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  U-M at 200: Vision for a University at its Bicentennial
Coleman discusses emerging research,
partnerships and challenges in State of the University address

Read the president's entire address>

Looking ahead to 2017 when U-M will mark its 200th anniversary, President Mary Sue Coleman focused on a vision for the future in her Oct. 30 State of the University address at the Rackham Amphitheatre.
Thomas Schneider, director of faculty and operational support activities, listens as President Mary Sue Coleman outlines a vision for the University's future during her annual State of the University address. The Senate Assembly sponsored the Oct. 30 event that also featured a session with candidates for the Board of Regents. (Photo by Lin Jones, U-M Photo Services)

As the University nears that milestone, faculty, staff and students must draw from the inspiration of founder Henry Tappan, Coleman said. "And he issued a challenge that has—and always should—inspire us," she said. "'This young university," he said, 'shall we not carry it forward to perfection?'"

"First and foremost is our quest for knowledge. It is the bedrock of our academic enterprise, and is one that we must continually reinforce and deepen to address the complexities of today's world," Coleman said.

The president detailed key initiatives during her address, including the newly announced Michigan Memorial Phoenix Energy Institute, the Life Sciences Institute (LSI), and a 2007 Arts on Earth celebration. She also noted several areas in which she would call on the campus community to examine key issues and new opportunities.

In addition, Coleman updated the University community on The Michigan Difference campaign and U-M spinoffs that have attracted significant venture capital funding. "In addition to contributing to the economy, I want the University of Michigan to be more engaged at all levels with our region and state—indeed, with the larger world—and I want your advice as faculty as to how we might accomplish that," Coleman said.


Since announcing a $2.5 million investment last year to expand team teaching and in development of courses and degrees that cut across academic boundaries, a faculty committee representing all 19 schools and colleges has been reviewing 14 proposals for new undergraduate classes, Coleman said. New offerings are being taught in the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy and in the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, and a third new course and one new program are in line for funding.

Research grows

Coleman said an ongoing Institute for Social Research project, in which 27,000 baby-boomers are interviewed as part of a Health and Retirement Study, received an additional $70 million in federal funding this year—making it the largest research grant in the University's history. The project has been under way since 1992.

"It has been such a successful and transformative project that it is now being modeled worldwide, including in South Korea, Israel, Mexico and 11 countries in Europe," Coleman said.

"This is the University of Michigan and this is what we do best: deep, broad research that informs and shapes the world around us."

Coleman noted that LSI now comprises 25 faculty members who lead groups encompassing some 500 researchers, and has achieved the critical mass envisioned eight years ago. "Not only has the Life Sciences Institute been instrumental in the recruitment and retention of outstanding scientists in a number of departments, it has brought to the fore synergies that are unique to Michigan, particularly between engineering and the sciences. The Life Sciences Institute, the Undergraduate Science Building, Palmer Commons and the Biomedical Science Research Building together represent nearly a million square feet of new space devoted to the three pillars of our life sciences effort: research, collaboration and education," she said.

"Across campus we are realizing great advances and taking on exciting challenges in the life sciences in areas ranging from nanobiology to stem cell research to diabetes research and more.

"We are now in an opportune time to look again at where we stand in the broad sweep of the life sciences—fields that are rapidly evolving—and determine directions we should take as a University that excels at biomedical research."

Coleman said she will convene a presidential task force to advise on emerging opportunities, strategic bearings and collaborative possibilities in the life sciences.

More collaboration

Coleman spoke of the University's combined strengths and collaboration in areas including engineering, medicine and the sciences.

"I think of such programs as the Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience Institute, or our work in cellular and molecular biotechnology engineering, or the Nanotechnology Institute for Medicine and Biological Sciences," she said.

"We are seeing this approach at the School of Public Health, which opened its new Crossroads Building and Tower last week. Among its many important features are 133 new lab benches in a shared environment—the same type of collaborative environment that defines life sciences at Michigan." She said the philosophy of collaborative science is behind the newly announced Michigan Memorial Phoenix Energy Institute, which will model itself intellectually after the LSI.

"Finding renewable sources of energy is one of our most urgent global problems, and the University is in a unique position to make an immense contribution to finding solutions," Coleman said. "The Energy Institute will be the unified voice of U-M energy research and education, and I want to see it become the leading center in the world for energy science, technology and policy."

Coleman announced she will commit $9 million to recruit faculty in fields that complement existing strengths in automotive and nuclear energy research, and hydrogen research.

Economic development

Coleman said U-M, Michigan State and Wayne State universities can continue to help move the state's economy forward; she noted that for the past five years researchers at the three institutions have announced at least one invention every day. Collectively these discoveries have led to more than 500 license agreements for new technologies and systems.

"We have an absolute responsibility to the state to help transform an economy that is flagging because of dramatic changes in the automotive industry.

"As the University Research Corridor, our institutions are playing a significant role in building the Michigan of tomorrow. Innovation and research—the very fiber of our universities—will propel Michigan's economy.

"I want your ideas and advice about how we can better bring the intellectual capacity of our institution to bear on critical problems, specifically of how we can be of greater service to the people of Michigan." Coleman said she will establish a University task force to help with this mission.

Citing current accomplishments, the president said in the last two months, U-M spinoffs have attracted more than $100 million in venture capital funding: $30 million for NanoBio, $40 million for RenaMed, and $33 million for OncoMed. "I want Ann Arbor to be a place where entrepreneurs flourish, and I believe we are seeing the power of the University to make this possible," she said

Coleman said the recent decision by Google to open a corporate office in Ann Arbor and create 1,000 jobs is rooted in the University's relationship with alumnus Larry Page and the University's monumental partnership with Google to digitize the holdings of University Library.

"There is perhaps a more significant indicator of our role in economic development: the state's 21st Century Jobs Fund, which awards money to up-and-coming high-tech firms throughout Michigan. When the first round of $137 million in funding was awarded last month, more than half the money went to Washtenaw County businesses and organizations," she said.

Arts year

Coleman said the 2007 campuswide celebration of the arts will involve course work, performances, visiting scholars and artists and symposia. Highlights of the yearlong celebration, Arts on Earth, will include professor Bright Sheng's music-theatre work, "The Silver River," and the staging of Arthur Miller's "Playing for Time." The Miller play will be performed in conjunction with the grand opening of the Arthur Miller Theatre and the Walgreen Drama Center on North Campus March 29-April 8.

"Humans and the arts create each other, and Arts on Earth will explore this dynamic throughout the world," Coleman said. "We will look at this transformative human experience and its impact on us as individuals and as a social force."

The president invited faculty to find ways to contribute to the Arts on Earth celebration.

She also asked faculty and staff for their thoughts about how to improve the aesthetics of campus with sculpture, murals and other outdoor arts, saying she has named James Steward, director of the U-M Museum of Art, to chair the newly created President's Advisory Committee on Public Art, which will seek to improve art in public spaces.

Partnerships and challenges

Coleman addressed the University's long history of engagement with China, starting in the 1880s and continuing with the delegation she led to Beijing and Shanghai in June 2005 and the hosting of a two-week forum for 25 leaders of Chinese universities last summer. Coleman said she also will establish a faculty task force to examine the range of the University's current efforts and develop recommendations about new opportunities to be explored.

Turning to another partnership that involves faculty and staff, The Michigan Difference campaign, Coleman said the University is at 90 percent of its $2.5 billion goal and has raised more than $2.2 billion. "That support includes gifts from 12,000 U-M faculty and staff members," she said, adding significant challenges remain: raising money for need-based scholarships and for endowed professorships.

"To broaden our student body, I am creating the President's Challenge Fund to help attract more qualified students who may not apply because they believe a Michigan education is unaffordable," she said. "This is a challenge to donors to help add to the richness of the University. For any gift or pledge they make for need-based scholarships, I will match it from discretionary funds. If a donor gives $75,000, the President's Office will match it with $75,000. I will match gifts up to $1 million, and will direct that the money be endowed." Coleman asked that donors build up our need-based scholarships.

To accelerate the creation of endowed professorships, Coleman said she is committing up to $10 million to match gifts for the next 20 professorships. "If a donor gives $1.5 million over three years, the President's Office will match it with $500,000. For a donor, that's a fully named professorship, at 75 percent of the cost." Since the president's match occurs after the donor pays the first $500,000, the University will be able to begin a search as soon as the donor contribution is in place.

Turning to Nov. 7, when state voters decide on Proposal 2 that could eliminate affirmative action programs in Michigan, Coleman said: "If Proposal 2 passes, we will be less attractive to students, to faculty and to potential employers of our graduates. I am deeply concerned about the climate it is creating on campus. Our enrollment numbers are down for African American students, and that worries me and angers me, because we should have a student body that represents students of all backgrounds."

"The ambition and energy of the U-M are not possible without diversity—diversity of people, of academic disciplines, of research initiatives. That is threatened by Proposal 2, the wrongly called Michigan Civil Rights Initiative that puts at risk many of the gains we have made."

Coleman said regardless of the vote outcome, "I am fully and completely wedded to building diversity at the University of Michigan. We must continue to send the message that every student at Michigan deserves to be here, and that we are a university that welcomes all."

Noting that three months ago the Board of Regents reappointed her to a second term, Coleman said, "It is an honor to be president of this University. I can honestly say I have never been in a job that is so rewarding, so challenging, and so enjoyable."

"You help make that so," she said. "The faculty of Michigan are the finest in the world, and you make this the best place to teach, to learn and to work."

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