Convocation Address (September 3, 2013)
Greetings, new students and families. We are glad to have you joining the University of Michigan-Dearborn. This is an exciting transition for you – and it is an exciting moment for us as well. Every year we greet another group of talented, curious, and imaginative new students; each year our courses are enriched by new perspectives from fresh minds; and each year our student organizations have a new infusion of talent and energy. Your arrival is part of the creative mix that keeps the university a lively and dynamic place. The faculty and staff of UM-Dearborn extend our sincere welcome to you! This is our eleventh academic convocation and it is a happy celebration of your new beginnings.
You are the people who are most directly responsible for the quality and depth of your educations. But your partners in this journey are the faculty of the university. UM- Dearborn is privileged to have an unusually talented and dedicated faculty, and I want to extend my appreciation to them today. Faculty from all four colleges and schools are present. With us today are engineering faculty who have invented new techniques for advanced manufacturing; education faculty who are working closely with urban and metropolitan school systems in the area to help improve the quality of education children receive; business faculty are engaged with entrepreneurs working to transform Detroit; and arts and sciences faculty (CASL) who are doing research on urban history, environmental challenges, and the health of minority communities in our region. They are intellectually and civically engaged in numerous ways, and they are committed to your success.
Our campus is committed to being a truly inclusive one. In fact, we look at this goal as one of the really important challenges for the next twenty years for all universities and colleges. All of you know that our region is both highly diverse and highly segregated. How can we do a better job of learning from each other within the university and within our region? How can we become a genuinely inclusive learning community? UM- Dearborn aims to become a national leader in establishing some of the practices that can make this goal a reality. One example is the campus tradition, now into its tenth year, of hosting regular "Conversations on Race" for the campus community. We know our efforts are yielding results. In the most recent National Survey of Student Engagement 62% of UM-Dearborn students reported they had a serious conversation with students of a different ethnicity/race and 61% of students have had a serious conversation with students who are very different in terms of religious, political or personal beliefs. These conversations were held in an open, inclusive and welcoming campus environment. Civility, mutual respect, and a vigorous opposition to all forms of intolerance are a foundation for inclusiveness – but these are only the beginning, not the end.
As part of our efforts towards this goal of inclusiveness, three years ago we created the position of Special Advisor to the Chancellor for Inclusion. Dr. Ann Lampkin-Williams is here on the platform with other university leaders. She is an active presence on the campus, as we find better and deeper ways of embodying the values of respect, acceptance, and mutual learning that will be the hallmarks of the twenty-first century. Dr. Ann, would you please stand?
These are exciting times at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. The enrollment of the campus continues to be at a record level. We expect this year's enrollment to again exceed 9,000 students. We celebrated the opening of UM-Dearborn's first student housing a few weeks ago, and some of you moved into The Union at Dearborn just a few days ago. We are underway in a major project to improve lab and teaching spaces in the natural sciences, at a total cost of $53 million. The campus has been preparing intensively for the past two years for an accreditation visit by the Higher Learning Commission in 2013. That process serves to document the academic quality and success of undergraduate programs, and our faculty and staff have been working hard to prepare for the visit. We call this process "Vision 20-20." The accreditation team will be on campus later this month. This is important to you because it ensures that you will receive a quality education and you will be well prepared for careers and active roles as citizens.
You are beginning a truly important part of your life course by becoming a student at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. So I will take the risk of offering a few thoughts about what your educations can do for you. Of course we want to help you prepare for a career. But more fundamentally, we want to prepare you as thinkers, creators, leaders, and doers. We want to help you gain skills of analysis, reasoning, and communication that allow you to make sense of the complex problems our world faces. We want you to gain some of the knowledge of history, ethics, and culture that permit you to see the context of the events you experience in the next several decades. And we want to stimulate you to become creative and collaborative problem-solvers.
If your generation is going to solve the difficult problems we face in every direction – economic stagnation, intergroup conflict, hunger and malnutrition, rapid climate change, or urban decline – then you'll really need all those skills of creativity and problem- solving that you can gain. And the broad education we want you to have at UM- Dearborn is the best way I know of to gain these skills.
Our campus has adopted a very simple mission for itself, and I hope it is one that will inspire you. It is this:
UM-Dearborn is committed to the academic excellence of the University of Michigan, dedicated to achieving positive impact in metropolitan Detroit.
We want to bring together two sets of values: academic excellence and metropolitan engagement. We aim through our programs, our student organizations, and our faculty research to find ways to contribute to improvements in the quality of life and the social and economic wellbeing of the 4.5 million people of our region. A university can be a great force for social and economic progress, and we are committed to being such a force in this region. And that is where you come in: you have all the potential necessary to become innovators and leaders during your careers, based on the education you will create for yourselves during your time at UM-Dearborn. Moreover, over three-quarters of our graduates remain in southeast Michigan – so the lessons you learn here can be applied in Michigan and throughout the world.
One of the core values that we have at the university is one that I think a lot of you already share. It is the value of civic engagement and community service. On this campus we realize that the world we live in requires compassion, commitment, and a willingness to serve in order to ensure that the communities we care about will thrive. There will be many opportunities for you to extend your own capacity for service during your years on campus. We want to help you make that engagement be as effective and transformative as it can be.
When a student organization comes together to take on a Habitat for Humanity project, the students are turning their skills into a source of hope and help for a deserving family. They are also learning how deeply satisfying it is to work together for a common purpose. Civic engagement is good for our communities, and it is good for us individually as people.
So UM-Dearborn places a lot of priority on metropolitan and community engagement. We invite you to develop your horizon of caring and participation in the well-being of others throughout your experience on this campus.
These ideas explain the choice of the quotation from Nelson Mandela that was chosen for the bookmark you received as commemoration of today's ceremony.
"For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others."
― Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela is a man who knew much about the casting off of chains. He was one of the courageous agents of change who persistently challenged the cruel apartheid regime of South Africa, enduring 27 years in prison and a life of remarkable hardship without losing his commitment or his humanity. Along with Bishop Tutu, Steve Biko, and other brave activists, Mandela helped to mobilize and motivate people in South Africa and around the world to oppose apartheid. Mandela now approaches the end of his life, and we remember him for the strength of his commitment to freedom and to equality.
What is striking to me in this quotation is the second half of the sentence: "live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others." This brings the idea of community and mutual respect into the idea of freedom. And these are core values here at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. Many of us believe that living well means cultivating relationships with the communities around us – finding ways in which our most cherished projects align with the aims and goals of others. There is an idea of freedom that comes from the eighteenth century, in the personage of Robinson Crusoe: to be free is to be unimpeded by others in the pursuit of one's purposes. To be free is to be free to be left alone. But the ideal that Mandela puts forward here is different: it is the idea that freedom is best exercised in community with others.
This doesn't mean that all people have the same ideas or goals; in fact, communities sometimes thrive on disagreement as much as agreement. But it does mean that the bonds of civility and mutual respect are more fundamental than the issues or interests that divide us. And, as Mandela understood, those bonds of civility need to be cultivated and nurtured. Societies (and universities) differ in the degree to which they succeed in cultivating an environment of mutual respect and engagement. This is what we believe the language and values of "inclusiveness" permit for our campus. Inclusiveness doesn't mean "melting pot;" it doesn't mean giving up our own cultures and identities. But it means coming to see the value and legitimacy of the values and cultures of other people, and to see that each of us is enriched by serious partnership with others. And you may not know this yet – but the students of the University of Michigan-Dearborn are very good at this!
It is also key to another value that many of us share – the value of working together to solve the difficult problems that face us. No single one of us can end the scourge of lead poisoning for children in decrepit homes. But by working with other committed people, effective community organizations, and well intentioned government officials, it is possible to greatly reduce this problem, and to solve many others.
This is the idea we have for you under the idea of metropolitan engagement: that you can extend your involvement in the society around you through a variety of means at UM-Dearborn -- the CIVIC, service learning, and community-oriented student organizations; and that this will be an important aspect of your growth as human beings during the course of your education here.
I'll close by returning to an important fact about the relationship we expect to establish with you. We have high expectations of you – to work hard, to be scrupulous in respecting the integrity of academic honesty, and to be engaged. And you in turn have every right to have high expectations of us. We believe in you, and I know that you will justify that trust.
Congratulations to you, students, parents, and friends of the incoming class of 2013. I look forward to meeting you on many occasions, beginning with the ice cream social that will take place immediately following today's ceremony.
I would now like to introduce Kate Davy, Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, to offer a few remarks.