Coleman Q&A

Coleman expects to stay the course
"I don't have a game plan going in," new U-M president says

News Staff Reporter

Ann Arbor News, June 2, 2002
    IOWA CITY, Iowa - How will Mary Sue Coleman at Michigan differ from Mary Sue Coleman at Iowa?
Don't ask Coleman that question. The new University of Michigan president has no idea.
    "I don't have any preconceived notions about how things should be done," the 58-year-old Coleman said Thursday, the day she officially explained her decision to step down as the University of Iowa's president after nearly seven years in the job. "I think you learn from different circumstances and figure out how you can make the best contribution. I don't have a game plan going in. I'm going to try to learn."
    Yet, during a 30-minute interview at her office in the University of Iowa's Jessup Hall, Coleman did talk about some of the issues she will be facing when she begins her new job Aug. 1.
    Here are some excerpts:
    • On the admissions lawsuits, which has U-M defending its use of race as one of the factors it considers in deciding who to admit: "The admissions lawsuits will play out in courts. And I know Michigan has taken a principled stand to see it through. I would be proud to be part of that. It's a principle that they're trying to play out that will set a standard across higher education in this country, so it's important."
    • On U-M's Life Sciences Institute: "I think it was the right decision for the regents to make. I know this was a very important initiative for Lee Bollinger. I absolutely agree that a major research university in this age, and particularly this century, needs to be in the life sciences in a major way. And Michigan has taken that first step - and the second and third steps, too. Again, I hope to be up to speed. I do know Jack Dixon, who is the director. I've known him in professional circles. We haven't touched base in quite a long time, but I look forward to getting together with him, talking about his ideas and plans."
    • On the case of banned booster Eddie L. Martin, who reportedly gave four former U-M basketball players more than $600,000: "It's too bad that that happened. I don't like to see those kinds of things going on. It's not good for the university. It's not good for anybody. It just isn't appropriate. But now I'm hoping the truth can come out. The university was hampered (by the fact) that it didn't have subpoena power and didn't have access to the information that the legal system did. Now maybe it can all come out. I want to seek the truth. And I want to make sure it never happens again."
    • On working with the Board of Regents: "I was very impressed with their understanding of the issues facing higher education. I know they all have their individual thoughts and differences, but they seem to be willing to work together towards common goals."
    • On the role of athletics at a school like the U-M: "Athletics are wonderful. I appreciate them. Athletic competition can do wonderful things for young people. But we've got to do it in a manner that's totally filled with integrity and is above board, where we're very concerned about the welfare of students and their progress. We are here in the end to educate them. We're not here in the end, as the primary function, to hone their athletic skills. I hope that does happen. But they need to happen under the best kind of circumstance."
    • On whether she plans to continue outreach efforts such as her regular fireside chats at Iowa: "It's really important for me to understand what the culture is at Michigan and what the expectations are. But I would hope that I could continue to use techniques and mechanisms to reach out to the community, to get to know what students are thinking, what faculty and staff are thinking. Michigan is a bigger environment: more students, more faculty and staff. You have to figure out ways of remaining open and approachable, knowing you are a single person and you don't have an unlimited number of hours during the day. It's always a balancing act.
    "I would hope I could do some of the similar things. I'm sure I've gained far more from it than the people on the other end. It's helped keep me fresh, it's helped make me understand what the pressures are facing our students today. It's hard sometimes to know that. I think the situations that students face today are different from when I was at school. It doesn't do me any good to sit back and think what I felt like when I was at college. I need to know what they feel like. And it's worked here. And I would hope something like it would work there. But I'll talk to the student government leaders and see if they have ideas. I'm always open to ideas."
    • On how she plans to prepare for her new job: "I've got some big responsibilities here to finish the budget decisions. I owe that to the University of Iowa. But at the same time, I will be talking to people at the University of Michigan. I know they will be sending me materials. I hope to make a couple of visits before August. One of the reasons that I wanted to try to get to Michigan in early August, several weeks before the term started, was that I would have the time to have intensive conversations with people. I'm going to be learning all next year. I don't expect to come in knowing everything. I don't expect to have all the answers. I hope working with other people I can figure out how to help. That's what president should do, at least to me."
    • On becoming a Wolverine. "I talked to my son (Jonathan, a portfolio manager in Denver) to tell him the news. He said 'Oh, mom. I love the Hawkeyes. Do you really want to do this?' So we both have a little pact. We cheer for the Hawkeyes except when they're playing Michigan."
Rob Hoffman can be reached at (734) 994-6814 or