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September 22, 1997 - Image 8

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The Michigan Daily, 1997-09-22

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8A - The Michigan Daily - Monday, September 22, 1997

Text of Bollinger's inaugural address


It is somewhat difficult to know what to say at an
inauguration - especially one's own. One has the
feeling the context yearns for the profound, which
only insures that any self-conscious effort to meet
the expectation will be mediocre. In the opening
scenes of Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, one of the
books I treasure most in life, a mysterious motorcar
with shades drawn, and a dove grey interior, appears
suddenly on Bond Street, and a crowd gathers
believing they may be as near to greatness as they'll
ever get (Is it the Queen? Is it the Prime Minister?
people ask). "Mystery had brushed them with her
wing ..." Simultaneously, a plane overhead begins
"making letters in the sky" that all assume will sig-
nify the greatness of the moment. But the limousine
disappears, and it turns out the plane is much like
those that fill the skies over Michigan Stadium every
Saturday, in this case spelling out the word "toffee."
"It was toffee; they were advertising toffee," some-
one says matter of factly, and the anticipation of the
moment as a great portent is wholly deflated. And so
I fear that at the end of this you too will feel as it if
you had just heard the word "toffee"
Nature, of course, has its kindnesses for exactly
this sort of thing. Fortunately, we have means of pro-
tecting ourselves rather effectively against our own
failures to live up to our expectations. The most
common cause of writer's block is having nothing to
say, and yet all of us writers are inclined to interpret
the blockage as a proof of kinship with the agony of
genius. And just at the moment when our bodies
splotch and wrinkle and engage in their own famous
version of continental drift, our eyes go bad.
Happily, it would seem, our capacity for self-obser-
vation and self-reflection is rarely any better than,
and generally inferior to, our IQ. In all probability,
therefore, I won't even know that you're thinking
you've just heard "toffee."
I should also like to say something at the outset
about the timing of this ceremony, since some of you
may be thinking, given that I have been in the posi-
tion for over eight months already, that I am a little
like the guest who would never seem to leave - in
my case, the president who never seems to begin.
The reason we chose September rather than last
April was to maximize both the chances of good
weather and the distance from examinations (when
everyone gets a little grouchy). I hope this beautiful
day augurs well for our plans in the future.
Now, some things that need to be said today are
absolutely clear. I want to acknowledge and express
my love and affection for several people, beginning
with my
wife,. Jean.
Jean and I
'"it is wise thatwesyhvabn
S IOW6 Syhave been
that these married for
flOW tnearly 30
pressures must behyears.We
have a
resisted." strong reIa-
- Lee Bollinger and are as
University president devoted to
each other
as any couple I know. There is great joy in our fam-
ily - and hard work. Jean and I have both spent so
much time and effort in trying to improve each other
you would think by this point we would each be
quite extraordinary people. Alas, that is not the case.
It is only fair that I acknowledge today that my tak-
ing this position imposes inevitably burdens on Jean,
especially on her efforts to develop her own career as
an artist. And so I say: For resisting a world that is
too slow to catch up with our ideals of social fair-
ness, I am deeply admiring. For patiently and gra-
ciously enduring some of what we cannot change, I
am empathetic. And for voluntarily embracing with
enthusiasm and elegance so many parts of my life, I
am forever grateful.
I would like to recognize: Our children, Lee and
Carey, and to say how each of them shines so bright-
ly in our eyes and proves how your children's suc-
cesses and capacities are so uniquely of their own
making. My parents, Lee and Pat, who taught me
that the essence of nurturing is self-sacrifice. And
members of my family, two of my four brothers,
Mark and his wife Debbie, and Brad; and my sister,
Tami. Whenever I use the term family metaphorical-
ly, I think it derives from its highest form.
I would also like to recognize Jean's family: her
father, Marco, who had he not chosen to be an
extremely successful businessman, would have, I
believe rivaled Bo Schembechler as a coach. Jean's
brother, Marco, and his wife Sheila, with their chil-
dren, Marco, Michael and Matthew. And Jean's sis-

ter, Patti, and her partner, John. And Jean's cousin,
Paul. Jean's mother Darlene, who passed away a few
years ago, remains a pervasive presence in all our
lives, especially today.
Let me say to Bill Bolcom how honored I am by the
Fanfare and recognize Nancy Cantor for all the out-
standing qualities she brings to the position of Provost.
Finally, I would like to thank Harold and Vivian
Shapiro for their presence here today, and in doing
so, because time is so precious this morning, all of
the other people and prior presidents responsible for
this event. It was 10 years ago, in 1987, when I met
Harold in .what I believe, but am not completely
sure, is the same office I now occupy. (One of the
charms of the administration building; it provides a
perpetual sense of disorientation.) I was meeting
Harold as part of an interview process for the posi-
tion of Dean of the Law School. I distinctly remem-
ber him asking me how I felt about the possibility of
an administrative turn in my career, to which I dis-
tinctly remember answering something like "I don't
really know." That, I guess, must have seemed in
those disoriented quarters, like a pretty good answer.
Fortunately for me, it turned out to be good enough,
and I have been able to pursue a side of professional
academic life that has been immensely fulfilling. It

Here are the principles I recommend:

The Principle of Suspension of Belief
A university is and does many good things for a
democratic society. It carries forward human knowl-
edge and culture from one generation to the next; it
adds to that knowledge and culture as it passes it
along; it develops and applies standards of excel-
lence for measuring what deserves to be included in
the body of thought to be transmitted; and from its
somewhat detached angle of vision it sometimes
serves as a useful critic of society. A university does
all these things and more. But its essential greatness,
I believe, its most remarkable quality, lies in its dis-
tinctive intellectual character - a living culture that
values and expresses the joy in intellectual and emo-
tional venturesomeness the university bears a simi-
larity to the discomforting experience demanded in
wilderness. The University of Michigan is the intel-
lectual equivalent of Yosemite National Park.
This special mentality is more than a posture of
skepticism, more than a technique for discovering
truth and less than an ideal way to live a whole life.
The world of politics (and of life more generally)
necessarily emphasizes commitment to beliefs
rather than suspension of beliefs. This, too, has its
virtues - of personal courage - and politics its
enjoyment of openness to the unknown. But there is
a very real difference of emphasis and degree, and
one that matters. The university stands as a simple
and hopefully helpful reminder to the political
sphere that we must be continually wary of ideology
and of the thin line separating commitment to belief
and the totalitarian mind. As a living counter exam-
ple, the university in its small way helps nurture a
civic personality. It's also the case that we are not just
of one mind on how to live a good life; in fact, we
are of several minds, and sometimes we enjoy com-
mitment and sometimes the suspension of belief. A
good life should have several opportunities with dif-
ferent emphases and the university offers one.
The University of Michigan has been an epicenter
of idealism especially in periods of deep social con-
flict in America. The eras of the 1930's and the Oxford
Pledge and the 1960's and the anti-war movement all
originated on this campus. Such periods of political
passions will occur again and, when they do, the pres-
sures on the University to commit itself in the politi-
cal turmoil will be intense. It is wise that we say now
that these pressures must be resisted, not because a
Swiss-like neutrality is necessary to institutional sur-
vival, not because the university has no concern with
politics of with political questions, and not because
we in the university are uncaring about the conse-
quences of political decisions. Rather it is because the
special mentality of suspension of belief and constant
exploration of complexity has itself a higher political
and social significance, not least of which is to issue
a continuous warning even for those who would grasp
the standard of idealism and improve the society. For
the ends we pursue do not inoculate us against the dis-
ease of intolerance.
The Principle of Publicness
A public university is thought to be a distinct
species in the United States. Michigan and Berkeley
are commonly said to represent the best of that cate-
gory. But what is the class, why does it endure, and is
it worth having? These questions require steady
thought and reflection.
To be a public university is to be bound by the U.S.
Constitution. It is to be more rooted, emotionally, in a
locale. It is to be committed, not as a matter of choice
but rather of permanent commitment, to offering and
to developing opportunities for access to education
without regard to divisions of class, parentage, or
social status. And, it is also concerned with providing
students with access to an education arising from
interaction with as many segments ofAmerican life as
is possible. And it is, at least at a Michigan, deter-
mined to show that de Toqueville was wrong in
believing that a democracy would not aspire to or
achieve the highest levels of culture (in the best sense
of the word) because ordinary citizens would not
understand or appreciate it nor support that quest.
Publieness, I would add today, also is in need of
special protections, even constitutional protections,
and here Michigan offers a very helpful example.
There has been a working principle in this country
that academic institutions, even though they are
supported by the state, should not be subjected to
political interference, at least with respect to basic
decisions about what to teach and what to research
and on general matters of educational policy. But
this idea has had difficulty making its way into law.
Two points need to be stressed. One is that this
working principle needs to be extended to other
public institutions of culture (I am thinking specif-

ically about the National Endowments for the Arts

The Principle of Faculty Autonomy
In the minds of many people today, including some
within higher education itself, the organization of the
American university - in particular, the decentraliza-
tion of decisionmaking and the autonomy of faculty
with respect to teaching and research - is anachro-
nistic and inefficient. Certainly, this system is contrary
to the hierarchical organization structure prevalent in a
a free market economy; it makes institutional change
more difficult and, of course, there are some faculty,
but very few, who take advantage of their freedom.
But, to my mind, the most astonishing fact about our
universities is the degree of personal responsibility, of
personal engagement with one's work, that character-
izes the overwhelming majority of our faculty. It is this
kind of sense of personal empowerment within a large
organization that is so hard to create and, that is, I
believe, more likely to make and institution succeed
over the long term, as other more hierarchical organi-
zations come and go. In this particular characteristic,
universities share some of the genius that inspires our
commitment to a democratic form of government.
The Principle of the Transparent
I share the view a few others have expressed that
the greatest problem for the modern university is not
its disordered, somewhat chaotic, structure but its
tendency towards bureaucracy. Creativity abhors a
bureaucracy. Our efforts to focus our attentions on a
reality of declining resources have been necessary
and against good. But in such a world there is a risk
of taking on the mentality of the miser, of upsetting
the balance between trust and accountability, of mis-
taking incentives for values or of importing certain
values into the community under the guise of incen-
tives, of falling into a mindset in which it is prefer-
able to just say no rather than to ask what is the qual-
ity of your idea and, if it's good, what can we do to
make it happen. It is critical, I believe, that we
understand the function of an administration within
the university is to take the attitude that we will do
everything we can to make ourselves and the system,
whatever it happens to be, transparent or invisible to
our faculty and students, as they set about suspend-
ing belief and pursuing complexity.
When someone comes to us with an idea that
seems good, our response should not be first and
foremost what will it mean for our school, our
department, or our group. Instead, there ought to be
a generosity of spirit, a predisposition to assist, a
university perspective at heart, and a sense of pride
in helping make things happen without anyone hav-
ing to know how it happened.
We must remember at all times that the very quali-
ties we talk about and regard as at the core identity of
a university - the sense of intellectual venturesome-
ness I referred to at the outset, the desire to nurture
students, these qualities are not, and never will be,
created by incentives. Incentives for these qualities
are, indeed the last gasp of an academic institution in
trouble. A capitalist or free market economy has its
own internal value system, good and appropriate for
the production of goods and services. But it is not a
value system coextensive with that in the academy.
And, while there must be a system for allocating
resources within the university, everything will
depend upon the character of our administrators, who
will be most successful if they operate as much as
possible on a system of trust and cooperation and on
a principle that we serve faculty and students best
when what we do is invisible to the academic eye.
The Principle of Making Our History
I have spoken repeatedly, and I will continue to do
so in the future, of the importance of recapturing, of
embracing, the illustrious history of the University of
Michigan. I have noted how this university in particu-
lar has let too much of its heritage slip by the wayside.
This is, in many ways, an American problem. One
would never know in Florida that one of the greatest
poets of the century, Wallace Stevens, wrote a good
part of his poetry there, drawing on images from that
special environment. While one might find cloying
and too domesticating the references in England's
Lake District to Wordsworth or Coleridge and Potter,
we have a long ways to go before we will encounter
that problem. At Michigan we are a bit like Florida.
Fortunately, this is something we can correct, with
time. It is vital that we come to understand, to truly
appreciate, that to make one's history visible is part of
taking oneself seriously.
To make all of these principles concrete, I want to
close with an example:

Arthur Miller wrote his first play during his
sophomore year here while living at 411 North State
Street. Coming from New York, with a poor high
school record and even fewer funds, Michigan gave
him the chance to prove himself and to join a student
body as diverse, as "democratic," he says, as any in
the country. Dedicated to exploring what he did not
fully understand, he remained in Ann Arbor over
spring break and, working day and night, wrote his
first play in five days. In Timebends, his autobiogra-
phy, he says that playwriting was, for him, "an act of
self-discovery from the start," "a kind of license to
say the unspeakable." He knew he "would never
write anything good that did not somehow make me
blush." He says: "From the beginning, writing meant
freedom, a spreading of wings, and once I got the
first inkling that others were reached by what I
wrote, and assumption arose that some kind of pub-
lic business was happening inside me, that what per-
plexed or moved me must move other." And, so, nur-
tured by his professors and an environment - most
notably the Hopwood Awards - that valued creativ-
ity, Miller wrote, and then gave the play to a friend,
whose family owned the house and who worked at
the University theater. Through Jim's positive
response, Arthur Miller realizes that he has seen and

Erastus Otis Haven
Minister and professor of English,
history and Latin
0 Blacks were admitted for the first

Henry Philip Tappan
2 The University was founded in
1817 but the first president wasn't hired
until 35 years later
S Minister and philosophy professor
a Was fired from the office after
disagreements with the regents

James BurriAngell
8 Former president of the University
of Vermont
8 University grew to 5,000 students
and 400 faculty
S Organized athletics


Harry Burn Hutchins
1897-4898, 19094920
University graduate, dean of the
University's Law School
U Supported students organizing
Michigan Union in 1919


*. 41

Marion Leroy Burton
Minister and president, University
of Minnesota
w Secured state funding for Yost °
Field House, Angell Hall and East
Only president to die in office

Clarence Cook Little
# President of the University of
Did genetics and cancer research
At age 37, he was the youngest
man to be appointed to the
University presidency.
Alexander Giant
Zoology professor and museum
Restructured administration to
decentralize responsibility among
deans and directors
Harlan Henthorne
3 Professor of English and vice
president of Ohio State University
U Established North Campus and j
the Flint and Dearborn Campuses

Robben Wright
Chancellor, University of
Law professor
3 During his tenure, the
Administration Building is taken
over and people are arrested

- ~,

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