September 5, 2014 at 1:00 am

Schlissel embarks on new journey

Dr. Mark S. Schlissel (Charles V. Tines / The Detroit News)

Ann Arbor— A new era began Friday at the state’s most renowned university with the inauguration of Mark S. Schlissel, the 14th president of the University of Michigan.

“I am committed to enhancing the university’s already eminent standing as a place where gifted scholars focus on research, teaching and mentoring the rising generation to become engaged citizens and tomorrow’s leaders in all walks of life,” Schlissel said during his inauguration speech. “This is our mission.”

Nearly 3,500 people attended Schlissel’s afternoon installation ceremony at Hill Auditorium, including students, faculty, alumni and state dignitaries.

Also in attendance were 100 representatives from esteemed universities around the world. Dressed in their academic regalia, they participated in a procession through the heart of campus.

Many gathered to bear witness to the changing of the guard as UM prepares to celebrate its bicentennial in 2017.

“This is a really important turning point for the university,” said Robin Means Coleman, an associate professor of communications and Afro American African studies at UM. “As we move forward with our third century agenda, which is positioning the institution on matters of academic profile, diversity and equity, I hope my presence signals my support for the president on these issues.”

Schlissel, a medical doctor, biomedical researcher and former provost at Brown University, spoke of the power of ideas and the value of all voices.

“Michigan’s house must be big and its doors open wide,” he said.

The university must embrace three tenets, Schlissel stressed: its mission as a public institution as a bedrock principle, privilege and responsibility; a diverse, accessible and democratic community, and a seeker of all voices.

“We live in a remarkable but imperfect world. Racial unrest, environmental threats, religious intolerance and resource inequities all demand the academy’s attention,” Schlissel said. “Our response must include endeavors not only in science, technology and professional training, but just as importantly in liberal education, cultural understanding, civic engagement and artistic expression.

“We must seek partnerships that infuse our economy with talent and energy,” he continued, “and build an appreciation for our region’s heritage as a place of past and future innovation.”

Schlissel, 56, takes the helm during a transformative time at UM. The school is striving to be diverse, affordable and accessible while pursuing research to help promote development in a state trailing in population growth, employment and college attainment.

He arrives at a time when students nationwide are grappling with historic loan debt and the country debates the value of higher education.

Schlissel’s reign also begins as Michigan lawmakers have begun to reinvest in higher education after years of deep, unprecedented cuts. Those reductions prompted public universities to hike tuition, ramp up private fundraising and admit more out-of-state students, who pay more tuition.

In June, for the first time in 14 years, lawmakers gave a significant bump in state funding to Michigan universities — $1.43 billion for higher education, a 5.9 percent increase over the previous year.

Controlling tuition — now $13,158 a year for in-state, full-time students at UM — and managing the school’s $1.79 billion general fund budget will be among Schlissel’s many challenges, observers say.

He also takes charge of an unprecedented campaign to raise $4 billion, begun under his predecessor, Mary Sue Coleman, who retired earlier this year.

Others say they will watch as Schlissel transitions from a leader at a small private school to a large public university. Brown has 8,619 students and a $2.6 billion endowment, while UM has 43,710 students and an $8.3 billion endowment.

Since he took office July 14, Schlissel has been finding his way at the university.

He has stressed academics as the chief mission of UM. During his first meeting of the Board of Regents, members voted down a request to include fireworks at Michigan Stadium during two home football games. The decision was widely regarded as the president’s way to push back against the athletic department, even though he did not vote or speak publicly on the issue.

Schlissel is earning $750,000 a year in base salary. His contract also calls for a retention incentive of $100,000 a year that would become vested after five years.

kkozlowski@detroitnews.com