The University Record, July 23, 1996

Neal has goals, hopes for the U-M

Neal wields a custom gavel while presiding over his first Regents meeting last Friday.

Photo by Bob Kalmbach

Editor's Note: Interim President Homer A. Neal began settling into his new office on the second floor of the Fleming Administration Building on July 1. He recently talked to the Record about his goals and hopes for the University during his tenure.


Record: How do you see your role as interim president? Is there a difference between being an interim president and an acting president?


Neal: It is a subtle difference. If President Duderstadt had taken a two-month leave and someone was needed to hold down the fort during that period, that person would have been an acting president. The title interim president implies the full weight of serving as president and making independent decisions until the time a permanent president is installed.


Record: Can you tell the University community a little about your family?


Neal: My wife, Jeannie, and I have two children. Our daughter is married and living in Philadelphia. She is the executive director of a historical mansion/museum there. Her area is archaeology, and she has been on digs in Carthage in Tunisia. Our son is a physicist. He received his doctorate last year from Stanford in high energy physics, and is now conducting research at the European Organization for Nuclear Research [CERN] in Geneva, Switzerland.


Record: Will you and your wife be staying in the President's House?


Neal: No, not with the uncertainty about when a new president will be chosen. But we will be using the President's House extensively for University functions.


Record: There are several initiatives that members of the University community have expressed a desire to have continued, specifically the Michigan Mandate and the Michigan Agenda for Women. Do you support those programs at the same level as the former president?


Neal: Absolutely. I support those initiatives and will do everything possible during my term as president to ensure that we don't lose our momentum in these areas.


Record: Do recent court decisions have anything to do with the way the University of Michigan will handle affirmative action policy?


Neal: No. Those decisions bear on a different judicial district. However, we will certainly be monitoring other judicial and legislative developments very closely.


Record: During your term as interim president, Value Centered Management (VCM) will be fully operational. So many things are changing across the University right now. Will there be visible changes that faculty and staff may see as a result of that program?


Neal: VCM has begun. The provost, chief financial officer and I will be keenly interested in minimizing any unintended consequences of VCM. For example, we will watch for the impact on interdisciplinary programs or for any activities that may have a negative impact on the overall University.

VCM should, when properly tuned, improve the budgeting process and offer incentives for increasing revenues, while protecting and nurturing those entities that may have few opportunities for revenue enhancement.


Record: Looking at the general U-M community, is there anything that you can say about the changes VCM may bring?


Neal: This should have no extraordinary impact. For example, decisions regarding staffing still will be made by deans and directors. If a unit's goal were to improve efficiency by downsizing, it could do that before VCM. There is nothing about VCM that would require the unit to do it as a result solely of VCM. For units trying to generate more revenue, incentives existed for them to go through efficiency-improving processes before, and there will be incentives under VCM.

It is our hope that both the academic and auxiliary sectors of the University will, in the long term, benefit from VCM. In principle, the removal of inefficiencies will generate more resources that will be available to the University to carry out its primary mission. Of course, we must be very careful at every level not to confuse a perceived inefficiency with a legitimate academic initiative.


Record: There is some concern about the climate for minorities on campus following some incidents, both on campus and in the Ann Arbor community. Do you have plans to keep things from escalating?


Neal: A committee will be appointed to study the climate on campus as recommended by the Department of Public Safety Oversight Committee. One of the greatest challenges is to take the next steps in making inclusion a reality.

Farris Womack and Bernie Machen have asked Dean Paul Boylan to serve as chair of the new Task Force on Campus Safety and Security. More than six years have passed since the first task force on campus safety delivered its excellent report. The campus has grown and changed in dramatic ways since the late 1980s; the need for personal safety and security is greater now than ever. I hope the task force will take a fresh look at the degree to which we have an ideal human climate. I also believe that each of us has to take personal responsibility for improving that climate.


Record: Are there other goals or major issues that you think may come up in the course of your tenure as interim president?


Neal: One major initiative that I am interested in has to do with undergraduate education. Essentially, I would like to guarantee that every undergraduate student who wishes to work on a research or service project has the opportunity to do so. Many students already do research or senior projects in their classes, but I am interested in looking at how we can guarantee that opportunity to all students. This would include all disciplines.

I also am interested in technology transfer, economic development and the University's partnership with industry---we need to work in all of these areas. I would like to see how we can improve our connections to regional industry. Another area that interests me is how the U-M relates to all of its external publics. I will be working closely with our representatives in Lansing and Washington; I also look forward to fostering strong relations with the city of Ann Arbor.


Record: You've been involved in administration a long time. Do you plan to return to research after your term as interim president?


Neal: I haven't been totally away from it. I have had a funded research program for the last 25 years. One of the requests I made of the Regents was for funding for a visiting professor who would work with my research group while I am in this office. One of my concerns about the presidency is that it does, indeed, take you totally away from a field as rapidly evolving as mine.


Record: What would you most like to do?


Neal: I would like to do a good job shepherding the campus through this transition. Then, I would like to take a year's leave, probably in Copenhagen at the Niels Bohr Institute, one of the premier physics institutes in the world, or at CERN in Geneva, to get back up to speed in my field. After that, I would like to come back and be a happy professor and prepare for the next run of our experiment at Fermilab near Chicago, where we hope to gather a sufficient number of top quarks to do a detailed study of their properties.


[Note: Neal has been involved in the search for quarks, the fundamental building blocks of nature. The smallest pieces of matter found to date, quarks are the particles that make up entities such as protons and neutrons.]