Dear alumni, friends, and supporters,
As we begin another winter term and a new year, there is so much to be excited about at the University of Michigan. If you’re anything like me, you’re still beaming with pride after the football team’s national championship and 15-0 undefeated season. Hail to the Victors, indeed!
We had been in talks with Jim Harbaugh for the last several weeks and tried our best to retain him as our football coach. But as you know, Jim has made the decision to leave Michigan and join the Los Angeles Chargers in pursuit of his NFL dreams.
For the fans, the players, and for me personally, we are sad to hear of Jim’s departure. His drive and ambition turned our program around, delivered our first national championship in a quarter century, and maintained Michigan as the all-time winningest team in the history of college football.
I thank Jim for all he has done for the University of Michigan and respect his decision. He has been an extraordinary leader and a friend. I will be cheering for Jim as he embarks on this next adventure.
While our storied athletic programs are likely to continue producing thrilling moments like the ones from Jan. 8, there are noteworthy developments and initiatives happening in every corner of the University.
One especially noteworthy and timely action took place earlier this month when our Board of Regents voted to adopt a new set of principles to reaffirm the institution’s commitment to free speech. The “University of Michigan Principles on Diversity of Thought and Freedom of Expression” are a clear reminder, both to those in our community and to those who look to U-M as a leader in higher education, that we “enthusiastically embrace our responsibility to stimulate and support diverse ideas and model constructive engagement with different viewpoints.” These principles will guide us as we educate, create, and advance knowledge, promote open inquiry and spirited debate, and prepare the next generation to be informed and actively engaged in our democracy.
In Ann Arbor, the planning periods for two integral efforts to shape the future of the University – Vision 2034 and Campus Plan 2050 – will be complete. Vision 2034 is our strategic visioning process to outline U-M’s focus for the next 10 years, incorporating thousands of ideas from faculty, staff, and students gathered last year. Campus Plan 2050 is a comprehensive blueprint for how the physical Ann Arbor campus should evolve to support the University’s mission and vision.
The crucial role played by U-M’s students, faculty, staff, alumni, and partners in the visioning process cannot be overstated. Their collective ideas and viewpoints have been immensely valuable, and their contributions are deeply appreciated.
On our Central Campus, hints of what that future will look like – along with more than a few construction barrels – are everywhere. The new Hadley Family Recreation & Well-Being Center, driven by the largest gift ever to support campus recreation at U-M, is progressing toward a Spring 2025 completion. Just up the street, construction on U-M Health’s D. Dan and Betty Kahn Health Care Pavilion is also moving forward. The new clinical inpatient tower will include 264 single-occupancy patient rooms and 23 surgical/interventional radiology suites when it opens next year.
Big changes are happening on our Flint campus as well, as the search for our next chancellor continues. In November, I appointed a search advisory committee made up of UM-Flint staff, faculty, and students, as well as an alumnus and representatives from the Ann Arbor and Dearborn campuses.
Candidates for the role were encouraged to submit application materials by Jan. 15 and Donna Fry, a longtime UM-Flint faculty member and dean of the College of Health Sciences, will continue to serve as interim chancellor until the next chancellor comes on board.
Meanwhile, UM-Flint is moving closer to finalizing its Strategic Transformation plan to better position the campus for future success. After experiencing a downward enrollment trend over the last decade, UM-Flint began a process last academic year to re-envision the University’s future with the goal of helping UM-Flint emerge as an academically strong and financially viable institution that is an undisputed engine for economic growth and social mobility in the region. Under Interim Chancellor Fry’s leadership, the campus has refined a draft plan that will be presented early this year. I’m excited to see it.
In an academic year in which UM-Dearborn’s entering class set a record with the highest number of incoming first-year students in the history of the University, Chancellor Domenico Grasso and other leaders are taking steps in 2024 to make the Dearborn campus stand out as a 21st-century commuter campus. A new master planning process is underway to help the University be efficient and effective in the physical use of our resources.
And that’s not all…
The Dearborn campus also is measuring success on its strategic plan. In addition to its largest freshman class in history, the College of Engineering and Computer Science has the second-highest graduate enrollment among all universities in Michigan, second only to Ann Arbor. Its four-year graduation rate increased by nearly 5% over last year and external faculty research funding is up more than 100% since 2018.
Plans are moving forward to update the Renick University Center, the Mardigian Library, and the common outdoor space in between them. The Renick University Center project renovations will include extensive work on its first floor. The project will create a better sense of community with a new “front door” to the University and welcome center. The renovated administrative office areas will provide interactive space for collaboration, and space throughout the first floor will be reconfigured to activate the public areas for easier access to the services provided. The construction is scheduled to begin this year.
Whether you’re a first-year undergraduate or an alumnus, a campus employee or a long-time fan of our athletics programs, it’s great to be a Michigan Wolverine. As we begin the journey of a new year, our urgent mission has never been more important: to serve the people of Michigan and the world through preeminence in creating, communicating, preserving, and applying knowledge, art, and academic values, and in developing leaders and citizens who will challenge the present and enrich the future.
Each day, I hope you will be as proud of this university as I am.
Happy New Year, and Go Blue!
Santa J. Ono, PhD
(Lead image: Michigan Photography.)