Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Coleman outlines opportunities, challenges for upcoming year

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Full text of Coleman's State of the University message

President Mary Sue Coleman described what she called the university’s “achievements and challenges” in her State of the University message, during which she announced an increased emphasis on sustainability and highlighted U-M’s role in the state’s economy, the promise of expanded research and the pressing need for increased efficiencies in campus activities and operations.

The president also called for an initial study of alternative transportation that would link Central and North campuses.

In her address today, Coleman pointed to this year’s historic $1 billion in research expenditures and the possibilities for expanding the research enterprise further through such initiatives as the ongoing hiring of new and experienced faculty, the opening of North Quad Residence Hall, and the addition of the North Campus Research Complex (NCRC).

“The University of Michigan’s strength comes from its unrivaled intellectual muscle. Our faculty change lives with their teaching and their discoveries. And the students who invigorate our classrooms year after year are among the brightest and most accomplished in the world,” Coleman told community members gathered in the Blau Auditorium of the Stephen M. Ross School of Business and those viewing a live webcast.

Coleman said the university is moving forward with development of the NCRC, the property formerly owned by Pfizer that U-M purchased earlier this year. She said under the leadership of Dr. Jim Woolliscroft, faculty and staff have explored the possibilities of the how university research can be expanded with the 173-acre NCRC.

”We will now begin to push those ideas into action,” she said, announcing that a full-time executive director will be hired for NCRC to make the “vision a powerful reality.”

“The world looks to research universities for answers to such dilemmas as climate change, global pandemics and medical innovation. The NCRC will be a proving ground for solutions,” she said.

The development of NCRC also will bring added density to North Campus, Coleman said, and has prompted the need to explore alternative transportation systems to better link North and Central campuses.

“The ability to move with ease between the North and Central Campuses is critical, and we must address this in tandem with our academic growth,” she said. A campus forum to explore transportation ideas is being planned for next semester, she said.

Coleman also announced the university will increase its emphasis on environmental sustainability in the classroom, the laboratory and its business operations. She said climate change is an issue that has sparked the interest of students concerned about the future.

“Frankly, our students exhibit a passion and an urgency that I have not seen since the space race. And unlike then, when we achieved President Kennedy’s goal of a man on the moon by 1969, addressing climate change is more complicated, with no end date on the calendar. And it is not an American cause alone, but a huge global concern.”

To do so:

• Don Scavia, director of the Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute, will serve as special counsel on environmental sustainability, advising leaders and working with students on such issues while encouraging further cooperation among the many groups working on aspects of sustainability across campus.

• U-M will establish an Office of Campus Sustainability to assess and improve how the university uses energy, recycles and builds facilities.

• The university will strengthen educational opportunities, including doubling the enrollment in a course on sustainability and the campus, in which students “apply ecological, social and economic theory to hands-on practice.’

While highlighting U-M achievements and praising the “innovation and creativity” of faculty, staff and students, Coleman also said the university faces continued challenges in the days ahead, brought about by a still-troubled national economy and a state in severe financial distress.

“These are not ordinary times, but then we are not an ordinary university, “ she said.

“As a community, we must be more strategic than ever, in all aspects of our work — in teaching and research, in our support of the economy, and in the financial management of the institution,” Coleman said.

She stressed the importance of exploring greater efficiencies and increasing revenue, such as offering more classes in the spring and summer semesters, using shared staffing and centralized services, and offering non-traditional programs and classes.

She called on everyone at the university to control costs while maintaining U-M’s excellence.

“I believe that through our shared contributions, this university will grow and prosper in ways that will be the envy of others in higher education. “

One area that has benefited from the poor economy, Coleman said, is faculty recruitment.

“If there is a benefit to the recession and the fact our peers are not making offers, it is that the University of Michigan is in an opportune position to recruit great faculty.”

Coleman said the first of 100 new faculty expected to be hired by 2012 have arrived on campus. Forty-nine positions have been funded, she said, but because the interdisciplinary work is done in teams, the actual hiring takes a bit longer. These new faculty are tackling such problems as climate change, HIV/AIDS, and understanding molecular actions of cells to help in the treatment of disease.

One such collaborative project between the School of Information and LSA, focused on the digital explosion and its impact on culture and identity, will be a feature of the living-learning environment of the North Quad Residence Hall, set to open in 2010.

Other goals Coleman articulated for the university:

• Reach $2 billion in research expenditures by U-M’s bicentennial in 2017, which means instead of growing 5 percent annually, the target would be 9 percent yearly.

• Continue to make international study and enrichment opportunities available and affordable for students “hungry for these experiences, which will help prepare them for a world that has fewer and fewer boundaries.”

• Continue to support the regional economy through the University Research Corridor that just announced its $14.5 billion economic impact on the region and state—a 10 percent increase since a year ago. The URC is an alliance between U-M, Michigan State and Wayne State.