The University Record, September 11, 1995

U aims to be ‘fault-tolerant,’ enable risk-taking, new faculty told

By Jane R. Elgass

New faculty members were challenged by two University administrators at their recent orientation to take risks and to find creative ways to unite teaching and research.

Addressing a luncheon group that filled the Michigan League Ballroom Sept. 1, President James J. Duderstadt recalled a conversation he had had with Harvard University’s Derek Bok. Bok told Duderstadt that Harvard can buy quality, but Michigan, because of its size and resources, is in a better position to take risks that lead to change.

“I suggest that is the role of the University of Michigan,” Duderstadt said, “one of being a pathfinder, of blazing trails.”

The president noted that the U-M “is a fascinating place, one that raises many symbols and images.” Perhaps the best way to describe it, he said, is to call on the words of President James B. Angell (1871–1909), who described the U-M as “dedicated to providing an uncommon education for the common man.”

The U-M, he said, is a complex institution that is constantly evolving, and that evolution is led by the faculty.

“Our vital signs are the strongest in our history, as shown by the quality of the faculty we attract. And in spite of the erosion of state support, we are financially one of the strongest universities in the country.”

Duderstadt commented on the changes taking place in society, noting that current students are coming from the “plug and play generation.”

“They want to participate in their learning,” he told the new faculty members. “Faculty will more and more become consultants and coaches.”

He also noted that the years ahead in higher education are “times of great challenge, great opportunity and great responsibility, as well as excitement.

“Look at these responsibilities and opportunities,” he challenged the group. “Take risks and chances and through that achieve leadership. We want the University to be a fault-tolerant environment.

“The University of Michigan is an extraordinary place. I hope you share that excitement.”

Detailing the role of his office, Vice President for Research Homer A. Neal pointed out that there is a unity among faculty here “that cuts across colleges, institutes and programs. The role of the vice president for research is to ensure that this [unity] can happen and to ensure as well more traditional activities.”

Neal explained that he uses the term “ ‘research’ loosely, broadly. We are concerned with nurturing research, but we are equally concerned with nurturing scholarship and creative activity.”

He asked the faculty to put their trust “in this ultimate unity of purpose,” assuring them that his goal “is to be helpful to all of you.”

Research and education at times seem very much opposed, Neal noted, but “Michigan as an institution is strongly dedicated to the coupling of these two, especially at the graduate level, and also at the undergraduate level.

“We are looking for creative ways to unite research and teaching. Our success depends on you. I hope you accept the challenge.”

The orientation was sponsored by the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching. Center Director Constance Cook also made brief remarks at the luncheon.