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New Michigan president takes on football, sexual assault, and race

Kate Wells
Michigan Radio

The University of Michigan is complicated.

That much is already clear to Mark Schlissel, who wraps up his first week as president of the university this week. 

It has certainly been a busy one.

It kicked off with a meeting with Governor Rick Snyder. Schlissel says the governor assured him that he wants to reinvest in higher education, as the state economy allows.

Following that meeting, Schlissel sat down with reporters for about 45 minutes. 

"Michigan is a big, complicated, energetic, high quality university," he said Friday morning.

"And what my challenge will be is ... just wrapping my hands around a university with 43,000 students and  thousands of faculty and many thousands of staff."

That certainly won't be his only challenge. 

Schlissel touched briefly on a few hot topics he'll have to navigate in the coming year: 

Schlissel on ace and diversity on campus:

"I want to help continue the process of building a diverse academic community. I completely embrace the notion that you can’t be excellent as an academic institution without being diverse.

"But being diverse is not enough. We have to have a campus environment that is an inclusive one, where everyone is involved and feels an equal membership or equal ownership….

"So last year [during the Black Student Union's protests] of course was a very interesting and important year on campus from the diversity perspective

"But it’s not just last year...It isn’t a short term discussion. I would be surprised if 5 years from now we’re not still trying to work hard to figure out diversity."

Schlissel on Sexual assaults: 

"So this isn’t a Michigan specific issue, this is an across-the-academy issue.

"I’ve had to deal with at at other institutions, but certainly the level of attention being paid to it has been heightened nationally.

"I think that to the best of my knowledge, the University has policies and procedures that are completely consistent with the most recent guidance [from the federal government.]

"The challenge is making sure everybody knows these policies; that they are implemented consistently and with integrity...

"This notion of universities being asked to serve as investigators, judges, juries, punishers, this is very challenging. Because that’s not what we do.

"But I do feel responsible for the safety and support of the academic community while kids are here learning."  

Schlissel on On the proper role of athletics at Michigan:

"The broader discussion of what's happening to the culture of athletics at Michigan is one that I have to broker and be a leading part of. And the athletic director [Dave Brandon] has delegated responsibilities, but ultimately, he works for me.

"What I want to be sure of is that athletics exists in an appropriate balance with everything else the university does. Athletics isn't part of the mission statement. We're an academic institution."

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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