The University Record, July 23, 2001

Farewell to the Provost: Cantor leaves legacy of initiatives, program improvements

From News and Information Services

Nancy Cantor attends President Lee C. Bollinger's inaugeration in September 1997. (Photo by D.C. Goings, U-M Photo Services)
While Nancy Cantor, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, prepares to begin her new job as chancellor of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in August, members of the campus community reflect on what her tenure has meant to the University.

“As Michigan’s chief academic and budgetary officer, Nancy Cantor has brought enormous energy and a generous, creative spirit to the many complex issues that come under the purview of the Provost,” says President Lee C. Bollinger. “Attentive to the concerns of students and faculty, as well as to the role of a great public university, Nancy has provided the framework and support for important initiatives in undergraduate education, and interdisciplinary scholarship and research.

“She is an influential leader in higher education nationally, speaking eloquently and with authority on a range of issues, from graduate education to diversity and gender equity. I am grateful for the strong academic and institutional leadership Nancy has provided at Michigan and will miss her, as a colleague and as a friend.”

As Provost, Cantor has made lasting contributions to the U-M in the following areas:


“Interdisciplinarity has been a special virtue of the University for a long time,” says Pamela Raymond, associate provost and professor of cell and developmental biology. “Nancy’s contribution has been to emphasize the importance of interdisciplinarity. She not only put in place administrative structures that would support it, but she also raised the level of awareness of the academic enrichment that comes from thinking about what happens at the interface of traditional disciplines.”

“Michigan’s decentralized web of schools, colleges and departments is well designed to sustain path-breaking creative research within every academic discipline,” observes Jeffrey Lehman, Law School dean and professor of law and public policy. “Nancy used her intellectual authority as Provost to ensure that our structure remains nimble and intellectually vital. With eloquence and passion, she spoke to the special value of research that creatively destroys boundaries that may congeal artificially around disciplines.”

Cantor’s interest in collaboration and interdisciplinarity is apparent in her speeches, in the University’s reaccreditation exercise, and in the proposals her office has encouraged from schools and colleges.

Cantor chose interdisciplinarity as the theme for several speeches. Numerous seminars, workshops and retreats, including the “Future of the Professoriate” faculty retreat held in fall 1999, examined what it means to truly collaborate.

Cantor turned the regular, 10-year reaccreditation process by the North Central Association into an opportunity to “galvanize the campus into thinking about the future, about where we are as an institution and where we want to go,” Raymond says. “One underlying theme that came out of the self-study reports of the faculty/student working groups was the value of interdisciplinarity.”

Raymond notes that Cantor has tried to make collaboration a priority in the activities that are funded through her office. “What Nancy did was say, ‘Look, I’m really interested in proposals that come from multiple homes, multiple groups, where faculty and students are trying to get together and create something new that wouldn’t easily happen in the normal way we promote activities because they cross departmental or school boundaries.’ ”


Forty-three days after Cantor became provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, the first of two lawsuits against U-M affirmative action policies was filed in federal court, challenging LS&A admissions policies. The second, focusing on Law School admissions policies, was filed seven weeks later. These two cases, Gratz v. Bollinger (LS&A) and Grutter v. Bollinger (Law School), have brought the University national prominence for its support of diversity.

Cantor has moved the U-M’s support of diversity forward through leadership and research and in countless forums. “Provost Cantor has been one of the leaders of the effort to continue Michigan’s strong tradition in promoting and encouraging diversity,” says Marvin Krislov, vice president and general counsel. “She has provided invaluable intellectual and scholarly leadership in support of the educational benefits of diversity.”

Cantor this year received an Anti-Defamation League Women of Achievement Award, which honors leaders who “confront discrimination and social injustice to bring democratic values to life and to build a society rich in diversity.”

In support of Cantor’s nomination for this honor, Regent Rebecca McGowan wrote, “Provost Cantor is the human face of this issue [diversity] at the University. She argues for it with a passion and tirelessness that can only come from one secure in her beliefs and life’s practice.”

Cantor encouraged development of Dialogues on Diversity and worked closely with the Women of Color Task Force. She also supported development of the Center for World Performance Studies and the Global Intercultural Experiences for Undergraduates Program.

“Nancy’s commitment to diversity is instructed by her own research on well-being and reflected in her numerous commitments while serving as dean of Rackham and Provost. During her tenure, she created the position of diversity coordinator within the graduate school, seeded intellectual projects that pulled together disparate intellectual fields, and underwrote initiatives to bring a broad cross section of students from around the state, nation and world to this campus,” says Earl Lewis, Graduate School dean, vice provost for academic affairs-graduate studies, and professor of history and of Afro-American and African studies.

The Provost promotes greater intellectual understanding and diversity both “by example and by challenging others to question their own assumptions and beliefs,” says Lester Monts, senior vice provost for academic affairs and professor of music. “She empowers her staff to be creative and to use that creativity to produce a higher-quality educational environment.”

Public goods

Created by Cantor in 1998, the Public Goods Council provides a conduit for academic collaboration, an enriching environment for student life and learning, an opportunity to enhance scholarship, and bridges to the community.

“The concept of the Public Goods Council was developed by Provost Cantor to bring together academic units reporting directly to the Office of the Provost to realize their full potential for support of research and learning,” says William Gosling, director of the University Library. “After two years, the group has successfully produced several collaborative programs that support the interdisciplinary curriculum of many segments of the University.”

The University’s “goods” include art, music, book and plant collections, historical archives, scholarly resources, performance programs, courses, and experiential learning. Other “goods” serve as cultural resources and include the Museum of Art, the University Musical Society, the Arts of Citizenship program and Arts at Michigan.

Undergraduate experience

Under Cantor’s leadership, the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP) blossomed, receiving national recognition as more faculty were enlisted to give first- and second-year students the chance to participate in research projects.

“The Provost has been a real champion of undergraduate research, encouraging faculty to participate in the program and speaking nationally on the value of integrating research and undergraduate education,” says Sandra Gregerman, UROP director. “Early on, she saw the special value of the intergenerational learning that takes place when graduate students, undergraduates and faculty work together on research projects. To her, these partnerships enhance everyone’s learning.”

Strengthening programs for undergraduates was another of Cantor’s priorities. “It has been wonderful to have a Provost who genuinely cares about student learning,” says Constance Cook, director of U-M’s Center for Research in Learning and Teaching and associate professor of education. “Nancy Cantor has used her bully pulpit and devoted resources to improving the educational experience of U-M students through support of programs for better teaching, better curricula and a better learning climate for our diverse student body.”

Cantor’s support of efforts to fold student community service into the educational experience were capped by the establishment of the Edward Ginsberg Center for Community Service and Learning. “Through her strong support of community learning and civic education at the University of Michigan, she has made contributions which will affect students and faculty members for years,” says Barry Checkoway, Ginsberg Center director, and professor of social work and of urban and regional planning.

In winter term 2000, Bollinger appointed Cantor chair of the President’s Commission on the Undergraduate Experience. She led 25 members of the University community in considering not only the formal structure of baccalaureate education at the U-M, but also the social fabric of student experience, the physical infrastructure of the campus and the effectiveness of administrative support to enhance the undergraduate experience. The commission’s report, to be released early this fall, proposes a number of steps to better connect undergraduates with faculty members and graduate students, both in and out of the classroom.

Gender equity

A constant thread through Cantor’s tenure has been concern for the needs of women faculty, staff and students. “All women faculty and staff are aware of her commitment to improving the quality of life of women at the University of Michigan,” says Abigail Stewart, director of the Institute for Research on Women and Gender, and professor of psychology and of women’s studies.

Cantor developed a number of initiatives to address problems faced by women staff members. She and Bollinger held two public forums at which women staff were encouraged to express concerns, and she supported a new sexual harassment prevention effort, “It’s All About Respect.” Women staff also benefited from her three-year program to improve compensation for lower-paid staff and from changes she instituted in the tuition reimbursement policy.

Cantor feels strongly not only about affirmative action policies, but also about the need to foster a sense of belonging among women, people of color and other marginalized groups. “She has spoken directly and personally about her own experience and views on the place of women in the academy,” Stewart says. “She has maintained an open-door policy and has been very receptive to individuals with gender-related problems.”

Her priorities have included supporting the collection of data about the experience of women faculty and faculty of color, tracking tenure decisions, conducting a faculty salary equity study, and supporting faculty hiring opportunities through the Provost’s Faculty Initiatives Program (PFIP).

Family-friendly policies

“One of Nancy’s real strengths is her willingness to listen to concerns and ideas and needs, and then to try very hard to be responsive, especially when she thinks that is in the interest of the individual and the institution,” says Katharine Soper, assistant provost. This is especially true in the development of family-friendly policies for the University community.

Cantor has supported the Family Care Resources Program and significantly increased family care leave time. “Effective Jan. 1, it’s going to be up to 14 days so that employees can use all of their short-term leave for dependent care if they need to do so,” Soper notes.

“The Family Care Resources Program helps people locate services and care for their family members, everyone from children to adults to elderly or disabled relatives,” says Leslie De Pietro, program coordinator. “We have a resource-linking function. Nancy has been very supportive of these initiatives and has been very vocal about them. She walks the talk.”

De Pietro also cites Cantor’s support of the Kids Kare at Home program—which offers in-home care to sick children of U-M faculty, staff and students—and need-based child care scholarship programs.

In addition, Soper notes that Cantor “has allocated significant additional resources to the University’s dual-career program in the belief that helping partners find jobs is key to recruiting the very best faculty to Michigan and, just as importantly, in ensuring that they stay and thrive.”

Budget model

As chief budget officer, Cantor made substantial changes in budgeting practices at the University. When she became Provost in fall 1997, the U-M had just adopted a budgeting system called “value-centered management” (VCM), which had created considerable controversy on campus. In November 1997, Cantor announced substantial revisions to the VCM budget model, including renaming it the UB (for University Budget) model.

The renaming was an essential part of the change, as Cantor argued that the values inherent in university budgets must derive from the deliberate reflection and action of students, faculty and academic leaders.

“A good budget system serves, not defines, what people and institutions want to do,” she said in a speech to the Senate Assembly.

One of Cantor’s principal concerns about budgeting in general and VCM in particular is the way in which allocating resources to schools, colleges and departments can inhibit collaboration and interdisciplinary work. She attacked this problem in a number of ways, increasing the resources flowing to units whose mission is to serve the campus broadly (“public goods”) and directly supporting collaborative work.

“Time and again, Nancy repeated the message that if the budget system is getting in the way of doing things that faculty and deans wanted to do for good academic reasons, they should come to us and we would figure out how to make those things happen,” says Marilyn Knepp, associate vice president for university budget, planning and administration.

“It is precisely because the Provost is chief academic officer that it is essential that she be chief budget officer,” adds Paul N. Courant, associate provost for academic and budgetary affairs, and professor of economics and of public policy. “Nancy’s budgets are articulations of her vision of what a great public university can be.”