The University Record, February 25, 1997

Bollinger names priorities

Lee C. Bollinger, who took office as the 12th president of the University on Feb. 1, talked with the Record about his goals for the University.

Photo by Bob Kalmbach

President Lee Bollinger, for years an avid runner, is settling in to the fast pace of his new duties as he focuses on four key issues that have vied for his attention since he moved into the Fleming Administration Building Feb. 1.

One of Bollinger's highest priorities, he recently told the Record, is the development of collegial relationships with Michigan's various constituents: Students, faculty and staff, Regents, members of the Legislature, Gov. John Engler and his staff, the federal government, business and community leaders, and alumni.

Two other pressing issues are the need to fill several key administrative positions, including that of the chief financial officer, and changes at the Medical Center.

"We need to develop a plan that will preserve the academic greatness of the Medical School and the U-M Hospitals. This academic greatness is the touchstone by which one evaluates everything around it. Unfortunately at this point in history, `everything around it' happens to be a transforming marketplace."

The University doesn't have the luxury of waiting until a new executive vice president for medical affairs is hired to begin developing a plan to operate successfully in a managed care environment, Bollinger says. "It would be a mistake to delay dealing with this challenge. Without a clear sense of direction, we risk losing outstanding faculty members and others we would like to recruit. People sense a feeling of not moving ahead, a malaise---a mindset that can't be tolerated for long in an academic environment."

Bollinger plans to be "very involved in making the decisions that must be made about the Medical Center" and "will continue talking to people, mostly inside. I want to have the issues clearly explained, to have discussions about them and to review all the possibilities. It's a complex task, but we must work together to clarify our choices and understand their ramifications."

Bollinger's fourth concern is "the academic excellence of the institution, including identifying academic programs that need to be nurtured and supported at a higher level; areas where new initiatives should be developed; programs that can be scaled back; and disciplines where we are at risk of faltering, of losing outstanding faculty or missing recruitment opportunities.

"Michigan's aspirations of academic excellence turn on the quality of our faculty. The University can and must offer," he says, "an environment where people say to themselves, `There is no better place for me to do my work than in Ann Arbor, Michigan.'"

Bollinger, who spent 21 years at Michigan before leaving a little over two years ago to become provost of Dartmouth College, returned to Ann Arbor in January, several weeks before he officially took office. He used this time to reacquaint himself with the U-M.

"I have met with many people. My preference is not to have large, formal meetings; I prefer casual conversations with individuals. It has been very informative. In general, I found that there is great optimism within the institution, a sense of enthusiasm," he says. "The University is a very healthy place, which is what I anticipated."

His experience at Dartmouth will help him in his new post, Bollinger predicts. As a professor and dean of the Law School, he says, "I spent a lot of time with faculty and students from other disciplines, and as dean, I worked on University wide problems, but I was still within my discipline.

"When you are responsible for an entire university, your perspectives change in subtle ways. To go outside to a place like Dartmouth is refreshing. Being responsible for the undergraduate program in an institution that has an outstanding one, you see what might be transferable, and what is good about Michigan that isn't fully appreciated.

"I admire Dartmouth, but Michigan, I believe, makes available educational opportunities that are as rich and varied as those available at any other institution in the country."

Bollinger has on numerous occasions reaffirmed his commitment to both the Michigan Mandate and the Michigan Agenda for Women, noting that the University has accomplished a great deal through the two initiatives.

"There is widespread commitment within the University community to the underlying principles and goals of the Mandate and Michigan Agenda, but the major issue for the institution now is the internal culture, which can be an elusive, difficult concept to understand," he says. "However, the next step here definitely is to focus on culture."

The new president also believes that the University's greatness is not as widely recognized as it should be.

"Michigan has a great reputation inside and outside the academic world. It is one of the premier research universities in the country," he says. "However, I believe that Michigan is greater than its reputation," He attributes this reputational shortfall to three factors:


The East Coast bias of the media, which pay less attention to schools in the Midwest. "The East Coast is the community of the New York Times; I don't believe that with the expanded distribution systems of the national press has come parallel development in national news coverage."


"Public institutions in the forefront of higher education, such as Michigan, have been less sophisticated and successful than outstanding private colleges and universities in internalizing and publicizing their accomplishments."


Media rankings, such as those created by U.S. News & World Report, "favor private institutions in which wealth is given greater weight in assessing academic quality than it deserves, putting high quality public institutions at a disadvantage."

As part of his ongoing effort to learn how individuals feel about the University, Bollinger practices an art he developed in the classroom---asking questions.

Bollinger's personal style is informal. He wants to keep in touch with members of the University community and welcomes letters, e-mail, and casual conversations on the street or in hallways. He also likes to write personal notes, but is "well aware there's only so much I can do. I prefer to take my time to respond and be personal rather than have someone else respond for me."