The University Record, June 3, 2002

Campus reacts to news of president

By Theresa Maddix

Regents, Presidential Search Advisory Committee members and incoming President Mary Sue Coleman all report a certain chemistry present in the room during their mutual exchanges. Though Coleman spent 19 years as an active teacher and researcher of biochemistry, they were not referring to her work as a scientist.

Instead, upon meeting with the accomplished and intellectual administrator, person after person spoke of her talent for putting others at ease.

Committee Chair Earl Lewis says, “There are many people who can lead. We needed to pick someone to lead where others will follow. Mary Sue Coleman is such a person.”

Coleman “emerged as a true leader” in the presidential search process, Lewis says. She is widely regarded as an outstanding choice for the University’s 13th president and upon her election May 29, regents, faculty and staff alike offered words of welcome and support.

“She is a leader of extraordinary capability, someone who is involved,” says Lewis, dean of the Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies, vice provost for academic affairs-graduate studies, and professor of history and Afro-American and African studies.

Interim President B. Joseph White says of Coleman, “In the short time I had with her this morning, I came away thinking she’s going to be a great fit for the University of Michigan. She’s strong academically. She has very high standards. She’s very down to earth and I think that’s valued here. I think there’s every reason to be confident about how things are going to go forward.”

Jack Dixon, co-director of the Life Sciences Institute and Minor J Coon Professor of Biological Chemistry, says, “It is terrific that we have a new president and that the process is behind us. I know her and her work, and I’m sure she’ll do a great job here.”

Associate Provost Valerie P. Castle says, “Dr. Coleman is an excellent choice. Her academic accomplishments and administrative experience are ideal qualities for the person who will lead this institution. In particular, her background as a biochemist and cancer biologist will enhance our Life Sciences Initiatives. Mixed with her commitment to undergraduate education and diversity she is prepared for all of the challenges facing this institution. I look forward to supporting her efforts.” Castle also is professor of pediatrics and communicable diseases, and associate chair for research in the Department of Pediatrics.

Staff from the Alumni Association also are eager for Coleman to begin. Steve Grafton, executive director of the Alumni Association, says, “I’ve heard about her from my colleague at Iowa and he says wonderful things, so I expect that she’ll do a fantastic job here.”

Lewis says the search process, while time intensive, followed a simple outline described by Regent Laurence B. Deitch as both “effective and efficient.” “We started backwards, figuring out optimally how long it should take. We realized that to put a person in place by September, we needed to conclude the process by late spring/early summer,” he explains. Presidential Search Advisory Committee steps included weekly sessions together, meeting with the broader community, generating and reviewing nominations, turning nominees into candidates, and presenting a slate of candidates to the regents.

Key to the process, according to Lewis, was the committee’s commitment to privacy: “Maintaining confidentiality was the most critical component of the search. If not we would have lost the kind of candidates we were looking to.”

Despite criticism of the closed nature of the process by members of the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs, new Chair Charles Koopmann echoed Lewis’ sentiment, saying, “I think that people ought to rethink their concerns about it, because it may have been very difficult for a sitting president at a Big 10 university if this would have been an open search and everyone knew she was one of five finalists. I think it [confidentiality] may have opened up the search for more candidates.”

Lewis says the committee screened more than 200 candidates and out of that pool, Deitch says, “There was one finalist, Mary Sue Coleman.”

When asked if she would have considered putting her name in the pool for an open search, Coleman simply said, “No.”