On January 15th it was announced that the University of Michigan’s board of regents had unanimously voted to fire President Mark Schlissel due to published inappropriate communications with a staff member. After seven years of contentious leadership including poorly-handled coronavirus protocols, multiple strikes by graduate students and unconstitutional infringement of free speech toward the start of his term, Schlissel leaves the University in disgrace. Ample articles and press releases detail the unseemly and intimate conduct between the president and his staffer; the communications occurred over an official umich.edu email account, begging the question of whether Schlissel learned nothing at all from Hillary Clinton and her emails.
Rather than focusing on Schlissel’s transgressions, I find value in highlighting Dr. Mary Sue Coleman, current interim president and former president of Michigan for twelve years. Her return to Michigan after a tumultuous term for Schlissel is a tremendous way to begin 2022 and brings hope for a renewed commitment to research and development at Michigan. Coleman holds her degrees in chemistry and biochemistry, teaching biochemistry at the University of Kentucky for nineteen years before overseeing her first collegiate presidency at the University of Iowa for seven years. She also served as the president of the Association of American Universities for four years, an organization that supports 64 research universities, including the University of Michigan and Ivy League schools, in pursuing both research and academic excellence.
“She is a president that participated in the dialogue on tough questions put to the Board and made the tough economic decisions that has helped Michigan reach its spot as the best public school in the U.S.”
One of Coleman’s most impactful contributions to the University during her previous tenure was the purchase of the North Campus Research Complex, a 174-acre property previously used as a Pfizer laboratory and satellite office. When the building became vacant, Coleman skillfully snapped it up in hopes of improving the quality and volume of scientific research done at Michigan. Now, over 3,500 faculty and staff work in the NCRC including many of those associated with the Rogel Cancer Center and the Max Harry Weil Institute for Critical Care Research and Innovation that strives to make life for terminally ill patients more bearable. Much of the research done inside the NCRC revolves around the healthcare field and has brought the university into a pioneering role for biomedical research, testing, and engineering.
However, that purchase improved the testing and laboratory space for multiple fields in addition to health sciences. The NCRC holds Michigan’s Office of Technology Transfer where professors can apply for patents for their projects and start-ups have access to venture-capital resources. Most excitingly, 30 acres of Coleman’s smart buy has become M-City, the home of the Solar Car test track and one of the pioneering sites for driverless vehicles. Considering that our Solar Car team is continually number one in the nation, I think that Coleman was onto something when she acquired the NCRC.
Further south, central campus residents have Coleman to thank for their updated dorm situations, as her purchases for the university went so far as to include a Residence Life Project. This provided money for updates to North, South, East, and West Quadrangles, as well as multiple other dormitories, and even impacted the Law School. Coleman invested millions of dollars in the success of future students and faculty at the University of Michigan. She is a president that participated in the dialogue on tough questions put to the Board and made the tough economic decisions that has helped Michigan reach its spot as the best public school in the U.S.
She also refrained from inappropriate communications with staff members, did not make statements about campus sexual assault and respect while privately breaching her own values, and did not develop a campus speech policy that violated the U.S. Constitution while encouraging pitting certain students against each other. There’s a plethora of reasons to welcome Mary Sue Coleman out of retirement and back to Ann Arbor; I never thought that in my four years at Michigan, I would live to see an inhabitant of that little white house on South University Avenue who made me proud to be a Michigan student.
Welcome back, President Coleman. You were dearly missed.