By HARSHAL BHOSALE, Student Life Editor
University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel visited the Dearborn campus on Monday, March 27, and addressed the students and faculty in an open forum at BorgWarner Auditorium, in the Institute for Advanced Vehicular Systems (IAVS) building between 10:45 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. His talk was followed by a Q&A session where he took questions, suggestions and comments from all present.
UM-Dearborn Chancellor Daniel Little invited the president onto the stage, saying, “You can’t talk to Mark Schlissel for more than 10 minutes and not realize that UM-Dearborn has a special place in his appreciation of what the University of Michigan is.”
President Schlissel talked about his growing admiration for UM-Dearborn in how its innovation and energetic approach along with its ability to capture a lot of diversity have enabled it to make it feel like an inclusive community where all voices are valued. “The lasting significance of the University of Michigan lies in the lives we change. To take someone who is a first-generation student and to imbibe them with four or five years of education and knowledge, puts them on a trajectory that changes not only their own lives but also those of their families and communities. As a comparison, at the Ann Arbor campus, the percentage of first-gen students in the freshman class two years ago was 8.5%, this year we’ve purposefully pushed it to 14%.” He said that the Dearborn campus has a much larger share of first-gen students and that Ann Arbor would be trying to emulate the same.
Another point which the president touched upon was how to promote synergies among the three different campuses. One of the areas, he says, is admission. “When a student applies, they should be made aware of all the three UM campuses, regardless of which one they apply to. We are working on something that could be as simple as a checkbox to denote that they would like to be considered for the campus apart from the one they are currently applying to. We’re also working on pathways to allow easy transfer from one campus to another.” These measures, he said, would make each campus more attractive as part of a multi-campus system.
Echoing this sentiment later was Dr. Raju Balakrishnan, dean of the College of Business, who said during the Q&A session, “I was thrilled to hear your comments about the admissions process and the possible synergy that we can have between the three campuses. I think that one thing by itself will be a game changer not just for the Dearborn campus but for the state of Michigan; because I suspect that we are losing a lot of talented Michigan students to other states, simply because they are not able to get into Ann Arbor, and I think your proposal to give them an opportunity to consider the other campuses is a great step. I also share you confidence that once students come here (to Dearborn), they would definitely like to stay here rather than transfer to Ann Arbor because of the personalized attention that’s sometimes not possible in bigger campuses.”
On infrastructural issues pertaining to the Dearborn campus, the president confirmed that the construction of the new Engineering Lab Building (ELB) plan has received the first of its approvals by the board of regents.
In the final part of his address, the president appealed to the faculty at UM-Dearborn to engage in civic issues beyond the confines of the campus, and pledged his support for the same. “One of the great values of assembling scholars at universities like UM, is that we’re like a think-tank for the state,” he said. He encouraged faculty members, especially tenured faculty, to go beyond teaching and research work to contribute directly to the community via speaking engagements, volunteering on government panels, working at local organizations, and so on. “The hidden agenda,” he said, “is to let our communities see us more. Through the decades, society has become less respectful of its great universities. They’re less willing to pay for us, and are wondering why we are valuable. And this must be because we’re not doing a great job of explaining to them why, because I know that we’re valuable.”
Later during the Q&A session, when asked about the Trump administration’s recent proposed budget cuts (a $9 billion or 13.5% decrease for the Department of Education according to CNN), President Schlissel commented, “It is up to us not to put our heads down but to turn our voices up and engage in the political process.” He said that although he himself is constrained in his actions by his leadership position, he is completely comfortable speaking of the things that affect the mission of the university. “I’ve already begun to speak out on issues that are being debated by politicians that impact our ability to serve the society,” he quipped, in a possible reference to his statement in January in support of immigrant students after President Trump’s travel ban Executive Order.
Khodr Farhat, a visually impaired student studying political science, lauded President Schlissel on his efforts to promote a culture of inclusion. “Inclusive society or community or campus is not only about accepting ethnic, cultural or national differences. I believe that as a blind person myself, I relate to inclusion as well. So I have always encouraged my fellow students in promoting inclusion with regards to people with disabilities as well.”
The kind of discussions spurred by the president during the event were well received by all present, and only constrained by the limited time he had for discussions.