Acquisition, Discovery and Application of Knowledge

Looking Forward


As part of the reaccreditation process we convened an accreditation working group (the AWGs were introduced in the Overview section) that was asked to examine the meaning and value of the University’s knowledge environment, and to include a distinctly forward-looking approach in its deliberations. The AWG examined ways in which the University could build on its current strengths and considered possible areas for future improvement. Each AWG produced a set of recommendations that have been incorporated into this report. Since each group consisted of a relatively small number of engaged faculty or staff members, it is likely that the University community will review the recommendations and suggest changes to this list through revisions, additions, and possibly deletions. Especially during a time of fiscal constraints, the University is proceeding deliberately and leadership will work closely with the University community before deciding on next steps.

The comments below do not attempt to summarize the University’s knowledge environment or reflect all the points that were made earlier in this section. Rather, they are a few key efforts that seem important for the University of Michigan as we move forward. These recommendations are presented to stimulate further conversation and thought, and are not intended to convey institutional approval or commitment at this time.

Reflection and Dialogue

Decentralization is a key strength of the University of Michigan; at the same time respectful, serious conversation across our differences is possible, and strengthens our community and our sense of common mission. One of the recommendations, therefore, is that we continue the current program of campus forums on issues in higher education and support the offering of follow-up programs in units.

  • Encourage purposeful reflection and thoughtful dialogue across the different sectors of the University. The University values the creativity that has resulted from the University’s decentralized structure, but the AWG suggests that we might do more to improve the exchanges among units—by establishing, for example, a knowledge inventory, electronic suggestion boxes, and more opportunity for cross-unit interactions. We suggests that the provost sponsor programs for discussion of issues in higher education, modeled on the provost’s forums and the Provost’s Seminar on Teaching.
  • Invest in scholarship that addresses the changing knowledge environment. The AWG concluded that the University needs to expand its efforts to understand the changing knowledge environment and, specifically, the situation and responsibilities of public universities. Changes in technology during the next decade are likely to have an immense impact, and it is crucial to invest in understanding this transformation.

An Evolving Funding Environment

The University of Michigan is an institution with an extraordinary volume of research and creative activities, but it must remain able to respond to a continuously, and sometimes rapidly-changing funding environment. The proportion of discretionary funding administered through the Office of the Vice President for Research, therefore, seems relatively low for the size of the enterprise. The ability to experiment, to sponsor emerging and high-risk areas of research, seems vital. So does the ability to fund activities that may not attract external funds, but that the community finds valuable--for example, creative performances or research into technologies for underserved groups with high social return but little profit potential. One of the AWG’s recommendations is that the University consider increasing and perhaps decentralizing seed grant funding.

  • Seed innovative, high risk, and socially valuable research and creative activities. We suggest a follow-up study assessing how much discretionary funding is available on campus, and where decisions are made. Should the University, including OVPR, have more discretionary funding? Should there be more funding programs outside of OVPR? Are multiple models of knowledge making accommodated in the process? Given that interdisciplinarity is a distinctive strength of this University, is there sufficient internal funding for interdisciplinary projects that may not easily be funded externally?

Knowledge Sharing

The University of Michigan holds one of the world’s largest research libraries. However, as the systems of publication break down the University will not only find itself increasingly challenged to acquire and discover knowledge but will face even greater challenges in sustaining a dialogue with those outside the walls of the institution. Leadership in this field implies both studying these issues, and intervening. In response, the University should consider investing in research on the ways in which new information technology and media are changing, and how knowledge is created and conserved. Universities have an opportunity to contribute to the reshaping of publication in our world. The recent partnership between the University of Michigan and Google, Inc., to digitize our libraries’ holdings, and the related development of the Hathi Trust Digital Library, represents a seismic shift. The decision to move the University of Michigan Press into the University Library offers one platform for creating new, more viable publishing models. The University should also challenge itself to lead in the creation of new processes of peer review while still ensuring value and authority. Together with similar institutions of higher education, we could create new outlets for scholarship that are either open access or have more sustainable economic models.

  • Maintain and extend our leadership in exploring new forms of knowledge sharing, including scholarly publication. Changes in the economics of the publishing industry along with technological advances in communication are having serious effects on various aspects of professional development. However, new forms of publication and creative expression continue to emerge, and the University has the potential to be a leader in this effort.

Students and Staff

Undergraduate and Graduate Student Research

Undergraduate research is not unique to the University of Michigan or to research universities in general. While it increasingly happens at liberal arts colleges as well, University of Michigan students have opportunities to participate in the creation of transformative, leading-edge knowledge. In the discussions mentioned earlier, University alumni have said forcefully that we should make a research experience available to as many students as possible, across all the disciplines. One of the recommendations, therefore, is an increased focus and increased funding for undergraduate research opportunities in the curriculum and other research-based opportunities. Given that undergraduate students increasingly select projects that involve non-LSA programs, such growth of the program should involve all participating units. In some cases, increased support for research would apply to graduate student experiences as well, as in the Grant Opportunities/Collaborative Spaces (GROCS) program based in the Digital Media Commons, for example.

  • Make activities that involve students in research collaborations a priority. At both the undergraduate and graduate levels, student involvement in research, especially collaborative and interdisciplinary research, greatly enhances the University’s knowledge environment. Current programs, such as UROP, could be expanded, but also other forms of research activities could be promoted and recognized as part of the educational experience at a research university (perhaps involving electronic portfolios that were mentioned previously).

University Staff

The AWG expressed concern about how many experienced staff persons are scheduled to retire in the near future, within a relatively short time frame. These individuals represent an enormous amount of institutional knowledge, and the University needs to have a process in place to deal with this transition. We also need ways to enhance communication among the staff.

  • Enhance the appreciation for the work of University staff and ensure their continued strength. Faculty members and students rely on the successful selection, development, and retention of staff to create the “Michigan Difference.” Staff leaders could be involved in the development of programs at many levels, with particular attention to making sure that staff knowledge is preserved in key areas of distinction, such as the support of interdisciplinary research and teaching.

Accountability and Assessment

The AWG was persuaded by arguments for a greater need for institutional accountability and assessment, and taking charge of creating effective measures for student learning (see the section on Learning). An inquiry-based orientation enables immediate recognition of the importance of having sophisticated measures that can demonstrate growth in students who are already high achievers when they enter the University, and that focus less on the knowledge students possess than on what they can do. The University also needs to consider measures that enable faculty members who have gained public recognition to reallocate time to take advantage of (often short-lived) opportunities to disseminate knowledge. Faculty members in all fields would benefit from greater institutional support for connecting with communities outside the University, so that the distinctive public work of artists and architects, for example, is accommodated.

  • Create more sophisticated area and unit-specific mechanisms for assessment. In a changing knowledge environment, successful instruments for evaluating education and research, such as publications and societal engagement, may not remain sufficient, so the University would benefit from expanding its existing assessment mechanisms.