Coleman cites faculty contributions, U financial strength

Recent top rankings of U-M in a range of areas, and the often world-changing multidisciplinary work being accomplished in and out of University classrooms, reflect well on faculty, said President Mary Sue Coleman at her annual faculty Senate Assembly Address, Oct. 27 at Palmer Commons.

Coleman cited recent high rankings the University has garnered, including being named the best public university in the country by London's Times Higher Education and among the "Best Colleges to Work For" by the Chronicle of Higher Education.

President Mary Sue Coleman addresses the Senate Assembly. (Photo by Scott Soderberg, U-M Photo Services)

"All of these achievements are a reflection of our faculty and your contributions to this astonishing environment we call the University of Michigan," Coleman said. "Working together, we must continue to accelerate these strengths — strengths that reflect our passion for great students, our support of extraordinary faculty, and our nurturing of a culture we know as the Michigan Difference."

The president called on faculty to seek greater recognition for achievements. "I want us to re-dedicate ourselves to identifying our best and brightest faculty and seeing that they are recognized at the national level," she said.

Illustrating how U-M can be an invigorating climate for teaching, research and service, Coleman said she had spoken with Thomas Zurbuchen, a professor of space science and aerospace engineering and director of the College of Engineering's Center for Entrepreneurship, about a project joined by 24 graduate students to bring the power of the Internet to Africa. The students devised a satellite system using existing technologies and a solar power system, all at low cost.

"Our students' ideas and theories are becoming reality," she said, adding that Google has its eyes on the students' work.

Turning her comments to the current economic crisis, Coleman said the University is financially strong in these troubled times.

"We have felt the uncertainty of the financial markets as much as any organization, but because of prudent, conservative management, we are weathering this crisis," Coleman said.

"Our cash flow is sound, our bond rating continues to be the highest possible, and our capital projects are moving forward. Our endowment continues to support student aid, faculty salaries and countless programs across the University."

Coleman also cited the leadership shown by the Board of Regents and the University's financial team.

While U-M continues to be challenged by flat state appropriations, she said, the University is committed to providing attractive salaries and excellent facilities. Meanwhile, efforts to cut expenses have resulted in $96 million in savings during the past four years, she added.

The president said she was "deeply grateful" for the nearly $155 million contributed by more than 16,000 faculty, staff and retirees to the Michigan Difference campaign, which has raised more than $3 billion with two months to go. She encouraged participation in The Michigan Difference Campaign Celebratory Convocation at 2:30 p.m. Nov. 14 in Hill Auditorium.

The president said the University is advancing academic excellence by raising nearly $60 million in new graduate fellowships, which help attract the best students and faculty.

The University also is moving forward with a $30 million plan to hire 100 new tenure-track faculty who have interdisciplinary interests, she said. Since unveiling the program a year ago, 25 positions have been funded; the remaining 75 will be filled in the next four years.

"We have such fertile ground here for crossing academic boundaries, and I can't think of another university that provides such a breadth and depth of opportunity for faculty to work at the fringes of their disciplines," she said.

"I strongly encourage you to explore the possibilities of this new venture, and all other opportunities for interdisciplinary work."

The University continues to have a strong partner in the federal government, which has supported much of the record-level $876 million in research expenditures at the University in the past year, Coleman said.

She also suggested looking to industry to support the University's work. "Just as we have built synergies with interdisciplinary work, we do have opportunities to find strong partners in industry for addressing profound challenges in our world," she said.