Office of the Provost


Our Responsibilities as a Learning Community

Sept. 13, 2019

Dear Faculty, Students, and Staff,

Welcome to the 2019/20 academic year: one that has already begun in earnest. With classes underway, we share a common sense of excitement for the broad array of discovery and learning that lie ahead

The university is widely recognized both for its breadth and its depth. We combine many areas of inquiry with deep expertise within fields. We develop strong interdisciplinary connections that provide unparalleled possibilities for expanding our understanding of the world and contributing new knowledge to it.

Our ongoing commitment to critical thinking, careful examination of evidence, and openness to perspectives different from our own characterizes research and teaching at Michigan. It is a strong foundation for study in any field. This commitment is essential to research – raising new questions for examination and offering new perspectives on work already underway. It is a cornerstone of teaching as well, helping students to develop their own perspectives and to pose their own questions as they dig deeply into their areas of interest. In research and teaching alike, this commitment to learning and questioning helps us to understand the many challenges facing society.

With the opportunity to discover and learn at Michigan comes a responsibility that is at the heart of our mission. We are charged "…to serve the people of Michigan and the world through preeminence in creating, communicating, preserving, and applying knowledge, art and academic values, and in developing leaders and citizens who will challenge the present and enrich the future." As a public university, we have a special responsibility to carry our commitment to evidence-based analysis and thoughtful debate of opposing views forward into society.

How can we act on this responsibility today, when the world is marked by deep divisions between and within societies?

We can hone our skills as learners and instill them in our roles as citizens in self-governing, democratic societies. As citizens, we can question, critically and supportively, and help others to do the same. We can test the available evidence. And we can seek out the views of others on how our society works and doesn't yet work. Together, we can seek to understand and illuminate the choices we face as we strive for a more perfect Union.

Just over 80 years ago, President Franklin Roosevelt spoke of the important role education plays in the preservation and promotion of democratic life. He wrote:

"Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education."

As we undertake our work this year – individually, in study and research groups, and as a community – let us consider how each of us can contribute to society's ability to choose wisely.


Martin A. Philbert
Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs
Professor of Toxicology
University of Michigan