The University Record, September 9, 1998
New faculty members gather for orientation and information fair
By Jane R. Elgass
"You are really the core of this institution, what makes it a special place for all of us," President Lee C. Bollinger told some 145 new faculty members Aug. 31. "We care deeply about you and your success."
Bollinger and Provost Nancy Cantor addressed the new faculty during an orientation program sponsored by the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching that included a series of workshops and an information fair.
The president noted the new faculty members' first few months here will be "thrilling and exhilarating, but with an undercurrent of anxiety. But don't let that bother you."
Sharing an instance early in his teaching career in which he cited the wrong case in a commercial transactions law course, Bollinger said he still makes mistakes. "When I make mistakes, I try to laugh at myself.
"This is a very privileged position [that of teachers] we all hold," the president said. Faculty "have a sort of informal pact with society" that gives them responsibility for young people, truth and knowledge.
"Universities are one of the wonders of the organizational world," Bollinger said. "I'm amazed at how responsible faculty are for their classes. People respond to their responsibilities and duties in ways unparalleled in the world. It is critical that that continue."
Of Mr. Chips and Dr. Seuss
Cantor told the new faculty that they are being counted upon to "move this institution forward. We are poised between traditions and the future," she said. "You will be the carriers of the new way to do it."
But what is this "way" that has to be changed? Cantor admits it seems to elude definition, but is fondly referred to by many as "The Michigan Way."
When she first joined the U-M in 1981, Cantor gave up after a couple of weeks of trying to define the culture of the institution. Asking a long-time faculty member for help, the reply was, "We have our ways."
She decided to ignore the dilemma and "do what I needed to do."
"So I tell you, ignore this 'Michigan Way.' The canons, traditions, automatic habits truly need to be challenged. Only someone from the outside can do this."
The University is bizarre and Byzantine, the provost noted, citing decentralization that is tempered by a high degree of collaboration. She urged the new faculty to take advantage of this environment, noting that they won't be allowed to "rest complacently. Everyone expects you to participate."
"The Michigan Way' is about as far away from Mr. Chips as you can get. It's a lot like Dr. Seuss," Cantor said, noting that faculty will be challenged and asked to inspect their own suppositions.
"'The University of Michigan doesn't accept things at face value, they must be open to examination. That's the task of a university, to bring together a variety of perspectives through which we inform each other and therefore inspect the self."
Teaching is a process of challenge and discovery, Cantor noted, "of engaging this institution. Don't stand back from the risk of challenging our canons."