Welcome, and welcome back, to the Ford School: A message from the dean

September 5, 2017

My warmest greetings to the Ford School community on this, the first day of our new academic year.

My congratulations to the Wolverines on their decisive victory in the first game of the year. Go Blue!

I am deeply honored and incredibly excited to have the opportunity to lead this great school.

You’ll hear much more in the months to come about my vision for the Ford School. Working together, I believe we can make the Ford School even more engaged in our learning and more focused on leadership; more collaborative and interdisciplinary across the University; and more diverse, equitable, and inclusive--and that this in turn will help to make a bigger policy impact on the world around us.

What do you most value and cherish about the Ford School? What do you hope to accomplish this year and beyond? What are your hopes and ideas for the future? We’re planning a number of formal and informal opportunities for me to hear your thoughts on those questions and more--please look for information and invitations coming soon.

Welcome new students!

That energy and excitement in the building today has a primary source: our outstanding classes of new students.

We’re joined by 107 new master's students, 97 MPP and 10 MPA. 87 of them are US citizens and 20 are international students—hailing from 13 different countries and 4 continents.  60 women and 47 men. Our domestic students come from 20 different states plus Washington, D.C.; twenty-nine are Michigan residents and 30 are people of color. The class includes a software engineer at Google, a medical resident, an intelligence officer, an IRS official, and teachers. We have 4 Peace Corps alumni, 8 AmeriCorps alumni, 2 Fulbright students, 1 McNair Scholar, 3 alumni of our Ford School Public Policy and International Affairs summer program, 1 Teach for America alumnus, and 2 U.S. military veterans.

Seventy five new BA students have joined the community: 41 women and 34 men. Fifty-one percent are Michigan residents and 31 percent are students of color. We also have 3 international students in the BA class. As juniors, these students have leadership experience and ties with networks and groups from all over campus; now, they’ll become an integral part of the Ford School community as well, and their ideas and energy will be a force for good.

Another excellent, highly-promising cohort of PhD students joins us as well. They include three students pursuing joint degrees in economics, one in political science, and one in sociology.

Collectively, our new students are bright, mission-driven people who have come to the Ford School wanting to change the world for the better.

To our new and returning students: welcome, and welcome back. I am eager to find ways to get to know each one of you, and learn why you are here and where you want to go next.

Growing our expertise: faculty news

Our top-notch associate leadership team remains in place, with Paula Lantz continuing on as associate dean for academic affairs, Elisabeth Gerber continuing as the school’s associate dean for research and policy engagement, and Ann Lin continuing to serve as the school’s course manager.  Our senior staff continues in place as well.  I’m deeply grateful for their partnership with me in leading our school.

A huge pat on the back to Kevin Stange, who was promoted to associate professor with tenure over the summer. Kevin is working on a number of important research projects, including an edited volume about measuring productivity in higher education, which we’ll describe in the next magazine.

Susan M. Collins, who earlier this summer completed her tremendous decade of leadership as our dean, will return to the faculty as the Edward M. Gramlich Collegiate Professor of Public Policy after taking a richly deserved sabbatical this coming year. Today is the 10th anniversary of Ned Gramlich’s passing, and we will be taking the opportunity to reflect on his lasting legacy at Michigan and in the world.

We welcome a number of outstanding new faculty members and visitors as well:

Tamar Mitts, a political scientist and assistant professor of public policy,  focuses on comparative politics and international relations, including political violence, conflict, radicalization, and extremism.

Fabiana Silva, a sociologist and assistant professor of public policy, studies the mechanisms that perpetuate or mitigate group-based inequality in the labor market, with a focus on social networks and employer discrimination.

Stephanie Sanders, a lecturer and our first diversity, equity, and inclusion officer, focuses on critical race theory in her scholarship, including work on the challenges faced by students who transition from urban environments to rural, predominantly white colleges.

Our distinguished visiting policy-makers in residence this year will include:

Dudley Benoit (PPIA, MPP ‘95), the director of community development finance at Santander Bank, our newest Towsley Foundation Policymaker in Residence;

Dale Giovengo, a foreign service specialist who has worked in Washington, D.C. as well as in a wide range of hot-spots around the world, our newest State Department Diplomat in Residence; and

Hardy Vieux (MPP/JD ‘97), legal director of Human Rights First, which stands against hate, and for human dignity, in the United States and around the world, returns to finish his Towsley Foundation Policymaker in Residence stint from last winter.

Our longtime colleague and friend, the legendary Mary Corcoran will be retiring at the end of the year. You’ll hear more about Mary’s tremendous research and teaching career in the fall edition of our magazine, but if you’re a graduate student interested in gender and employment concerns, act fast to get into Mary’s “women and employment” course.

A few faculty members will be on leave for all or part of the year, including Robert Axelrod (fall 2017 - spring 2018), John Ciorciari (fall 2017), Susan M. Collins (fall 2017 - spring 2018), Sharon Maccini (fall 2017 - spring 2018), Carl Simon (spring 2018) and Dean Yang (fall 2017 - spring 2018).

While John is on leave, Alan Deardorff will again fill in as director of the International Policy Center.   Alan is also filling in as BA Program Director while Sharon Maccini is on leave.

And speaking of centers, I have brought a brand new one to the Ford School--the Center on Finance, Law, and Policy--which I hope you’ll explore.

You can find bios of all our faculty online here https://issuu.com/fordschool/docs/faculty-2017-2018 (or look for the print version in boxes around the building).

We also lament the passing of John DiNardo, our longtime colleague and friend. John taught me, like so many others, about the power of numbers, but also about how and why to be humble about their use. We’ll be setting up a fund in John’s honor, supporting a mix a whimsy, and cutting-edge economic work.

Year 2 of our strategic plan for diversity, equity, and inclusion

As many of you know, we’ve just finished the first year of a 5-year strategic plan for diversity, equity, and inclusion—a deeply collaborative process led in part by Susan Guindi, Shobita Parthasarathy, Susan Collins, and Paula Lantz. We’ve just hired our first DE&I officer, Professor Stephanie Sanders, PhD. We’ve created robust recruitment plans for all of our degree programs, done an extensive review of the BA curriculum, hosted staff and faculty training workshops, worked with the Student Leadership Council, and held multiple DE&I-related programs and conversations for all members of the Ford School community. Our community is proud of all it has accomplished with the help and leadership in large measure of our students, and we’re eager to keep the momentum going. 

Going forward, we believe that it is imperative that we continue to solicit the involvement of all of the students, staff and faculty that make up the Ford school community. So you will be hearing much more in the near future as we provide opportunities for you to weigh in on the priorities we identify for the coming years of the Ford School DE&I Strategic Plan. I look forward to hearing much more feedback and suggestions from all of you.

Coming together to listen, share, and learn

We have a terrific slate of community conversations, social gatherings, Policy Talks, and many research center-led public events coming up this fall. A comprehensive current list of public talks is attached—and we’re likely to have some nice surprises to announce shortly. (A handful of our students will get the chance to meet Colin Powell, for example! Details to come.)

Here are just a few highlights. I’ll attend as many of these as I can--I hope to see you there!

  • Thursday, September 7 in the Betty Ford Classroom at 4:00 pm: please join us for a community dialogue on issues related to the increase in white supremacist, neo-Nazi, KKK, and other hate groups in communities around the U.S. Professors Yazier HenryPaula Lantz, and Stephanie Sanders and I will lead the discussion.
  • Pop-up food, coffee, and conversation.  A new Ford School tradition. On September 6, Bigalora Cucina will be serving lunch from a tasty truck just north of Weill Hall. And on September 11, Mighty Good Coffee will bring pastries and caffeine to the Great Hall. (We bring the vendors and you pay for what you order). More pop-up dates coming soon!
  • September 14-15, the Center on Finance, Law and Policy will host a cool symposium on Behavioral Finance. John Leahy and I will be talking about how psychological quirks and structural problems can help blow up the financial system--2008 all over again--and we’ll have exciting panels on consumers, investors, and entrepreneurs, including remarks by our very own Justin Wolfers.
  • September 18: Dr. Nadina Christopoulou, Greek anthropologist and co-founder of the Melissa Network in Athens, will deliver the 2017 Josh Rosenthal Education Fund lecture. She deeply impressed our IEDP students and faculty in Athens last spring; we’re so pleased to welcome her to Michigan to talk about refugee rights, immigration, and the global commons.
  • September 27: associate dean Paula Lantz will host a distinguished panel on personal and policy perspectives on mental health issues, and will highlight a new collaboration with UMS. The event is designed to complement the University Musical Society’s mid-September productions of the Duncan Macmillan play and HBO adaption, Every Brilliant Thing.
  • October 4: with Poverty Solutions, we’ll host Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute.
  • November 6: our 2017 Citi Foundation Lecture will be co-hosted with the Science, Technology, and Public Policy program and will feature Dr. Thirumalachari Ramasami, who served as the secretary of science and technology for India from 2006-2014.
  • November 9-10: we’re hosting a major two-day symposium with the Institute for Social Research that will highlight the contributions of Michigan-trained social scientists on Inequality in the U.S.
  • November 14: a special Policy Talks @ the Ford School event will feature former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, Ford Motor CEO Jim Hackett, and U-M Athletic Director Warde Manuel discussing issues that fall at the intersection of sports, race, civil rights, free speech, and social policy.
  • November 15-16, the Center on Finance Law and Policy will host the third annual conference with the federal Office of Financial Research; this year’s theme is FinTech and Financial Stability. Look for exciting presentations from FinTech entrepreneurs, U.S. and global regulators, and much more.

As always, we’ll make sure that students, faculty, and staff will get the chance to meet and interact with our speakers.

Challenging Times

It is no surprise to any of you that we are living in challenging times. Fractious political discourse, gridlock and partisanship in our nation’s capital, an increasing lack of trust in institutions everywhere, vocal challenges to the kind of evidence and expertise public policy schools advance, and hate speech and even hateful violence.

That’s why schools like ours are more critical than ever. We must pursue a civil, civic discourse.  One based on rigorous evidence and reasoned debate, where bipartisan exchange and compromise is valued, not disdained. We need to build an inclusive, diverse, and equitable community, a model for the nation of openness, energy, and innovative ideas. We have to redouble our efforts to deepen our policy impact, helping policymakers and practitioners tackle real-world problems. And we need to foster the leadership skills of our civic-minded students and give them opportunities for engaged learning so that they can use their skills to change the world.

At bottom, we need to hold true to the values that brought us to this community in the first place.

As I write, news is breaking about the Administration's plan to end immigration protection for "dreamers" through executive order.   I will be discussing this in more detail soon, as this is an extremely important issue to all of us as policy professionals who are part of a community with core values of integrity, action, leadership and diversity, equity and inclusion.

Let me just say, for my own part, that the values at the heart of this community are what made me want to be your dean. Faculty who become collegiate professors are able to choose the name of their chair--someone from Michigan's history whose values and work resonate and inspire our work. I chose Frank Murphy, who served on the U.S. Supreme Court after a career as Governor of Michigan and Mayor of Detroit.

Murphy, who in his long and varied career wrote a powerful dissent in Korematsu, founded what became the civil rights division at the Justice Department, stood up for worker rights in Detroit and for criminal rights of minorities in the courtroom, once wrote, “Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion all have a double aspect - freedom of thought and freedom of action.”

We're here at Michigan specifically to think and to act. We're deeply privileged by those freedoms. And at the same time, we're accountable for protecting them--for ourselves, for those around us, and for those to come.

Our future is bright

It’s been an exciting first month for me--the start of something of a listening tour. I’ve been meeting with people across the school and university. I’ve been connecting with those who knew and worked with President Ford. I’ve been getting to know the faculty and staff of the Ford School better.

And now, our students have returned to campus full of excitement and energy from serving worthwhile organizations all around the world and picking up new skills and experience in the process.

Welcome, and welcome back to Weill Hall. Let’s get to work!

Best regards,

Michael S. Barr

Joan and Sanford Weill Dean of Public Policy, Frank Murphy Collegiate Professor of Public Policy, Roy and Jean Humphrey Proffitt Professor of Law