Confronting the Challenges of a New Era - A Call to Action

For 60 years, the University of Michigan-Dearborn has pushed the boundaries of higher education and continuously pursued opportunities to serve the students, industries and communities of southeastern Michigan and beyond. 

From its inception, our metropolitan university has been a bold and daring enterprise dedicated to transforming the lives of its students and creating the leaders of tomorrow. Historically, we have served as a center of academic excellence that is also a hub of business, industry and community engagement. We are a regional campus of a world class university committed to new ways of teaching and creating exciting translational applied knowledge; a catalytic partner for industry, community organizations, schools, government agencies and non-profits; and a welcoming and inclusive institution that provides an affordable and accessible education to students from all walks of life.  Over the years, this endeavor has extended access to the excellence of a UM-Dearborn education to over 55,000 students.

The shared vision of Ford Motor Company and the University of Michigan that launched our campus has come to fruition. Today, UM-Dearborn is a top-ranked regional university comprising four interconnected colleges. Our teaching and research faculty are both well-regarded and innovative. We enroll 9,500 students from diverse backgrounds, many of whom are the first in their families to attend college. We cultivate a learning community that emphasizes a fundamental understanding of theory within the context of practice-oriented, applied experiences. Diversity, inclusion and community engagement are among the core values that define the UM-Dearborn experience. The degrees we confer equip our graduates to pursue successful careers or continue on to graduate school. Perhaps most important, the vast majority of our alumni are quickly hired and go on to become a force for positive change throughout Michigan, across the country and around the globe.

Setting Our Course for the Future

Despite this unequivocal and manifest success, UM-Dearborn is not immune to the challenges that face all higher-ed institutions as we strive to achieve our mission of being a transformational center of learning for all capable students.

Chief among the challenges we face are shifting demographics and economic pressures resulting from an aging population, reductions in state funding and a rising tide of jaundiced public opinion that questions the value of traditional college degrees. But the challenges extend beyond our state and region and are complicated further by the changing  nature of society. At this moment in history, our entire world is being transmuted.  Metropolitan areas increasing in size and density and are being transformed into Smart Cities; our society is moving from the Internet age (Society 4.0) to Society 5.0 (one of complex interconnected systems, i.e., the Internet of Things) and artificial intelligence is rapidly emerging as a dominant reality.

To be sure, these are both challenges and opportunities and are further contextualized in an increasingly, and at times, unimaginably complex world that demands new, multimodal ways of reasoning, thinking, knowing and problem-solving.

In the years to come, graduates of UM-Dearborn will be faced, directly and indirectly, with immense challenges that stem from exponential population growth, resource depletion, inequity in resource distribution, water scarcity, geopolitical instability, climate change, immigration, automation, over-reliance on technology and other global issues to name a few. Succeeding within this context will require the ability to think holistically and work collaboratively in partnership to address the inherent complexity of solutions, and to devise and invent systems and technologies that will enable cities such as Detroit and Dearborn to continue to adapt themselves as well as to serve as models for other urban areas.

As serious and severe as these challenges may be, they also provide us with exciting opportunities and potential solutions that are well within our capabilities. It is by embracing and confronting these opportunities—and tirelessly pursuing the solutions they require—that we will continue to fulfill our mission and realize our full potential.

As part of an iconic and storied university with a strong, career-ready focus and access to massive research potential, our task in the years ahead will be to open the doors of opportunity to more students than ever before and to equip those students with an education that enables them to adapt as society and the economy change, to welcome new challenges, and to make a consequential impact on their community, their state, their nation and the world.

This can only be achieved through a fundamental reconsideration of our educational model.

The Way Forward

In higher education, as in all things, complacency is the enemy of progress and success. In order to remain relevant and exert a meaningful impact on those we serve, we must overcome  inertia by systematically, deliberately and collectively re-evaluating, rethinking, reconsidering and recreating the university as we know it today.

Our starting point in this process is explicitly identifying and reaffirming the core values that describe, in broad terms, the goals and outcomes to which we, as an academic community, are committed

Core Values

We enthusiastically embrace our role in serving our students and shaping the future of society through the values outlined below:

  • Promote the success of our students—on campus and throughout their personal and professional lives—by developing careers, character and perspectives
  • Provide excellent, accessible and affordable educational programs
  • Support the professional growth and success of our staff and faculty as scholars and teachers 
  • Create and sustain a culture of respect, inclusion and diversity
  • Encourage scholarship and generate and share knowledge that is consequential

We will apply these values in leveraging our strategic opportunities in ways that are inspirational, aspirational, attainable, sustainable and measurable. These opportunities reflect what are or will be our strategic differentiators.

We will respond to these opportunities with:

  • Our inherent strength, scope, potential and reputation as a member of the University of Michigan family, and as a world leader in education, research and service
  • A reconsidered innovative 21st century curriculum, pedagogy and delivery system
  • Efficient, efficacious and creative organizational structures that are not constrained by traditional boundaries
  • Contemporary, well-informed and well-conceived programmatic offerings
  • Our physical location as a metropolitan/anchor university set within an exciting, dynamic and rapidly-changing region
  • A diverse, well-qualified  student body that has enormous potential but may not have benefited from privilege
  • Our proven ability to build a culture of design thinking, creativity and innovation throughout our community

Rethinking the University: An Invitation and a Call to Action

As large and daunting as challenges and opportunities that we face are, they are well within our grasp.

In the years ahead, UM-Dearborn must be a university with the capacity to transform both individual lives, the region and the world. We can and must prepare our students to be leaders and best by offering new, multimodal approaches to education. We can and must assist and support our faculty and staff in undertaking consequential research and scholarship that can be applied to pressing problems regionally, nationally and globally.

Achieving our aspirations—and assuring the university’s continued relevance—calls for radical innovation. The process requires a tabula rasa (blank slate) approach and a commitment on our part to engage in an open-minded, open-ended conversation with all of our stakeholders: faculty, students, alumni, staff, executive leadership, supporters and our partners in business, industry and the community at large.  It also requires the courage to ask ourselves significant questions such as:

  • What structures would we build today if this university had no prior history and why?
  • What programs, courses, collaborations and opportunities will best serve our students in a world driven by continual change and complexity?
  • How can we teach our students to expect the unexpected, to approach every problem from multiple perspectives, to be open to a myriad of possibilities and to function effectively beyond their comfort zones?
  • How can we better access and accommodate students seeking University of Michigan excellence?
  • What could our university be if we all started asking “What if” and “Why not?”

Our conversation will be guided by a set of performance principles that reflect and support both our Core Values and Strategic Opportunities. These principles include a commitment to:

  • Honor and uphold the excellence of the University of Michigan
  • Pursue excellence in everything we do
  • Acquire sufficient resources to realize our plans and objectives
  • Act as honorable and wise stewards of all resources entrusted to us
  • Create and sustain a respectful, inclusive, safe and welcoming environment
  • Foster the success and well-being of the campus community and the people who comprise it
  • Strive for efficient and effective operations
  • Encourage and enable all of our employees and alumni to be enthusiastic UM-Dearborn ambassadors
  • Build and maintain a culture of creativity and daring.  Embrace innovation, be willing to take risks, assess our progress and make necessary adjustments as we strive for constant and continuous improvement

Let the conversation begin! And let that conversation be aligned with the hope and promise outlined more than a century ago by James Burrill Angell, the University of Michigan’s longest serving president, who declared that the guiding vision of our great institution should be to provide an uncommon education for the common man [sic].

We begin the strategic planning process in earnest in January 2019.


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