The University Record, November 5, 1996


Lee C. Bollinger

Photos by Bob Kalmbach

By Jared Blank, Bernie DeGroat and Jane R. Elgass


On academic freedom:
Bollinger says he has spent much of his academic career examining academic freedom and how it relates to the First Amendment. "I would say there's nothing that I think is more important with any university community," he says. "To me, what it means is that there is a special openness to be willing to enter the sensibilities of other people.

"It is not simply a matter of the term I use a lot, tolerance. That is really not what it is. Tolerance is the right description, the right word for free speech in a sense, that is, you simply allow people to say things but you don't have to make a special effort to enter the sensibilities of other people."

Bollinger says that in the academic world, there is an additional tenet to tolerance. He says that students and faculty must "suspend your beliefs" and "really entertain" what others are saying. But, "it doesn't mean you don't make judgments and you don't have positions."


On the University's relations with state government:
Bollinger says that the best way to demonstrate why universities make "such a great contribution to society" is to invite legislators to campus to see exactly what happens on campus. "Nothing I could say in an office can compare with a visit to the campus to see what actually happens," he says.

In addition, he says that relationships "count for a great deal" when working with members of the legislature. Moreover, "it's the attitude you bring into it. So, if your attitude is `of course the institution is great. You obviously ought to support it; not supporting it is unthinkable,' you just can't go around saying publicly or privately that people who are making these decisions have no appreciation of the values of the University when they don't give as much as people would like."

"I don't believe in an advocacy model, an interest group model for the university." He says that this model is inconsistent with his "fundamental principle"---openness in the community. "To turn the University at its top level into an interest group is to have a contradiction at the very top, and that's unthinkable."


On the relationship between the president and the Regents:
Bollinger says that cooperation and honesty are the keys to the president establishing a relationship with the Regents. The president must "have lots and lots of conversations" with the Regents about sensitive issues that arise.

He also suggests following the example of Dartmouth by setting up an annual retreat for the Regents where they "spend two-and-a-half days talking about the major issues of the institution."


On the challenges facing the president of a large institution compared with his duties at a smaller institution:
Bollinger says that deans at the U-M do not simply work on the school level, they work with faculty and staff from across the University. He adds that the U-M has always placed power in the hands of the deans. However, he is concerned that deans may have lost some of their power in the recent past for many reasons.

Because he met with so many people from around the U-M while he was dean, he says that "by the time I left Michigan, I had a very strong sense of what was going on in the various schools around the institution."

He also says that "Dartmouth is bigger than you think and smaller than you think." He compares it to looking at "a Japanese miniature, so you get a sense of a bigger picture by looking at something smaller, and I have been able to watch a really fine teaching institution, undergraduate teaching institution, do that and to participate in it as I've done as a teacher."


On the Medical Center/Health System:
Bollinger says that the most important thing is that the University not lose ownership of the hospital. He says that Dartmouth does not control either the hospital or the doctors' practices, and it has caused a situation in which there is "a process constantly in search of a structure. There is a lot of wasted energy in the system because of the lack of a clear structure."

He praises the quality of the Medical Center, but says that there are aspects of it that must change to meet the needs of a changing industry. "As the HMO system moves in, you've got to position yourself in that market, which means generally closing some beds, letting off some people and reducing your costs," he says.

"The whole system was built up on Medicaid and Medicare, and fee-for-service is evaporating, and the academic medical schools, as we know, are suffering. The academic medical program with the right type of business leadership can compete in this new market."

Bollinger says that he is "simply not a high-powered business person," and that he would have to bring in somebody who can combine business acumen with academic skills. "I think the trick is to find that person, to attract them to a place like Michigan, to give them autonomy, and to let the system go with frequent supervision."


On faculty governance and tenure:
Bollinger believes it is "very important to keep all parts of the structure of governance alive and well" and that the president should meet regularly with the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs to discuss issues of concern. He also is a strong supporter of tenure and "would fight as hard as I possibly could to maintain it."

He says that without tenure, the special type of thinking that takes place in the academy---"kind of suspension of belief and a willingness to entertain other sensibilities in an extraordinary way"---would be inhibited.

"You have to feel that you are protected before you can undergo the psychological, mental transformation to open up in that way," he says. "If you kick somebody out, you are taking away somebody who has built a life, an intellectual personality, around something that has a very distinctive set of values, and that's not fair."

Bollinger says there are other ways of ensuring high levels of quality research and teaching, namely through salaries and self-motivation.

"There are tremendous internal pressures on people to succeed," he says. "Most people are not aware of them, but the internal motivations that spring from these other things to do well are very, very great, so I think there are plenty of protections. I think deans need to occasionally be stimulated to use salaries in a way that will promote greater research and teaching."

On the perception that undergraduate education suffers at a large research institution:
Bollinger believes that the learning opportunities for U-M students are at least equal to those at a small, private, elite institution like Dartmouth, and that much has been done at Michigan in the past 10 years to create a more student-friendly environment.

He says he supports research opportunities for undergraduates and thinks learning/living programs are a good idea because they bring education into the social life of students.

"At Dartmouth, the idea has been to create a faculty house connected to a cluster of dorms and have a faculty member live there and have programs during the year," says Bollinger, who stopped short of advocating the same model at Michigan. "Maybe go to a poetry reading or a Red Sox game, just have activities and you have an adult faculty presence that tries to put some educational life into the institution."


Bollinger had time for informal discussions at the reception.

On the culture at Michigan:
Bollinger says that a certain sense of modesty permeates the culture at U-M, which does not have the kind of self-importance that some of its peer institutions possess. "I happen to find that extremely charming and endearing, and I think it is a wonderful feature," he says.

However, he adds, this sense of modesty is accompanied by "a loss of a sense of history, a sense of self, a sense of identity." For example, Bollinger believes that the University should tout more the history and architecture of many of its buildings---at England's Cambridge University, "there's a book on every single building that tells you about it and where it came from"---and stake a greater claim to more of its famous alumni and others who studied in Ann Arbor.


On issues of selectivity, accessibility and diversity:
Bollinger believes that moving toward a "need-blind" admissions policy would be a proper goal for Michigan and that "a prospective student's ability to get an education should not depend upon their family's wealth, their economic status."

He says that he is deeply committed to the notion of affirmative action and fully supports the efforts of the Michigan Mandate to diversify the student population. He thinks society has an obligation to provide opportunities for economically and socially disadvantaged groups of people, and that in higher education, it is critical to "cross boundaries and [experience] how other people see the world."


On the role of intercollegiate athletics within the institution:
"I think they're great learning experiences, are enormous fun and are part of the Michigan identity," Bollinger says. "The role of the president, I think, is to make it absolutely clear that there will be no violations whatsoever. It's a colossal embarrassment to an institution to be sanctioned, and totally unacceptable."

He adds that maintaining high academic standards for athletes and managing the commercialization of the athletic program (e.g., the Nike contract) are other important issues.