Brown University Provost Mark Schlissel was chosen Friday morning to become the 14th president of the University of Michigan. (Charles V. Tines / The Detroit News)
Ann Arbor— As president-elect of the University of Michigan, Dr. Mark Schlissel arrives with a portfolio of credentials, experience, accomplishments and ambitions that will shape the way he carves out his legacy at one of the nation’s premier universities.
On July 1, Schlissel will pick up the reins of a university with the largest public research portfolio in the nation, a renowned health system and intercollegiate athletics program. He will lead an institution striving for excellence globally and regionally by using its research to drive economic development, innovation and advances.
But he will face state funding levels that are among the nation’s lowest; a slowing of federal research funds and the largest fundraising goal of any public university. He’ll also cope with student and faculty concerns, especially affordability, accessibility and diversity.
After interviewing many candidates during a months-long search, the Board of Regents said Friday during a special meeting that they made the right choice for U-M by selecting Schlissel, the provost of Brown University, to follow in the footsteps of the 13 distinguished presidents before him.
“Mark brings an exceptional portfolio of scholarship and leadership to our community, and just as importantly, a tremendous commitment to Michigan’s public ethos,” board chairwoman Andrea Fischer Newman said when the regents voted unanimously to hire Schlissel to succeed retiring President Mary Sue Coleman.
“I am confident that our next president will lead the university into its next century focused on our deepest ideals of world class academic excellence and public impact.”
Though Schlissel has ideas about his priorities as U-M’s 14th president, he said among the first will be letting the students, faculty and staff shape his agenda.
“In my experience, universities really don’t get led from the top down,” he said. “The best ideas come from the people doing the work and the teaching and the learning. So I need to do some listening first.”
Schlissel, 56, is as an accomplished biomedical researcher, physician and academic administrator. As a researcher, he focused on the biology of the immune system, authoring more than 100 papers and training more than 20 doctoral candidates in his lab.
He not only has experience at an Ivy League institution from his current position at Brown, he was dean of biological sciences at University of California-Berkeley, one of the nation’s top public research universities.
In addition to his scholarship and leadership, many say he is an articulate orator and good listener who is passionate about the success of students and faculty.
Schlissel has it all, said David Ginsburg, a U-M professor of internal medicine and human genetics and faculty adviser to the presidential search committee.
“Very few people would be in his league,” Ginsburg said.
David Baltimore, a Nobel laureate who was one of Schlissel’s mentors, said he knew Schlissel would go on to great things. He worked with Schlissel when he was a post-doctoral research fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, publishing a paper on how antibodies are formed.
“One of the requirements to be a university president is to be able to get outside of a particular academic discipline and see things on a much broader scale,” said Baltimore, a research scientist at the California Institute of Technology and formerly its president. “Medicine plays such an important role at the University of Michigan. Having a president with a background in medicine and biomedical research is very good for the school.”
After serving the university for more than a decade, Coleman, 70, announced last spring that she would retire at the end of her contract in July 2014. Soon after, the regents hired a search firm and formed a presidential search committee, which included the eight regents and seven faculty members.
What set Schlissel apart from other candidates was his heart, Regent Denise Ilitch said. “I am confident that Dr. Schlissel will lead with our students’ welfare as his top priority,” Ilitch said. “He understands our mission and will work tirelessly to continue our academic and research excellence; our passionate desire for access and affordability and a learning environment that is inclusive and promotes diversity.”
Schlissel’s contract is for five years. He will be paid $750,000 a year in base salary — 28 percent more than the $585,783 base salary that Coleman earns. He also will earn a retention incentive of $100,000 a year that would become vested after five years.
Other benefits include $20,000 annually for supplemental contributions to a retirement plan, lodging in the president’s house, expense allowance and the use of an auto and a driver.
With benefits, his total compensation could push him even higher than Coleman’s among the nation’s top paid universities presidents, based on a list maintained by the Chronicle of Higher Education. Coleman, who earns more than $900,000 with benefits, was sixth on the list in 2011-12.
Schlissel’s tenure comes in an era when there’s never been a more challenging time for a president of a public university, said Hunter Rawlings, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Association of American Universities.
“There are now so many political, ideological and financial issues to deal with,” said Rawlings, who knows Schlissel through AAU. “But Mark’s a very sharp guy with great experience.”
Schlissel will have to handle demands from U-M’s faculty and student groups. Among the biggest concerns from students is cost, access and especially diversity — a narrative at U-M for more than a decade. The U.S. Supreme Court weighed in on how the university could consider race in admissions policies in 2003, and will issue another ruling this year on a state law that bans the use of affirmative action in college admissions.
Schlissel also will inherit the university’s unprecedented $4 billion fundraising campaign, the largest such endeavor of any public university, and eighth among all higher education institutions.
Coleman is excited about her successor, saying he’s a great fit for U-M, and the state.
“He is very personable and listens to people,” Coleman said. “He’s also eager and excited about Michigan and recognizes the power of this institution. I think he is perfect for the job.”
Lauren Abdel-Razzaq contributed.