Greeting to the faculty
September 6, 2000
Greetings at this important moment in the annual cycle of the life of
the university. I have always found the opening of the academic year to be the real time when new beginnings, new friendships, and new areas of learning are in the air. The arrival of students in our classrooms and labs, the renewed relationships with colleagues and friends, and the fresh ideas that we bring to our teaching and research all signal a time of renewal and excitement.
This is particularly true for me this year as I begin my service as chancellor at UM-Dearborn. I came to this university with a very strong impression of the quality and promise of the place--the quality of the faculty, the seriousness and talent of our students, and the steady commitment of the staff and administration to the central mission of the place. Now that Iíve spent several months on campus, these impressions are only strengthened.
I would like to take this opportunity to speak briefly about how I see the important work that we as a university do together. We share a high calling--to provide opportunities in higher education to the women and men of Michigan, both undergraduate and educational mission. We stimulate our students to think critically, to consider context, to think creatively and imaginatively about the
problems they confront, and to develop their own deep understandings of the values that will motivate them. Awareness of context is particularly important in the education that we offer our students. By this I mean an understanding of the moral context, the historical context, the cultural context, the international context, the narrative context of the issues, ideas, and problems that our students confront. And this is as true of the accounting student and the mechanical engineer as it is of the philosophy or sociology student. The liberally educated student comes to develop a capacity to recognize and incorporate context into his or her analysis of a problem; and this quality both justifies and illustrates the value of a liberal education. I have had many conversations with faculty in all four units of this university, and I find broad endorsement of these values.
The mission of UM-Dearborn
I have come to see UM-Dearborn as a very distinctive place, with its
own identity. We are part of a very great university; we are a campus that has built a curriculum grounded in the liberal arts and sciences, with powerful expressions in the professional programs; we are a faculty and staff of strong commitment and affection to our students; we are a faculty of noteworthy achievement in the world of scholarship; and we are a university with a privileged relationship to a great metropolitan and industrial region.
Shared commitments and values
The special chemistry of a university is the potential it represents for achieving a deep and sustained intellectual community. By this I mean a sustained interaction among faculty in many disciplines and on many levels. The sociologist, the engineer, and the accountant have much to learn from each other, and in ways that can profoundly affect their understandings of their own intellectual concerns. But this synergy does not occur automatically; there is no hidden hand that gives rise to intellectual community. I hope that in the coming years we will find new ways of nurturing our intellectual community at UM-Dearborn--for example, through colloquia, through faculty social hours, and through collaborative learning and teaching.
One important manifestation of intellectual community is the availability of interdisciplinary teaching and learning. Interdisciplinarity-- whether in womenís studies, Asian studies, or science and technology studies of the automobile--is a way for faculty to achieve productive collaboration and intellectual growth. But it is even more important because the problems our society confronts, and that our students will have to deal with, are generally larger single disciplines. Global warming, technological failure, ethnic and racial conflict, and depletion of fisheries are all examples of social and technological processes that demand interdisciplinary collaboration for their solution. And we as scholars and teachers need to provide powerful examples to our students of the intellectual leverage that comes from effective interdisciplinary collaboration.
An ideal of university work
This vision emphasizes the point that a high-quality education is a joint product in the economistís sense. The studentís experience is the mixed result of sustained exposure to dozens of faculty, dozens of administrators and staff, and many offices and services within the university. And if those hundreds of people are not motivated to contribute to the studentís educational success, we will not have succeeded in our shared mission. So a powerful connection to the educational values that we espouse, both by faculty and staff, and a deep sense of the importance of the work that we do throughout the whole of the university, are central to our successes as a university. We must function as a large team, or an alliance of many teams. It is very important to me to recognize and appreciate the work that is done in all quarters of this university.
This begins with an appreciation of the quality and commitment of the faculty. I know very well how challenging and how testing the life of a faculty member is. You are asked to put forward strong, effective courses; you are asked to engage in intensive relationships with students; you are engaged in productive research agendas; and the university expects you to engage in the governance life of the university as well. This is a very deep set of obligations and demands, and I offer you my admiration and respect for the very excellent work that you do as a faculty in all these areas.
Collaboration is essential in a university. The decision-making of a
university needs to reflect a broad involvement of faculty and staff (and students in many processes). We will come to better decisions, decisions that are better aligned with the central tenets of our mission, and decisions that have a higher level of legitimacy, when they have resulted from broad consultation and communication. One concrete step in the direction of fulfilling this goal is the anticipated formation of a university-wide ďPriorities and BudgetĒ committee that will represent faculty, staff, and students in the budget process.
The importance of difference and the importance of climate
Another important aspect of a university community has to do with
respect for difference and an ability to create the conditions of mutual respect that underlie democratic civility. Respect for our differences-- gender, racial, ethnic, religious, and national--is critical to our ability to work excellently together; and it is critical to our ability to fulfill our educational goals. Many, many gallons of ink have been spent on this important truth; and some begin to hear the words as little more than political correctness. It seems to me, however, that we are at a place where we can go beyond political correctness and recognize some basic human realities: our experiences really are different; we can learn from those experiences; we can learn to do a better job of communicating our respect for one another; and most basically, we must emphatically state that there is no room whatsoever for discrimination and disparagement in the university as a place of learning and work.
This university can be great--and it will only be so if we succeed in working as partners in pursuit of the values that we share. So I look forward very, very much to working with you in the years to come.