Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Friday, September 27, 2013

Diversity among topics at forums to gather input for presidential search

The university's next president should further boost diversity and make sure legislators know that more support for U-M will help the state compete in the global economy.

Those were among themes repeated in comments from among nearly 100 faculty and staff attending a noon forum Thursday. The Board of Regents and the Presidential Search Advisory Committee convened the forum to gather input on the qualities desired in the next U-M president.

President Mary Sue Coleman has announced she will conclude her tenure as president in July 2014.

The first of two such public meetings Thursday, the forum in the Law School's Honigman Auditorium drew attendees representing a wide range of schools, units and the U-M Health System.

Another session took place Thursday evening in the Modern Languages Building, primarily designed to gather student input.

"It's a challenge maintaining diversity, inclusion and making sure that, as education gets more and more expensive, opportunities are still available to a wide variety of students. That will be a major challenge coming up," Jeff Harrold, academic standards adviser in LSA, said at the noon session.

James Logan, program outreach coordinator in the Stephen M. Ross School of Business, said the next president should consider that U-M, in close proximity to Detroit, could be a leader to build underrepresented minority enrollment.

"I think it's very important that the president be engaged and help the Legislature understand the value of education," said Eric Bell, associate professor of astronomy. He said the next president must articulate to legislators the value of a well-educated Michigan work force, in competing globally for jobs.

Kim Kearfott, professor of nuclear engineering and radiological sciences, biomedical Engineering and radiology, said, "We need a charismatic visionary," someone fully tenured at another university who has maintained a connection to a faculty job or research, and maintains a connection to students.

Regent Katherine White, who is coordinating the campus forums on behalf of the Board of Regents, said she was encouraged by the range of university interests represented at the forum.

"There were people from all different departments. I just thought it was very informative, and accomplished what we're trying to accomplish," she said.

The regents and advisory panel will conclude its public sessions today with a 2 p.m. meeting at UM-Dearborn's BorgWarner Auditorium and a 5:30 p.m. at Blau Auditorium in the Ross School.

At the Law School session, attendees continued to address a range of concerns.

Bill Schultz, professor of mechanical engineering and applied mechanics, said the new president should consider that the independence of various schools presents a real challenge when it comes to promoting collaboration.

Heidi Kumao, associate professor of art, said the new president should support innovative, imaginative thinkers: "Creativity is integral to everything we do."

Harley Etienne, assistant professor of urban and regional planning, said, "There are students who are here who pay way too much for really bad housing." He said some thought should be devoted to how the university affects the local housing market, and how increasing housing prices deter prospective students.

"I haven't heard anybody address the growing crime on campus. There should be a transparent plan to address those issues as well," said Lemar Thomas, training specialist senior with the Health System.

Nancy Kelly, an administrative assistant senior with Revenue Cycle Education, Development & Quality Management, represented Voices of the Staff at the forum. She said VOICES has provided staff an opportunity for engagement, and added the group hopes the new president will maintain that. She presented a written statement to the search committee, detailing the group's successes.

During the forum for students Thursday night, more than 20 of the nearly 100 students who attended offered their priorities for the next U-M president. The forum was facilitated by Central Student Government President Michael Proppe.

Affordability and access for all students were the focus of many students who addressed regents and members of the search advisory committee.

Dan Green, a senior from Detroit, said he has gotten used to being the only black student in many of his classes, but emphasized, "this needs to change." He said he knows many Detroit students who are qualified to attend, but "they don't feel like they have access to U-M."

Pete Wangwongwiroj, a graduate student from Thailand, said he believes the university needs a president who is willing to "be bold, be daring, be visioning" and someone who embraces the university's public mission.

Shashank Subramaniam, a sophomore from Farmington Hills, said he hopes the next president will be someone who helps students realize their passions.

Proppe said CSG surveyed students in advance of the forum and found that affordability and diversity were among the top concerns. He summed up the survey by noting that students wanted a president who can demonstrate he or she knows how to hold down costs; has experience in higher education; is willing to engage students and can foster diversity on campus.

Those unable to attend can comment by email through Sept. 30 at UMich.President@russellreynolds.com. More information about the search process, the official job description and periodic updates will be posted on the presidential search website.