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Advice for Schlissel: Lead the state

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Today, Mark Schlissel is installed as the 14th  president of the University of Michigan. We welcome him to Ann Arbor. In the time-honored tradition of busybody neighbors, we want to give him some advice. He didn’t ask for it, he might not want it or need it. But we hope he’ll take a few minutes and read it. Ann Arbor’s full of hypersmart, outspoken people. That’s a big part of what makes this place amazing. Enjoy, and join in the fun! 

Dan Ezekiel at the U-M School of Natural Resources | Benjamin Weatherston

Dan Ezekiel at the U-M School of Natural Resources | Benjamin Weatherston

Dan Ezekiel is a long-time science teacher in the Ann Arbor Public Schools and a proud graduate of the U-M School of Natural Resources, Class of 1980. His wife and son are also Michigan graduates, and his father taught at U-M. He is a member of the Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission.

Welcome, Dr. Schlissel! The university has been Michigan’s flagship school for almost 200 years; now we are at a crossroads. The manufacturing economy that sustained our state’s growth no longer upholds our prosperity and our largest city is ravaged and half-empty. The natural environment where we camp, hike, fish and farm is threatened by climate change, fracking and invasive species. Our schools struggle to help students (many of them wounded by economic and family collapse) become functioning members of a changing society, even as state government systematically divests from public education.

For more than 150 years, the state’s economy and the university grew in tandem. After decades of decline, it’s now time for the U to once again lead Michigan into the future. Let’s bring the massive research and human resources of U-M to bear, tackling Michigan’s issues.

Let’s get professors and students engaged in multiple experiments and projects to heal Detroit, interacting respectfully with the hardy souls who have stayed, learning from them. Let’s create a green and diverse First City of Michigan, with thriving schools and businesses, attracting the best and brightest from the whole world to live in its beautiful setting. Perhaps we begin by offering debt forgiveness to Wolverine grads who move to Detroit and participate in its renewal?

Let’s get into the countryside, lead the way in bringing sustainability to our energy use, agriculture, forestry and our stewardship of the Great Lakes, home of 20 percent of the planet’s surface fresh water. Lead in a way that avoids imperiousness; discover approaches that work. Find ways to refine them, amplify them, bring them to scale.

Let’s find ways to strengthen democracy and empower Michigan’s people to live fruitful lives and create strong families. Let’s find the best public schools and what makes them work, help them lead others, help 21st  century Michigan kids become resourceful, resilient, productive citizens.

Dr. Schlissel, we can’t know what the Wolverine State will look like in 200 years, but surely her success depends on her bountiful human capital and natural resources. Seize the day and once again cement the partnership between the university and our state’s future. That way, the Maize and Blue will live up to our proud boast to be leaders and best.

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