Schlissel (Charles V. Tines / The Detroit News)
As Michigan’s economy recovers, the incoming president of the University of Michigan hopes the state’s business, political and university leaders can collaborate to boost investment in higher education.
“Public higher education is a critical investment for the future of the state,” Mark Schlissel said Sunday. “All across the country, state governments have been disinvesting. But there are cycles in society, and there are ways to convince and persuade and to introduce change, and I am hopeful we can do that.”
Schlissel is back at his job as provost of Brown University, but he will return later this year as president of the University of Michigan with a bold vision.
The Brooklyn, N.Y., native was in Ann Arbor on Friday, when the Board of Regents introduced him as the president who will step into the role held for more than a decade by the retiring Mary Sue Coleman.
As U-M prepares to launch its third century when it celebrates its 2017 bicentennial, Schlissel said the university must continue to prepare the next generation and have an impact on the world, with excellence being the first goal.
“The mission of the university is to educate the best and the most hard-working and talented of the rising generation of students to do research and achieve understanding of things that are important to the public and to operate at the highest levels of academic excellence,” Schlissel said. “It’s important that Michigan remain accessible and affordable to the very best students regardless of their background. That, to me, is the key essence of being a public institution.”
A graduate of Princeton University who earned his master’s and doctoral degrees from Johns Hopkins University, Schlissel, 56, was on the faculty at Johns Hopkins before he became dean at University of California, Berkeley, and then Brown university’s chief academic officer.
Schlissel said he still has a lot to learn about U-M but knows that higher education funding is important to students, faculty, business leaders and others. He said he hopes that as Michigan’s economy recovers, the leaders can collaborate with government officials to find ways to increase state support.
Schlissel said he knows that diversity is also a critical discussion at U-M, with the Black Student Union recently presenting a list of demands to increase African-Americans on campus from 5 percent to 10 percent, and a U.S. Supreme Court decision looming that will determine whether a law approved by voters that bans affirmative action in higher education admissions is constitutional.
“As a public university supported by all taxpayers, the university has an obligation to try its best to look like the state it is serving,” Schlissel said. “It also has obligation to be as pure a meritocracy as it possibly can be. Those are not inconsistent. Talent is distributed pretty uniformly across the population … It is tremendously in society’s interests that all of its citizens are as well educated up to the full level of their capacities and capabilities because we need everyone working together.
Schlissel’s appointment has created a buzz across U-M’s campus and Michigan.
Since he was introduced, an entry on for him was created in Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit. An account for Schlissel also showed up on Twitter with a handful of tweets including one asking for suggestions to improve U-M since “two heads are better than one.”
But Schlissel said it is a fake account, and he’s never tweeted. He admits to being a “compulsive emailer” and having a Facebook account but only to see pictures from his family.
He watched the U-M/Michigan State University basketball game Saturday and may even return to Ann Arbor next month to watch the matchup at Crisler Center.
In the meantime, he is reading two books: “The View from the Helm: Leading the American University during an Era of Change,” by former U-M President James Duderstadt; and “When the Garden Was Eden: Clyde, the Captain, Dollar Bill and the Glory Days of the New York Knicks,” a team of which he is a big fan.
Duderstadt said the faculty agrees that the regents made an outstanding selection with Schlissel, pointing to his experience at some of the finest universities in the world.
“I cannot imagine a better preparation for leading the University of Michigan,” Duderstadt said. “I also have learned from close colleagues that his style of leadership consisting of strong engagement, wise consideration and courageous action when necessary is just what Michigan needs to enter its third century of service to the state, the nation and the world.”