Interim Dean Watkins-Hayes welcomes the Ford School community back for an exciting fall semester

August 30, 2022

Dear Fordies,

It is my great honor to serve you all as interim dean this year, working alongside you to further the Ford School’s core mission of advancing the public good as the University conducts its search for the next permanent dean of this outstanding institution.

Tomorrow morning, we step together into a new semester. Many of you are returning to Weill from internships, family time, and summer relaxation. I’m excited to welcome you back. For others, tomorrow is your first day at your new academic home. On behalf of the entire faculty and staff, I send my warmest welcome to the Ford School.

Continued public health vigilance 

As I shared during my opening address to the new students, we are in a complicated moment. We are at the start of a promising new school year, excited to “Write Our Stories” and pursue our intellectual passions. At the same time, we are still navigating a global pandemic, one that presents new challenges (and frustrations) at every turn.   

The health and safety of our community remain a top priority. This is a moment for all of us to do our part to take care of ourselves and our colleagues and friends.

Unfortunately, cases are rising in Washtenaw County, at the University, and by all accounts, at the Ford School. So please monitor yourself for symptoms each day and stay home if you’re sick. Keep updated on your vaccines, and please take advantage of the University’s simple and free PCR and home testing opportunities. If you test positive for COVID, report it and follow the required quarantine protocols found here. You can find all of the resources mentioned above on the University's new Health Response website. We also ask that students alert Susan Guindi by email if they test positive.

At present, masks are optional in classrooms and around Weill Hall, as per University policy.

However, we strongly encourage the use of masks in Weill Hall and other public spaces, particularly over these first couple of weeks of the semester. Masks are effective for enhanced personal protection, especially for those with compromised immune status or anyone with a perceived increased situational risk. Masks will be available in each classroom in Weill Hall if you forget to bring one.

As we all work together toward continued public health vigilance, I also want to lift up many of the exciting things happening in our community.

FORD Forward

With associate deans Luke Shaefer and John Ciorciari and the school’s staff leadership team, I’ve laid out a set of four overarching goals to guide our work together this year. We’re calling the goals, “FORD Forward.”

  • Forward-looking strategy: Pursuing a short list of key goals that will have lasting and consequential impact on the future direction of the school.
  • Operational excellence: Continuing to operate at a level of excellence in all areas, including our teaching, advising, research, policy engagement, and daily life at the Ford School.
  • Reflection and restorative work: Ensuring that our community proactively encourages rejuvenation and sustainability.
  • Diversity, equity, and inclusion: Fostering a welcoming, informative, and inspiring environment for all members of the community.

The school’s leadership team will keep working on and talking through these priorities, and I encourage each of you–as you begin to write the story of your year–to think about how these four priorities can apply to the work and learning you’ll do.

Community Days

I am excited to announce that we are designating Tuesdays and Wednesdays as Community Days for the academic year. Faculty, for example, have been asked to be present at Weill Hall on Tuesday or Wednesday based on their teaching schedules. Similarly, although many of our staff will continue in last year’s successful hybrid model, using Zoom, Slack, and other technology to remain connected regardless of work location, on every Tuesday, all staff are asked to work from Weill Hall to promote collaboration and community building.

We’ll find a lively and vibrant community at Weill on those days, and we’ll schedule all kinds of opportunities for fun, learning, and professional development! Community Days start this Tuesday, August 30th as we kick off the semester together with a Fall Launch and Ice Cream Social starting at 4:00 pm in the courtyard. Students, faculty, and staff are invited for cold treats and warm community!

One element of Community Days is a new initiative led by associate dean John Ciorciari called "Food for Thought." Once a month during the lunch hour, these sessions will provide opportunities for students, faculty, and staff to come together (over pizza!) for learning and dialogue on breaking news and policy issues. Save the date for the first session on Tuesday, September 13 at noon in the Annenberg, and we'll share more information on the topic soon. 

Our new students

A very warm welcome to our diverse and accomplished incoming students!

We welcome 7 wonderful new PhD students: two pursuing joint doctoral degrees in Public Policy/ Economics, three in Public Policy/Political Science, and two in Public Policy/Sociology.

Our Master’s cohort consists of 12 MPA and 123 MPP students. 28% of our students are international students, hailing from thirteen different countries and from five different continents. We have 3 Fulbright scholars, 8 PPIA alumni, 2 Peace Corps alumni, 5 from the U.S. military, 3 Teach for America alumni, and 5 AmeriCorps alumni. What an amazing group!

We welcome 80 undergraduate juniors pursuing our BA major. 44% are Michigan residents, and 56% are out-of-state residents. 65% of them identify as women and 35% as men. Around 20% are students of color. We also have 25 new students pursuing our BA minor in that program’s third year.

I had the chance to meet many of our new students last week at Orientation, and I can’t wait to see how they’ll contribute to and strengthen our community.

Our new faculty

We are welcoming an incredible group of new faculty members this fall. They bring new expertise in social policy, international affairs, political conflict, the judiciary, national security, racial justice, human rights, and more. They include new tenured faculty as well as visiting experts with significant policy and leadership experience who will be on campus to teach and mentor students. I hope you will get to know them well in the coming weeks.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion

The Ford School (and the broader University) will devote significant time this year to planning for our next major strategic plan for diversity, equity, and inclusion (“DEI 2.0”). We’ll kick off that planning with a special community event on Tuesday, October 25 (more to come.)

Meanwhile, the work very much continues. Last spring we rolled out our six current priorities for diversity, equity, and inclusion (“DEI 1.5” ) and received meaningful insights and additions from students. You can read or watch more about the priorities here.

We are adding to our staffing for the effort, with sociologist Dominique Adams-Santos, the Associate Director of the Center for Racial Justice, taking on a new role as the associate DEI officer for the Ford School, working alongside DEI officer Stephanie Sanders. We’re also adding a currently-posted staff role to help bolster our DEI communications. We are excited for the expansion of our DEI team! 

From our International Policy Center to our Education Policy Initiative to our Center for Racial Justice and more, each of the Ford School’s lively research centers contributes to our diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. I encourage students to get involved with our centers and sign up for their newsletters to learn more about job opportunities, study trips, simulations, and events.

Event highlights

We’ll have a wonderful semester of substantive policy events, including a return to in-person, hybrid, and public events. Our goal is to make our events and our visitors genuinely useful to our own students, faculty, and staff. Please find a way to engage!

Democracy and voting will be a focus as we count down to the critical November midterms. The team at our Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy is working on an event, for example, featuring local election officials talking about their role in protecting the integrity of our democratic systems; more details on that soon. 

On September 12, we’ll bring together mayors from cities across the states of the Big Ten for a discussion about leadership at the city level; that will be an online event with a live watch party on North Campus.

On September 13, the Weiser Diplomacy Center will host Nobel Laureate and former president of Poland Lech Walesa for a talk about Russia’s war on Ukraine. He’ll be in person at the Rackham Amphitheater.

The Center for Racial Justice continues its event series on the racial foundations of public policy. I encourage all faculty, staff, and students to join us as we kick off the series on September 15 where I’ll be joined by legal scholar Melissa Murray for a conversation on reproductive justice. Other events in the series this fall will address housing, health, and LGBTQ rights.

We’ve got two big events on September 22. Our own professor Ann Lin, newly appointed as director of the University’s Lieberthal-Rogel Center for Chinese Studies, will deliver a major talk for her endowed professorship. We’re also co-hosting a panel on the gun violence epidemic with Poverty Solutions that day at Weill Hall.

And there’s much more! Also on the books for the fall, we’ve got a Homecoming celebration designed particularly for the Classes of ‘20 and ‘21 (who graduated via Zoom!), a welcome symposium for our Center for Racial Justice Visiting Fellows, an STPP conversation on technology and civil liberties, and more.

I’m especially excited to announce that on November 1 at Rackham Auditorium, I’ll host the amazing journalist and educator Jelani Cobb for a conversation titled, “The half-life of freedom: Notes on race, media and democracy." 

You can find information about these events and many more here

Keeping in touch

This was a very long email–I had a lot to share! I’ll keep in touch with shorter emails each Sunday night this coming term, sharing highlights and news. And I’d very much like to hear from you: what’s on your mind, how your year is going, and your hopes for our community. Come by my office hours (schedule to be announced soon), say hello when you see me around the building, or drop a line to

Welcome, and welcome back to our community. Let’s get to work!

Dean Watkins-Hayes