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New U-M president Ono lays out climate change, diversity and staffing goals

Santa Ono sitting at a desk
New University of Michigan President Santa Ono gave his first major speech Thursday, outlining several priorities for the next year. (Bridge file photo)
  • U-M will have a new partnership with Delta Air Lines to address climate change
  • The university will invest in local banks in Dearborn, Detroit, Flint and Ann Arbor 
  • President Santa Ono wants to hire a 100 new faculty members on top of other hiring

The University of Michigan will invest $300 million into “high-performing” companies that demonstrate commitments to the environment, and participate in a Delta Air Lines alternative fuel program, new president Santa Ono announced Thursday morning at an annual leadership breakfast

The new university president laid out several other priorities, including having U-M commit to a new “strategic vision” by 2024. He did not say how he’d measure the success of his ambitious goals, but he committed to developing metrics and providing annual updates.

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“We know that we want to solve society's most significant challenges,” Ono said. “And we have the intellectual capital, perhaps unmatched by any other institution. And we have human capital among our faculty, staff, students and alumni. What we need is a shared vision. All oars rowing in the same direction.”

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Diversity, equity and inclusion

Ono praised the university’s current diversity, equity and inclusion efforts and said he anticipates launching “DEI 2.0” in a year. He highlighted the university’s “Inclusive History Project,” which he said could possibly lead to new art and monuments on campus and changes to how the university names its buildings. 

“We cannot be excellent without being diverse in the broadest sense of that word,” he said. 

The university will invest $300 million in the university’s short term working capital to companies that “work to protect the environment, be socially responsible, and operate transparently while providing a strong financial return.” 

Ono also announced the university would be making long-term deposits to community banks in Flint, Dearborn, Detroit and Ann Arbor.

“These tens of millions of dollars in deposits are made with the understanding that they are lending,” he said. “This support will allow banks to do more for underserved communities.” 

College access

Ono also praised the newly-launched program that provides Henry Ford College students with more support to ensure they are able to transfer to U-M Dearborn. The program includes more academic advising and scholarship opportunities so that students know their community college credits will transfer to the 4-year university. 

Students would start at HFC and would be guaranteed admission to UM-Dearborn based on their grade point average and/or transfer credits. They will have a minimum of 60 credits hours transferred and will enter U-M Dearborn as a junior. 

“This is a triple win for Henry Ford College, University of Michigan Dearborn and our state’s economy,” Ono said.

Climate Change

The university will partner with Delta Air Lines to “improve the use of sustainable aviation fuel,” which Ono described as an alternative to jet fuel.

The university will contribute money toward the airline’s use of “sustainable aviation fuel” and then is able to to claim associated emissions reductions, according to the University Record. The alternative fuel can be made from cooking oil, animal fat or agricultural residues. U-M will contribute funds to the equivalent of removing 326-gas powered vehicles off the road for one year. 

“We anticipate that this collaboration will lead to rewarding research and increased global demand,” Ono said. “Ultimately we need to disrupt how we think about climate change. It's not merely for climate scientists and politicians to solve. We all have to be part of the solution. And the University of Michigan cannot, will not work in a vacuum.” 

U-M has already committed to achieving carbon neutrality. The university wants to reduce emissions from purchased power to net zero by 2025, set new goals by 2025 about indirect emission sources and eliminate direct on-campus greenhouse emissions by 2040. 

The university will launch a national search for a sustainability leader to help advance the university’s climate goals, Ono said. The person would report to the chief financial officer and Ono.

Ono, who led the University Climate Change Coalition while at the University of British Columbia, announced U-M will now be the lead university of the coalition. The coalition includes 23 universities across North America. 

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Investing in faculty and staff 

The university will look to add 100 new faculty in a wide range of disciplines, in addition to filling existing openings. Ono plans to start recruiting in 2023, with some new hires arriving in 2024. 

There will also be a $1 million program for a staff career development fund.

Ono announced the university will launch a new think tank about privacy advocacy, research and innovation.

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