President Mark Schlissel deep in thought.

Fireside With President Mark S. Schlissel

With a record-setting fundraising campaign and five years as university president behind him, Mark Schlissel has set his sights on the future. U-M’s trailblazing president offered Leaders & Best an update on what comes next. Here, he talks student support, some of the university’s most exciting initiatives, and how Michigan is prepared to meet society’s most pressing challenges.


As a university president, I’m often asked about the future. Alumni and friends of Michigan want to hear what lies ahead for our university. They want to know how a public research university like Michigan will enhance the future of our state, our nation, and the world beyond our borders.

Five years ago, I was lucky enough to join the Michigan family at an auspicious moment. We were planning our yearlong bicentennial celebration, looking back on two centuries of academic preeminence and service for the public good.

But we didn’t only look back—as leaders and best, we looked forward.

As U-M goes full speed ahead in its third century, we are poised to answer those questions about the future. Right now, there are a number of exciting initiatives that are positioning U-M for even greater leadership in research, education, and service. We will honor and advance our public mission by serving our students, cultivating transformative innovation and discovery, and broadening our deep commitment to helping solve society’s biggest problems.

Reflecting on my first five years as U-M president, the initiative I’m most proud of is our Go Blue Guarantee. It’s remarkable to see the impact that program is already having on our student body here in Ann Arbor.

In the program’s first year, applications from some of our state’s lowest-income students increased by 24%, and more than 1,700 students had their tuition covered in full thanks to the Go Blue Guarantee. This fall, more than 27% of in-state undergrads pay no tuition due to university financial aid.

We know that talent is distributed evenly throughout our society, but opportunity most certainly is not. The Go Blue Guarantee is helping us dispel the notion that U-M costs too much for our state’s students and families.

By bringing talented, hard-working students to our university, we offer them the opportunity to transform their lives and the lives of their families, and the future of their communities.

The support of donors like you allows us to guarantee an affordable education to all of our students, even beyond the Go Blue Guarantee. Today, two out of three U-M undergraduates receive financial aid. By supporting our students and increasing economic diversity in our student body, we ensure that our university will continue to serve as an engine of opportunity and thrive as a space for intellectual discourse and world-class education.

As a great public research university, we also embrace our responsibility to focus our academic strength on the challenges and opportunities that face the public we serve. For an institution with more than 200 years of driving growth and opportunity in our state, there is no place we’ve been doing this longer than in our birthplace of Detroit.

In the fall, we were proud to announce that U-M will add to and enhance our legacy of service in the city by accepting Mayor Mike Duggan’s invitation to partner on the Detroit Center for Innovation to be built in downtown Detroit. The center will make our work in Detroit even more comprehensive, aligned to our mission, and responsive to local needs.

The university’s partners in this world-class education and research center are the City of Detroit; Related Companies, Stephen M. Ross’ development firm; and Bedrock, Dan Gilbert’s full-service real estate firm.

The Detroit Center for Innovation will further the economic development of the city and region by providing a pipeline of creatively educated talent and a platform for research collaboration to help grow and attract businesses and entrepreneurs to Detroit, while positioning the future workforce for success in a dynamic and diversified economy.

Our efforts to serve society and meet real-world challenges don’t end in Detroit. Exciting new endeavors at Michigan include the beginning of a comprehensive arts initiative; a Firearm Injury Prevention Research Initiative, to study the problem of injuries caused by guns from a public health perspective; and a new investment in our Center for Academic Innovation.

 

I believe that no university can be truly comprehensive, or excellent, without strong programs in the arts, and a deep commitment to sharing them—and their many benefits—across the breadth of the academic enterprise and with the broader public.

This startup phase of our arts initiative will help us determine how best to create new dimensions of U-M excellence through the arts by creative and inclusive engagement with our community, especially with our students.

Academic innovation is also taking another step forward at U-M. Last fall, I was pleased to announce the establishment of the Center for Academic Innovation. To support the center’s work with the campus, we are investing $10 million a year over the next five years, for a total of $50 million. The investment will allow the center to build on its success, supporting faculty in curricular innovation, educational data and research, and educational technology.

In its effort to meet society’s greatest problems, U-M also recently launched a Firearm Injury Prevention Research Initiative. Several faculty members who are leading research on firearm violence prevention and other related issues will help us generate knowledge and advance solutions that will decrease firearm injury in the United States. They span many of our schools, colleges, and institutes, with research interests that range from designing vehicles equipped with gun safes to examining how greenspaces in urban Detroit can reduce gun deaths. Others are working with gun owners in rural parts of the Upper Peninsula to improve rates of safe storage and decrease teen suicide, research that will have nationwide implications.

The University of Michigan has secured more federal research funding to study firearm injury prevention than any other U.S. university, and we house the nation’s largest collection of firearm datasets. We are leading an NIH-funded consortium of more than 25 researchers across 12 universities and health systems to study firearm safety among children and teens. Additionally, the initiative will seek expertise outside academia, including gun owners, faith-based and K-12 leadership, law enforcement, rural and urban community groups, and firearm violence survivors and families.

Another great project that will benefit patients from around the world is a new adult hospital that will give more people access to world-class health care right here at Michigan. The 12-story hospital to be built on our medical campus in Ann Arbor will include state-of-the-art technology and bring many important specialties together to help us better care for patients with complex and critical needs.

Our university’s next century of impact won’t just touch the state of Michigan, the Midwest, and the United States. U-M is continually deepening its global engagement in order to better serve its students and the public.

Last fall, I made my first trip to India as Michigan’s president. Engagements in India have been central to our growth as a global university, and I look forward to our deepening relationships, as we continue to see in other parts of Asia.

Our ability to partner internationally, exchange ideas, and provide opportunities for faculty and students that cross borders is at the core of our history and our future.

Everything we do at U-M is made possible by the support and partnership of friends from around the world—friends like you. You help us make Michigan ever more impactful, and, as always, I thank you for your engagement with our university.

Throughout this magazine, you’ll read remarkable stories about Michigan faculty, alumni, students, and philanthropists. You will see the impact they have in their communities and across the globe. You will also read about our university’s rich history and how key individuals and moments in time positioned Michigan for perpetual excellence. Together, these stories speak to a University of Michigan that is confronting the challenges of its third century through a commitment to affordability, transformative innovation, and problem-solving at local to global scale.

Thanks to all of you, we are forging ahead and enhancing a legacy that is unparalleled in higher education. We’re a Michigan that is ambitious in the pursuit of knowledge, equity, impact, engagement, and excellence. And a Michigan that is willing to change to continue to lead the way in society.

Thank you all for your imagination—and for your passion and commitment to research, to education, to service, and to our great University of Michigan.

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