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Courant: Enthusiasm for work at core of University

With more than 30 issues and areas of concern on his sizable plate—the Life Sciences Institute, staff benefits, budget cuts, athletics and academics, and teaching principles, to name a few—Provost Paul N. Courant says his primary role is that of an enabler.

"The serious and important work is done by the faculty, staff and students," Courant said Nov. 18 in an address to the Senate Assembly. "My job, and the role of faculty governance, too, is to enable that work, to provide resources and an environment where scholarly and creative work can get done as easily as possible."

Courant said this view of his role derives from his experience as a faculty member, in which he and the University always were able to find a way to support the things he wanted to do that were important. Courant said that one of his ambitions as provost is for other faculty and their students to have the same experience and to accomplish what matters most to them.

"We want to make sure that people are free to pursue their work," Courant said. "We also want to assure that they can take maximum advantage of the size and scope and scale of the University, to find and exploit opportunities that arise from the fact that we do so many things so well."

Courant said scholarly activity takes place in at least four places at U-M: one's own desk; down the hall; across departments and schools; and in collective institutions that serve the community broadly, such as libraries, the Media Union, the concert hall and Michigan Stadium.

"We do almost everything at this University, and everything we do, we do at least very well," he said. "We have a tradition and experience of interdisciplinary and collaborative work that is extraordinary. We have a faculty that is hungry for more and complains vigorously about how difficult it is. As one of the deans said recently, one reason we are so good is that so many people complain about how we are not good enough.

"Our success relies on the strength of peer review, which requires careful definition of the relevant set of peers, especially for interdisciplinary and collaborative work. It also depends on a spirit of intellectual generosity, in which faculty are excited at the prospect of having the best colleagues in the world without fear that their own status will be diminished. We want a faculty that is concerned more with the size of the pond rather than their own status in it.

"This is a great University because most of the people who work and study here are excited about their work, and because we have a set of habits and traditions that make it easy to convey that excitement and to support collaborative work," Courant said. "The enthusiasm for the work is at the core of the University."



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