Chancellor's Office

Inauguration Address


November 30, 2000

Thanks to all

Thank you, Regents Taylor and Maynard, for this act of investiture. I extend my thanks as well to the Regents emeriti and the elected officials who are present, and I offer my greetings and recognition to President Bollinger, his executive officers, delegates from other institutions, former interim chancellor Bernie Klein, and Chancellor Juan Mestas from UM-Flint. Thanks to the representatives of each of the constituencies of the university who have conveyed such generous greetings on behalf--thanks, Laura, Hugh, Tim, and Urana. Thanks to all for participating in this important moment at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.

I want to convey warm thanks to Professor Elaine Clark and the inauguration committee for the enormous and creative work they have done in preparing this ceremony and the events leading up to it. I’m just as grateful to the many, many members of the UM-D staff who have worked so hard on all these arrangements, from the chairs in this room to the flowers at the Estate.

I offer sincere thanks as well to Professor Sidney Bolkosky and the search committee who helped to bring me here. The committee expressed a powerful and compelling vision of UM-Dearborn throughout the process, and I very warmly appreciate the real hand of friendship that Sid has offered since my arrival. I offer a special word of appreciation for the exquisite musical offerings we have experienced today and at the concert last night.

Finally, I express my special gratitude to my family and friends who have joined us today--to my partner in life, Bernadette Lintz, to my parents, William and Emma Little, to my sister Susan Allen, and to my children Joshua and Rebecca. To my friends who have traveled from the distant villages of Hamilton, Lewisburg, and Waterville--thank you, and please enjoy the metropolitan area while you are here!

* * *

This inauguration is a celebration of the institution. It represents a marking of time and progress in our proud 41-year history, and it is an occasion to celebrate the achievements that this community, its faculty and staff, and its prior leadership have attained. We are very, very proud of this institution, its history and its promise for the future. We are part of a great university, the University of Michigan. We are a state institution that has been generously supported by the State of Michigan. And we are an educational community with our own identity, our own special strengths, and our own destiny. We have much to accomplish together, and I look forward to this work with the greatest enthusiasm and a sense of the most satisfying challenge that I could aspire to.

The university in time
At this time of transition, it is worth observing that a university can live forever. Unlike our own personal life-cycles, a university can continue to develop without constraint of time. Think about this! It means that the institution can improve, strengthen, diversify, change--indefinitely; and that the gains achieved by one generation serve as the basis for further progress in the next. The great universities of North America--for example, the University of Michigan, the University of Illinois, and Harvard University (each a place that has a special and personal meaning for me)--have achieved their excellence through this sort of steady progress, through generations of effort and dedication. Each has its own history and its own distinctive persona. And each thrives across generations to the exact extent that it succeeds in keeping a lively sense of shared purpose among the men and women who make up the institution at any given time.

But not all universities are so ancient, and that is true of us. This is a young campus. Much of our story is yet unwritten. And it depends upon us to write this story skillfully and well. It is a great responsibility and a great opportunity to contribute to the development and unfolding of a university. And all of us have a crucial role to play--faculty, staff, students, regents, alumni, and friends. Our actions together will help to shape the university long into the future through the many acts and choices we make, both great and small--the courses we offer, the speakers we bring, the engaged conversations we have with students, the programs we develop, the buildings we build, the partnerships we nurture, and the reflections we give to the shape of the campus. (This is why attention to architectural values is important, and why we need to attend to the grace of the campus as well as its educational and functional qualities.)

The chain of office that I now wear speaks to this conveying of the many contributions from one generation to the next; and to the splendid achievements that result over time through these many decades of partnership. The chain represents partnership with those who have come before us, and a promise of partnership with those who will come later.

I am very pleased by Elaine Clark’s remarks about the long traditions of a university, and the centrality of the freedom of thought and expression that these values represent. These are indeed among the most important traditions of a university--traditions of intellectual exploration and challenge and an abiding commitment to the values of inquiry and truth. I am no less grateful to Thomas Sugrue for the wonderful lecture he offered us yesterday, bringing to this campus in vivid detail the hard truths we must face about the 20th-century history of Detroit and this region, and the challenges that lie ahead.

Both Elaine and Tom illustrate what a university is about—its own proud traditions of scholarship, truth, and service, and its relationship to a place--a city, a region, a state--and its ability to help bring education, opportunity, and justice to its region.

Our central task as a university is to provide excellent education to the students we serve. We educate thousands of men and women every year, both undergraduate and graduate. The most important contribution we offer the people of the state of Michigan takes the form of the intelligent, flexible, and imaginative men and women who complete and extend their educations through our programs. It is the human contribution of our faculty, and the intangible architecture of our programs, that are the essential worth of the place. And our central obligation is to assure our students that the educational opportunities they find here are the very best we can provide.

As a public university we also have a special obligation of service to the community in which we live. The university can be a dynamic source of ideas and energy for our external constituencies as the citizens of Michigan grapple with the challenges of American life in a global context--for example, schooling, environment, employment, and race. UM-Dearborn is a strong partner with other groups and organizations in the region, and we can take pride in the active roles that members of the university have taken in the community. A proud tradition of UM-Dearborn is our focus on “engagement” in the region we serve. The impact of the cumulative energy and creativity freely given by our faculty, staff, students, and alumni has had a profound impact on the quality of life in this community, and this will always be an important role for the university. This commitment is part of the founding mission of the university, and has proved to be a source of great value for this community.

Let us focus on the educational mission of the university. What are some leading educational values that can help us navigate the future of this university? In the next few minutes I would like to refer to some of the educational values that seem particularly important for UM-Dearborn. Many of these values have to do with community—how to establish, sustain, and nurture the educational communities that constitute this university—and the broader community of citizens and institutions who support this university.

The first among these defining values is an ongoing commitment to educational excellence. This means many things. It means faculty giving their full, lively attention to the content of their courses and programs. It means faculty being generous in the time they spend with students, both undergraduate and graduate, in those transforming relationships that exist around research projects, independent study, and out-of-classroom conversation. It means making the best use possible of the resources of the university to assure that laboratories, libraries, and other facilities are the best we can provide. And it means a continuing commitment within the university at every level to deep reflection about the nature and content of the learning experience. We need to be assiduous in assessing the effectiveness of the teaching and learning that goes on in every part of the university, and we need to pay lively attention to ways of enhancing both curriculum and pedagogy in order to more effectively educate the men and women whom we serve.

What are some of the elements that ought to inform the learning experience for our students? I find that UM-Dearborn is a university that recognizes the centrality of liberal learning within all aspects of an undergraduate education--in engineering as much as in philosophy, in accounting as much as in history. We prepare our students best when we bring them into serious intellectual engagement with the context of the problems they grapple with--international, cultural, historical, ethical, technological. And this is the heart of a liberal education. Through a broad exposure to humanities, arts, social sciences, mathematics, and natural sciences, our students will be the most strongly prepared for the challenges they will face. They will possess imagination, reflectiveness, and ethical sensibilities that will prepare them for lives as citizens, professionals, and persons. So serious exposure to literature, philosophy, or social theory is not merely a good thing for the liberal arts student; it is an important component of the imagination and intellectual depth of the creative engineer or manager. And likewise, the English major or the art history major needs to have significant exposure to the methods and challenges of mathematics, science, and technology.

A second important educational value is interdisciplinarity. An important challenge that we face, and that our students will confront even more, is the proliferation of knowledge and the increasing complexity of the problems that we are called upon to solve. Within the university we can model the value of interdisciplinarity as a powerful response to burgeoning fields of knowledge and complexity of contemporary problems. It takes political science, economics, environmental chemistry, oceanography, ethics, and sophisticated modeling techniques to even begin to solve the problems of environmental degradation that we face. And this sort of interdisciplinary collaboration will be critical if we are to solve the complex, multi-edged problems we face--the revitalization of a city, the design of environmentally friendly manufacturing processes, or the creation of a just, multi-ethnic society.

Related to the value of interdisciplinarity is the value we attach to viewing the university as a vibrant intellectual community. A university should constitute a lively intellectual community, one in which interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary conversations occur in the normal conduct of university life. We should find settings in which engineers talk to philosophers, who talk to librarians, who talk to elementary education specialists. The goods that come from this value are many--vitality, new perspectives on our intellectual issues, and the synergy of a dynamic university. All of us came to the university with a powerful set of intellectual appetites; and the university needs to be a place that nurtures these appetites through effective mechanisms of interaction among faculty, staff, and students.

Fourth, UM-Dearborn needs to be a community that celebrates and welcomes our various forms of difference, and that responds affirmatively to the diverse constituencies of the Detroit metropolitan area and the surrounding region. It is a special strength of UM-Dearborn that we are situated in a region with such vibrant diversity--Arab-American, African-American, Mexican-American, Polish, Irish, Jewish, Armenian. A powerful emblem of this diversity is captured in the Pluralism Project on display in the Berkowitz Gallery in the Mardigian Library, documenting the marvelous diversity of religious experience in the Detroit area. This diversity makes us stronger as an educational institution, and it offers the dynamic synergy that comes from listening and responding to these many voices.

Finally, I would like to refer to the role that scholarship and the creation and application of new knowledge plays at UM-Dearborn. Since its founding, UM-D has taken pride in the high quality of faculty who have been attracted to this university. And this university has accomplished as well as any that I have known the balance of scholarship and teaching that is the mark of the teacher-scholar model. What we recognize is that serious, ongoing engagement in one’s professional and scholarly program is an essential part of the life of the faculty member and is an important contribution to the university and to society. It both contributes to and is stimulated by the effective teaching and engagement of the classroom. There is no fundamental tension between scholarship and teaching.

What kind of place do we want UM-D to be?
I must bring my remarks to a close. What kind of place do we want the University of Michigan-Dearborn to be? Let it be a place dedicated to the deep values of learning and maturation that a university represents. Let it be a place that transforms our students, that challenges them intellectually, but also challenges them morally and socially; that helps them work through their own sense of purpose and connection to their communities. Let it be a place of meanings, a place of significance for all of us--students, faculty, and staff.

We have our own tasks in front of us as we look forward. We have the mundane, everyday tasks of building programs, ensuring excellence, and improving everyday practices. And we have loftier challenges as well: to create and sustain a sense of genuine community in this university, a genuine community of scholars and learners and the many committed people who support the learning process here. And we look forward to reaching out to the broader community as we continue to deepen the relationships between this university and the people of Southeast Michigan.

Several years ago we had a visit to campus by the eloquent African-American poet, Margaret Walker. Ms. Walker made a powerful impression on those who heard her read her poetry, and I will close with a few lines from her poem, “For My People”. I choose these lines because they express so well the courage and hope that I think we can all feel for the promise of the future and the agency that we must play in bringing that future into being.

For my people standing staring trying to fashion a better way
from confusion, from hypocrisy and misunderstanding,
trying to fashion a world that will hold all the people,
all the faces, all the adams and eves and their countless generations;

Let a new earth rise. Let another world be born. Let a
bloody peace be written in the sky. Let a second
generation full of courage issue forth; let a people
loving freedom come to growth.

I began by noting the enormous potential longevity of the university, and the incremental contributions we all can make to the deepening and fulfilling of the institution’s purposes. I close now by expressing once more my gratitude to all of you for giving me the opportunity to play a role in shaping the future of the University of Michigan-Dearborn. Thank you very, very much!