The University Record, September 5, 2000

New faculty challenged to ‘redefine’ U

By Jane R. Elgass

New faculty were welcomed to campus Aug. 30 during a special orientation session that featured roundtable discussions on ‘The First Day of Class,’ ‘Instructional Technology Resources and Support’ and ‘Creating Inclusive Classrooms.’ Information tables surrounding the outside edges of the Michigan League Ballroom were staffed by representatives of a number of University units. Also included was a buffet luncheon, with remarks made by the president and provost. The event was hosted by the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching (CRLT) and the Graduate School. CRLT Director Constance Cook encouraged those attending to return evaluation forms, noting that this year’s later start time—9 a.m.—resulted from concerns expressed by parents who needed to get children off to their first day at a new school. Photo by Paul Jaronski, U-M Photo Services
New faculty members—around 140 faculty are new to the U-M this year—were asked last week by Provost Nancy Cantor to “redefine the University.”

“This is an exciting time at the University,” she said, “and what you do is critical to our values, to the education we do and to the scholarly work you define.”

And while the University’s scale is of a “Byzantine” nature that is at once a “remarkable asset and incredibly intimidating,” she assured those gathered in the Michigan League ballroom that they will find the administration and their colleagues ready and willing to support their many endeavors.

Bollinger cited the critical importance of faculty, saying the U-M “is as great as it is precisely because we are able to pick out the best faculty. These years of teaching, especially if you are new, are immensely exciting.”

Along with research, “teaching is critical to what we do here, and we are very dedicated to making sure you have support.”

He also touched upon the importance of diversity, emphasizing the importance of “fresh minds going into classes.”

Among the important things taking place on campus in the coming year, Bollinger told the group, are the trials on the admissions lawsuits cases, which have put the U-M “at the center of the debate in this country on affirmative action.”

“We have mounted the best possible, most vigorous defense we can,” he said, adding that the University has received support for its position in a number of areas, including American Association of Universities member-schools, college and university presidents nationwide, corporations and government entities.

“No matter what your views,” he said, “this institution in particular has an abiding commitment to having an open access policy for students and faculty,” a policy that dates back to the 1800s. “This is not a recent commitment, but deep in our history.”

Also on tap this year will be physical evidence of the Life Sciences Initiative, with construction of a building across from Palmer Field; the work of two presidential commissions, one focusing on the undergraduate experience and the other on the information revolution; and the launching of a capital campaign “to make sure we have the resources for you to do whatever you want.”

Cantor prepared the new faculty for the “Michigan way,” noting that there are no written rules and that the campus is “nothing but honest.”

Part of the “way,” she noted, is seen in the scale, marked by “the variety and breadth of astonishingly different minds and experiences we bring to the table; the staggering number of schools, colleges, institutes, centers, libraries and museums.”

Also evidence of the scale are the “remarkable number of hats every faculty member wears and the interdisciplinary nature of the University,” demonstrated by a look at the campus phone book where many faculty are listed with multiple appointments.

“This flexibility is critical to what we see as the core of the institution,” Cantor said. “We emphasize permeability and flexibility,” she added, noting that it is the responsibility of the administration to “get a handle on ever-changing configurations and make sure we have the resources to support these activities.”

At times, she noted, “you can feel really out of control,” with endless numbers of offices, getting back and forth on campus. “Feeling like you wear many hats can be quite overwhelming. We are asking you to do it all—that’s Michigan.”

Cantor also stressed the importance of a diverse campus community, noting that the University “is not always comfortable, and I’m proud of that. It is not easy to get out of your comfort zone, but the University has a responsibility to be uncomfortable. We are trying to break down the automatic paths. It’s not easy, but it is worth it.

“We ask you to take on the common theme of the University as if it is your own because it is your own.”

Also speaking at the luncheon, sponsored by the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching (CRLT) and the Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies, were CRLT director Constance E. Cook and Lester P. Monts, associate provost for academic affairs.