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Updated 10:00 AM October 16, 2006
 

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New Ford School building: More programs,
vibrant learning environment

Podcast: Ford's children discuss their father>

Cutting the ribbon for the new Joan and Sanford Weill Hall are Board of Regents Chair Olivia Maynard (left), Rebecca Blank, Joan and Sanford Weill Dean of Public Policy; Dudley Benoit, 1995 master's degree recipient; Jack Ford; Sanford Weill; regents Rebecca McGowan and Andrew Richner; Joan Weill; regent Katherine White; President Mary Sue Coleman; Susan Ford Bales; Mike Ford; Steve Ford; architect Robert Stern; and Lily Clark, 2006 master's degree recipient. Also helping with the ceremony but not fully pictured are Olga Savic, Ford School Alumni Board of Governors; Provost Teresa Sullivan; and John Chamberlin, professor of public policy and political science. (Photo by Martin Vloet, U-M Photo Services)

The new Joan and Sanford Weill Hall is more than an address change for the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.

Long recognized as one of the top public policy schools in the nation, University officials say the school now occupies a facility that enables it to offer more courses, new programs, public lectures and public discussions— all while encouraging the interaction of faculty and students that makes for a vibrant research and learning environment.

An invitation-only dedication for the building was held Oct. 13. Among those in attendance were members of former President Gerald R. Ford's family; Joan and Sanford Weill; President Mary Sue Coleman; Provost Teresa Sullivan; regents Olivia Maynard, Rebecca McGowan, Andrew Richner and Katherine White; former Presidents James Duderstadt and Robben Fleming; former Head Football Coach Bo Schembechler; U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D-Dearborn); former U.S. senator from Kansas Nancy Kassebaum Baker, and former President George H.W. Bush, via video.

Ford himself was unable to attend, but he and wife, Betty, have been a big presence throughout the construction process, said Rebecca Blank, the Joan and Sanford Weill Dean of Public Policy.

So much so in fact, "We feel like we should have left two seats empty up here," Blank said. tr>
Former Head Football Coach Bo Schembechler and Jack Ford (top) visit during the dedication of the building named for Ford's father, President Gerald R. Ford. (Above) Joan and Sanford Weill spend a few moments talking with President Mary Sue Coleman before the ceremony. President Ford requested the building be named after the Weills because of their $5 million donation to the School of Public Policy that bears his name. (Photos by Martin Vloet, U-M Photo Services)

The new building affirms the Ford School as one of the nation's top policy programs and provides space for teaching, public events and research centers while enhancing the school's visibility on campus, she said.

"The completion of Weill Hall means that our physical space has caught up with our aspirations as a school," Blank said. "This building should become a central venue at the University of Michigan for discussion of public policy issues."

President Mary Sue Coleman said she stood on the soon-to-be construction site with Ford three years ago and promised the building would be completed within his lifetime.

"I'm so proud to see that promise fulfilled," she said. The University's football team, the U.S. Congress and the White House all were elevated by the former president's leadership, Coleman said, and the new building should do the same for the study of public policy issues.

"Weill Hall cannot contain the respect we feel for him," Coleman said.

Bush in his recorded remarks called the Weills "true points of light" and said the principles of future students would be built upon those of President Ford, who practiced "public service as it ought to be."

The 85,000-square-foot building, on the northeast corner of State and Hill streets, offers state-of-the-art classrooms and more areas for student-faculty interaction. Weill Hall's highly visible location at a gateway to campus enhances the school's role as a central venue for public discussion on current national and international policy issues, and serves to attract new students and top faculty.

"Betty and I are so pleased with the generous support that Joan and Sandy have provided to the Ford School, as well as the gifts of many other donors," President Ford said prior to the event. "With their help the school will now be able to improve on its already impressive accomplishments."

The Weills, longtime friends of the Fords, contributed $5 million to the construction. President Ford asked the University to name the building in honor of their donation.

"Joan and I are honored to support the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan," said Sanford I. Weill, chairman emeritus of New York-based Citigroup.

"I don't think we've ever been so excited about anything we've ever done," Joan Weill said.

Son Steven Ford talked about his parents as exemplary role models and then spoke of his father's public service. He quoted Thomas "Tip" O'Neill, former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, who said, "God has been good to America, especially in difficult times. During the Civil War, he gave us Abraham Lincoln, and during Watergate, he gave us Gerald Ford."

The younger Ford said his father regards the new building as "the memory of a lifetime." He also quoted from remarks written by his father about today's political scene: "Who ever said democracy was easy? I hope we never forget that the science of politics is inseparable from the needs of the people."

The Ford School curriculum emphasizes the value of social science techniques in understanding, developing, implementing and evaluating public policies. Students are involved in rigorous coursework and hands-on, practical policy experience.

Several dynamic research centers operate at the Ford School, giving students access to policymakers and researchers from around the world. The centers include the National Poverty Center; the Center for Local, State and Urban Policy Research; the International Policy Center; and the Nonprofit and Public Management Center.

"The school is large enough to offer a wide diversity of intellectual and political interests, but small enough to be friendly and comfortable," Blank said.

But the school's growth—from 130 students and about 30 faculty in 1999 to 220 students and 45 faculty members today—and dated office and classroom space, made the need for a new building a high priority for Blank, who at the dedication called the old facilities "quaint."

The Board of Regents in December 2001 approved the new building, which was designed by Robert A.M. Stern Architects. When construction began at the site in 2004, officials set up a Web camera so visitors to the school's Web page could see daily progress on the project.

"It's been a treat for mom and dad to see the construction of the Joan and Sanford Weill Hall through the Web cam," Steven Ford said. "They can't wait to see the new building in person, as well as their close friends and University leaders, when they return to campus."

With its stately massing, facades of variegated decorative red brickwork and bright stone, Weill Hall complements the composition and material palette of other U-M buildings, such as the Michigan Union, the Michigan League, Lorch Hall and Hatcher Graduate Library.

Weill Hall's three primary wings are arranged in a U shape to maximize the amount of natural light received by the spaces within and to embrace an east-facing courtyard on the second level. Alcoves and lounges of various shapes and sizes at every intersection of its corridors provide the informal meeting spaces that are crucial to the interaction of faculty and students.

"We need to interact with each other on a regular basis to benefit from each other's expertise and perspective," said Edie Goldenberg, a professor of public policy and political science. She served as Ford School director from 1987 to 1989.

The building features a 200-seat auditorium, as well as conference rooms and classrooms with the latest technology, such as video teleconferencing.

"Students, faculty, and policymakers will find it a wonderful location for study, research, and debate," Sullivan says. "We are pleased that the Ford School now has a home that can fully support its rich curriculum and distinguished scholarly work."

That curriculum soon will be offered to undergraduates. In fall 2007, the school, which currently offers doctoral and master's degrees, will enroll 50 students in the new program. The school also will have new certificate programs, including one in science and technology policy.

Ford, a Grand Rapids native, received his Bachelor of Arts from the University in 1935. He was a member of Michigan's national championship football teams in 1932 and 1933.

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