The University Record, October 10, 1994

An open letter to the University community from the provost

Dear Colleagues:

Considerable progress has been made in teaching, research and international activities by faculty and staff at the U-M during the past academic year. Since we are beginning a new academic year, this seems like a good opportunity to pause and reflect on some of the achievements of the past year.

My thoughts first turn to the subject of teaching, which, as you may recall, was featured in my remarks to the Senate Assembly last fall. Nearly every school and college has reported increased emphasis on teaching and intense involvement in curriculum reform. Faculty in several schools have held retreats on teaching. In addition, Rackham and the Provost’s Office are engaged in a significant new effort to evaluate and improve the training of TAs. Begun at the invitation of LS&A as part of an evaluation of its TA training, the project now involves the TA training at the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching as well, and will be Universitywide in its scope and impact.

In LS&A, the Undergraduate Initiative continues to focus on elements of undergraduate education that shape students’ first two years at the University. There have been large-scale curricular changes in entry-level science and mathematics courses and a steady increase in the number of First-Year Seminars. In addition, the very successful Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP), which involves first- and second-year students in research relationships with faculty, has been expanded.

In May, the Office of the Provost hosted a Seminar on Teaching for 30 faculty members from across the University who had been nominated by their deans. A small steering committee had selected topics for the day: issues of pedagogy, faculty development throughout the teaching career, the relationship between scholarship and teaching, and the evaluation of teaching. Lively discussions of each of these topics ensued. At the end of the day, the group decided to continue consideration of these issues in their home units during the fall term. They also agreed to reconvene within six months to decide on appropriate next steps. A second meeting of the seminar has now been scheduled for November.

CRLT has secured a grant from the Pew Charitable Trust and the Hewlett Foundation for new approaches to the evaluation of teaching, specifically peer evaluation, which will involve teams of faculty members drawn from history, chemistry and mechanical engineering.

You may be interested in hearing about some of our progress in the area of international activities as well. The schools and colleges report increased contacts at universities around the world, especially in Europe and Asia, through research and curricular development projects. For example, the School of Music is looking to new faculty exchanges with several of the leading music conservatories in the Peoples Republic of China, the College of Architecture and Urban Planning has established a program in Florence, and School of Natural Resources and Environment undergraduates are now able to participate in a formal exchange with two Russian universities. Other new exchange programs for graduate and undergraduate students have also been launched.

The new International Institute has increased the support of graduate and professional school students by means of new pre-dissertation fellowships, travel grants, and multi-year fellowships for graduate students from rapidly changing areas of the world who plan to do research on those areas; supported special language training for a range of graduate and professional students; and helped fund instruction in “orphan languages,” including Uzbek and Hungarian. It also has established working groups for interested faculty and graduate students in the areas of health and medicine, the environment, the arts, material transitions, and race/national/migration/refugees. It has created an Advanced Study Center, to begin in 1994–95, and three new visiting faculty positions. The 12 new joint appointments that are available through the International Institute have been attracting campuswide attention. Thus far, only one of these positions has been authorized, but several others are being actively considered.

The Business School has made progress in preparing its graduates for the increasingly global nature of business today by means of a series of internships for its students in Eastern Europe. It has also created a distance learning project: it is offering some of the course work for an M.B.A. to 40 Cathay Pacific Airways managers in Hong Kong via interactive video, and is looking at other venues.

We can take considerable pride in these and many other faculty accomplishments this past year. And I should note that, without an excellent staff to support these efforts, none of this would have been achieved.

Many faculty have distinguished themselves during the past academic year in research, scholarship or creative activity. I will not dwell on these considerable accomplishments, not because they are unimportant, but because Vice President Homer Neal’s report to the Regents detailed much of this activity.

I also want to take this opportunity to make a few comments about the University budget.

For the past several years, there has been almost constant reference to budget reductions of one sort or another. The term “budget cut” is actually a misnomer. Although all units have had reductions as well as being required to contribute to compensation programs, University resources as a whole have grown, and the increased funds have been allocated to a variety of purposes. Knowledge of these purposes is not widespread, however, and I thought it might be useful to indicate to you some of the new funding commitments for the current year. For example, the University Library has received a $500,000 increase in excess of the normal allocation in its acquisitions budget. This constitutes the fourth year in a row that the acquisitions budget has been specially increased, for a total of $2.5 million. Funding also has been given to the Library to support specialized librarian positions and public site computer replacements.

LS&A has received the largest share of an allocation for critical academic needs, thus continuing a multi-year trend to provide additional funding to that unit. Support for special programs targeted at improving the quality of undergraduate education and students’ involvement in academic life were added to the base budgets of LS&A and Engineering. Additional funds to support cost-sharing on teaching grants have been allocated to the Graduate School. Moreover, the School of Art has received $600,000 in Thurnau Funds over a period of five years for the integration of art with technology.

Centrally-funded programs in support of the recruitment and retention of a diverse faculty have also benefited this year. The Senior Hiring and Recruitment Effort (SHARE) has helped bring six new senior women faculty to campus for the 1994–95 academic year, and the Target of Opportunity Program has helped bring 15 new faculty of color to campus for the 1994–95 academic year. For purposes of faculty recruitment or retention, the Dual Career Program has helped place 13 spouses or significant others for the coming academic year.

In support of research across the disciplines on an annual basis, the funds of the vice president for research have been increased by $400,000. Student financial aid was increased by $6.8 million over 1993–94 for undergraduate, graduate and graduate/professional aid programs. Faculty and staff compensation increased by $12.6 million in the central budget for 1994–95, and the units were expected to add at least an equal amount, for a total of roughly $25 million.

As even a cursory glance around campus would indicate, undergraduate classrooms have been extensively renovated on the Main and North Campuses. Many of the larger classrooms have been outfitted with standard panels to allow for the use of instructional technology. An extensive renovation and remodeling of classroom and research space is under way, affecting virtually every LS&A building. The long-awaited renovations of East Engineering, which will unite the faculty of the Psychology Department under the same roof, is only one among the many projects currently being completed. The School of Education has also received funding to renovate parts of its facility. Finally, special one-time funds have been supplied to the academic units over each of the last two years to help them prepare for the future computing environment.

I hope that this discussion will provide a fuller picture of the most recent accomplishments of faculty and staff, and a better understanding of the purposes for which University resources have been employed. This is truly a great university, and I hope that you will share my pride in these examples of what has been achieved this year.


Gilbert R. Whitaker Jr.

Provost & Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs