The University Record, October 31, 1994

Nelms call for true ‘urban university’

U-M-Flint Chancellor Charlie Nelms sees his campus as “a major community resource, which can act as a stimulus for city and regional revitalization as we enter the 21st century,” in his mind a truly urban university.

“The Flint campus is in a unique class,” he stated at his inauguration as Flint’s fourth chancellor on Oct. 21. “There are only a handful of institutions in this country that have the distinction of being affiliated with a major research university and of being located in an urban environment, an environment that I see as dynamic, energetic and interactive.”

Among the defining characteristics of an urban university cited by Nelms:

  • Institutions that view their location as an asset rather than a liability.

  • Institutions in which the definition of faculty scholarship is expansive enough to include basic and applied research.

  • Universities that utilize the community as its classrooms and libraries, and in which the student profile reflects the demographics of the area and the academic programs reflect in significant measure the needs of the community and the region served.

    “The urban university that I envision,” Nelms said, “is one that acknowledges, respects and validates the culture and experiences of the learner. The urban university of which I speak acts as a partner with the community, celebrating its successes and seeking solutions to its challenge.

    “I believe that the U-M-Flint can and should become the urban campus of the University of Michigan. Doing so does not mean that we are less than Ann Arbor or Dearborn or other Michigan public universities. Rather it recognizes our unique role in addressing the challenges and opportunities afforded by the location of the campus and the profile of current and future student,” he stated.

    Nelms outlined a series of activities that will enable the Flint campus to become “a more distinctive and responsive university with an urban thrust”:

  • The campus community must reach consensus on what it means to be an urban campus. “In considering this issue,” Nelms said, “we should do so in the context of a new paradigm that focuses on the positive attributes of the urban environment, rather than attempting to fit our future into a paradigm that was framed by major research and residential colleges with a traditional student population.”

  • Flint and other institutions must become “more learner-centered. This does not mean abandoning the content that students must master; rather it requires paying greater attention to the student’s learning style and actively involving the student in the teaching and learning process.”

  • To be an effective and responsive university of the future, Flint “must engage in true collaboration with the community, with the K-12 system and with other colleges and universities.”

    “We must see ourselves as part of a seamless web of education rather than as separate and apart from other educational institutions.

    “With increased creativity, trust, respect and risk-taking,” he challenged, “I believe that we can deliver the quality programs and services needed by this region of the state. Just imagine the joint positive impact the University and its partners could have on increasing the college-going rate, improving public health, enhancing minority attainment and improving public education by working collaboratively with others.”

  • Flint must retain the liberal arts as the core of all academic programs. “Most of the challenges that our students face defy resolution through a disciplinary approach. We need graduates who can perform jobs as well as those who can create them. We need citizens who can find solutions to society’s social ills rather than simply commiserate about them.”

    Stating that “leadership does not occur in a vacuum,” Nelms called

    for help from four groups:

  • Faculty can help by “developing a new paradigm, by which we proceed with educating larger numbers of students and in capitalizing on the opportunities for applied research and service afforded by our urban university environment.”

  • President James J. Duderstadt and the Regents can help by “supporting new programmatic initiatives that we bring forward in the future, initiatives that relate to our urban mission. I ask your active support of our efforts to secure additional state and private funding in order for our campus to become more responsive and inclusive.”

  • Students can help “by assuming greater responsibility for your own learning and by committing yourselves to excellence.”

  • State legislators can help “by assisting us with securing the resources that the University needs if it is to respond to the post-secondary education needs of this region.”