Dean Watkins-Hayes welcomes the Ford School community back to a new start to the school year

August 29, 2023

Dear Fordies,

It’s my great joy and honor to be writing to our community as we start our new academic year! We’ve already had an eventful day with the technology challenge, but you have risen to the occasion. Weill Hall was buzzing today as we welcomed new Fordies, greeted old friends, and began classroom instruction.

Based on the correspondence that we received this afternoon from the central administration, we might be navigating this technology challenge for a few more days. It is our understanding that some systems have been restored. Thank you in advance for your patience and positive energy as we move through the next couple of days. 

As we begin this semester, here are just a few things about which I’m especially excited.

Spend your days at Weill Hall!

We’ll continue last year’s practice of making Tuesdays and Wednesdays our Community Days. Those are the days when you’ll find most of our faculty and staff in the building, and we’ll schedule all kinds of opportunities for fun, learning, and professional development these days.

That starts tomorrow, Tuesday, August 29th as we kick off the semester together with our Fall Launch. Students, faculty, and staff are all warmly invited to join in the fun: games, a special photo booth, hot dogs, veggie dogs, ice cream, sodas, and sparkling water. We’ll start at 4:00 pm in the courtyard!

Our "Food for Thought" series will also continue on Tuesdays each month, led by associate dean Jeff Morenoff. These lunch-hour gatherings will provide opportunities for students, faculty, and staff to come together (over pizza!) for dialogue on breaking news and policy issues. First up: a discussion of the political, legal, and social dimensions of the multiplying indictments against Donald Trump, September 19 at 11:30am.

Students should also keep an eye out for CommuniTea, a new informal bi-weekly student centered gathering in Weill Hall around topics of interest chosen in consultation with student organizations and DEI Coalition members. 

We’re not known as “the Food School” for nothing, and we’ll have more fun surprises to come, all in hopes of seeing more of us together, more often

Here’s one example: soon we’ll be announcing a new series called Dinners with the Dean. Each month I’ll invite students to share a casual meal in Weill Hall. We’ll get to know each other, and–with the help of some special guests I’ll bring–we’ll learn more together about the brilliance, impact, and opportunity that this great University offers us.

Get involved with our dynamic research centers

Our research centers are terrific, and each has a big year ahead. The International Policy Center, for example, is launching a new speaker series called the International Policy Research Seminar, around the theme, "Constructing and Destructing Global Orders." Their first event is Thursday, September 28 - details to come. More great IPC news is here.

The Center for Racial Justice welcomes its second cohort of Visiting Fellows, along with two outstanding postdoctoral fellows. Meet all of those folks and learn more about the CRJ at our Open House on September 26th!

The Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy (CLOSUP) will conduct multiple rounds of its influential Michigan Public Policy Surveys this year, including a fall survey on local government energy and environmental policy. CLOSUP will also bring Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson to the Ford School this fall–details to come!

Christina Weiland, faculty co-director of the Education Policy Initiative, is a member of the taskforce that Governor Whitmer has charged with making recommendations for her administration’s ambitious Pre-K for All initiative.

The Science, Technology, and Public Policy program, which has offered training to graduate students since 2006, is excited to be expanding opportunities for undergraduates; they’ll host a Practical Community Learning Project, help identify relevant courses across campus, and give BAs access to special career-related events and activities.

Our one-of-a-kind Leadership Initiative continues to grow. They’ve welcomed a talented new postdoc, Catherine Owsik, and you can read a terrific Q&A with her here. Students, please learn more about the Leadership Initiative here and be on the lookout for their programming and courses. 

And there’s much more! The Weiser Diplomacy Center, Youth Policy Lab, the Detroit Metro Area Communities Study, and Poverty Solutions teams enrich our educational environment and make a real difference in the communities they partner with. 

I encourage all students to get involved with the work of the centers: sign up for their newsletters and attend their events to learn more about job opportunities, overseas study trips, policy simulations, student-initiative projects, and more.

Meet our new faculty

Last year, we had a great deal of success in the important work of recruiting new faculty to join the Ford School: and now they’re here! Our new faculty have added to our strengths in diplomacy, education policy, environmental justice, racial justice, and more. They include new tenured and tenure-track faculty, postdocs as well as practitioners with significant policy and leadership experience. Read more about them here, and please join me in welcoming our new colleagues to the Ford School community!

Meet our new students

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

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

We welcome 88 new MPP students. 38% of them are international students, hailing from twelve different countries: Azerbaijan, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, Tanzania, Taiwan, and Uzbekistan. Of our domestic students, nearly a third are underrepresented minorities. Four students are Fulbright Scholars, and 4 are PPIA alumni. What an amazing group!

We welcome 83 outstanding undergraduate juniors pursuing our BA major. Forty percent are from Michigan, and forty percent are students of color. We also have 28 new students pursuing our BA minor.

I had the chance to meet many of our new students last week at Orientation and was blown away by their energy and excitement. I can’t wait to see how they’ll contribute to and strengthen our community!

Get involved with diversity, equity, and inclusion 

Diversity, equity, and inclusion work remains a core priority for the Ford School. Last year, we moved forward on six key priorities related to DEI; you can learn more about that work here.

We also spent a significant amount of time last year reflecting and talking with our community as we developed what will be our next major DEI strategic plan. We’ll launch that plan in October alongside the University’s major DEI initiative. 

Meanwhile I encourage students to get involved. The Ford School DEI Coalition is composed of students, faculty, and staff with whom members of the Ford School community can share ideas and feedback regarding DEI initiatives. Students who are interested in learning more should contact one of our excellent DEI leads: Stephanie Sanders, Lecturer & Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer, [email protected] or Dom Adams-Santos, Associate Director, Center for Racial Justice & Associate Diversity Officer, [email protected]

Make use of our public events!

We’ll have a wonderful semester of substantive policy events. Our goal is to maximize the impact of our events for our own students, faculty, and staff; I encourage you to take advantage of opportunities to engage!

A special opportunity exclusively for our Ford School community is coming up on September 22, as our Policy Talks @ the Ford School series brings U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo to Weill Hall for a conversation with Professor Betsey Stevenson on economic growth, innovation, and American competitiveness. Be on the lookout for more information on getting a seat, and also how to send in the questions you’d like to hear the Secretary address.

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 October 3 with Kris Marsh, author of The Love Jones Cohort: Single and Living Alone in the Black Middle Class.

Our very own Luke Shaefer will reflect on his fine new book, The Injustice of Place - which offers a surprising new understanding of extreme poverty in America. Luke will be joined by Michigan’s U.S. Congressman Dan Kildee, along with co-authors, Kathy Edin and Tim Nelson on October 4. 

Voting and resilient democracies will be a focus as we move closer to a critical 2024 election year. Mark your calendars for back-to-back events on these important topics: on November 2 we’ll host a Conversations Across Differences event with former congressman Fred Upton (R-MI) and Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI), and on November 3 we’ll host CNN anchor Jake Tapper as part of the continuing series Democracy in crisis: Views from the press

On October 30, our Science, Technology, and Public Policy program director Shobita Parthasarathy will sit down with former New York City mayor Bill de Blasio to talk about AI and urban tech: Are smart cities smart enough

Save the date for November 8 to hear from incoming Pregnancy Justice president Lourdes Rivera alongside Professor Paula Lantz on the landscape of reproductive rights in the U.S. both legally and through a racial and social justice lens.

There’s more to come. You can find information about these events and many more here

As always, we want to know other suggestions for speakers and topics from our community of scholars - drop your ideas in the box at the events board in the 2nd floor hallway anytime, or send them to our events team at [email protected]

Let’s get started!

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, sign up to join a Dinner with the Dean, or drop a line to [email protected]

Meanwhile, I’ll see you in the halls of our building, and in our courtyard tomorrow (Tuesday) afternoon at the Fall Launch.

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

Dean Watkins-Hayes