisp in the fall.”
When you finally hit State Street as a bona fide college student, you’re entering a phase marked by newness. And in that, you aren’t alone. The University is transitioning, too.
Mark Schlissel, the provost at Brown University, will assume the University’s presidency in July. He follows the University’s fourth longest-serving president, Mary Sue Coleman, who will retire from the University’s top job after 12 years at its helm.
If Coleman identified with graduating seniors in her presidency’s final year, Schlissel will likely find commonalities with the University’s newly minted first-year students.
In an e-mail interview, Schlissel said he especially connected with freshmen and first-year graduate students when he first arrived in Providence to become Brown’s provost. He expects to embrace a similar shared experience with students also just beginning to explore the University and its city.
“We’ll be learning the joys of the Michigan campus and the Ann Arbor lifestyle together,” Schlissel said.
Schlissel will officially assume the duties of president in mid-July, but he said he’s already planning a vacation tour around his “new home state.” The itinerary so far includes exploration of Michigan’s dunes and lakes, the Upper Peninsula and stops in Lansing, Grand Rapids, Detroit and Midland.
Like Coleman, Schlissel is a biochemist by training. He graduated from Princeton University and earned an M.D. and Ph.D. from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, where he also completed his residency. Prior to his role as provost at Brown University, Schlissel was the dean of biological sciences at the University of California, Berkeley.
Apart from serving as the face of the University, the president is charged with setting the institution’s direction, raising a significant proportion of the University’s $4 billion fundraising campaign goal and guiding the University through institution-wide challenges such as declining minority enrollment and downward slides in federal and state funding.
Schlissel was appointed by the University’s Board of Regents at a special meeting in January.
As with a presidential appointment, the Board of Regents — an eight-member governing board selected via statewide election — is the body tasked with navigating the University’s most pressing challenges.
Students have frequently gathered at Regents meetings to protest University decisions, call for changes in policy or bring attention to problems facing students or the institution.
Most recently, members of the University’s Black Student Union called on the regents to address declining minority enrollment and the climate regarding race on campus. In 2013, members of the student group, Coalition for Tuition Equality, spent almost two years lobbying the regents to pass in-state tuition for undocumented students. Ultimately, the regents approved the policy.
The regents are also tasked with setting tuition and enacting bylaws that govern the University.
In an e-mail interview, Regent Kathy White (D) cited the Central Student Government’s report of recommendations for the presidential search process as an example of students working in collaboration with the regents. The regents had previously declined to include a student representative on the presidential search committee.
White said improving the University’s accessibility and affordability were top concerns raised by students in the report.
“Regents enjoy working with students in many different ways in order to resolve our collective concerns given the particular issue at hand,” she said. “We collectively work through how to best be in conversations about the issue at hand.”
For those looking to become better acquainted with the University’s new president, Schlissel said he’s planning on convening an open house around the time that students move back to campus.
His wife had the idea of turning the open house format into an ice cream social. As long as renovations to the President’s House are completed on time, Schlissel said he plans on serving frozen treats in the backyard while meeting and chatting with students and their families. Ice cream, Schlissel said, is a personal vice.
Coleman has hosted similar gatherings throughout her presidency, usually during the first week of classes in September. Traditionally, she has opened up the historic President’s House — the oldest building on campus and the only remaining structure from the campus’ original 40 acres — for students to take pictures with her and indulge in an impressive array of fruit.
Schlissel also said he’s planning to continue another Coleman tradition of hosting some form of a regularly scheduled fireside chat, where randomly selected students are invited to attend an event where they can ask their president any questions they want.
In preparation for taking office, he also said made six or seven short visits — much like a freshman orientation — to become acquainted with the University’s leaders, faculty, staff and students and better understand the institution’s challenges and strengths.
“My excitement about moving to Ann Arbor is growing by the day,” Schlissel said.