The Inauguration of Ora Hirsch Pescovitz as the Seventh President of Oakland University

Rochester, MI

Friday, April 20, 2018

IU President McRobbie speaks at Ora Pescovitz's inauguration ceremony at Oakland University. Photo provided by Oakland University

Thank you very much, Vice President McIntosh.

Senator Peters, Chairman DeVore and members of the Oakland University Board of Trustees, President Pescovitz, Provost Lentini, students, faculty, staff, and distinguished guests:

It is truly a great pleasure to be here on this special and historic day in the life of Oakland University. The inauguration of a new president always marks a most auspicious moment in the life of a university.

I come before you today not only as one who has had the privilege of working closely for a number of years with Dr. Ora Pescovitz, but also as an honorary Michigander by marriage. My wife, Laurie, who is here with me today to help celebrate the inauguration of our friend and former colleague Ora Pescovitz, is a Michigan native, a University of Michigan alumna, and she worked for much of her career in Ann Arbor. The two of us have, over the years, made frequent trips to Michigan for work and to visit with family and friends—and we continue to do so to this day. In fact, my sister-in-law, Tamara Burns, was one of the architects responsible for some of the renovations at Meadowbrook Hall and its grounds.

Because of these and many other connections to this area, I have long been aware of the central role that Oakland University plays in this region, and more broadly, across the state. Across this beautiful campus, faculty are providing an excellent education to a wide range of students—an education that prepares them for successful careers and active engagement as citizens here in Michigan and beyond.

Having had the privilege of knowing and working with Dr. Ora Pescovitz for many years, I can state that Oakland University has, in her, an exceptionally talented and energetic administrator and a dedicated and visionary leader.

Dr. Ora Pescovitz at Indiana University

I first came to know and admire Dr. Pescovitz soon after I moved to Indiana University in 1997. Dr. Pescovitz had, at that point, been serving with great distinction for nearly a decade on the faculty of the IU School of Medicine, and would, just a few years later, begin a nearly decade-long tenure as the school’s executive associate dean for research affairs, leading basic and clinical research for what is the largest and one of the finest schools of medicine in the country.

In 2000, I began working very closely with Dr. Pescovitz in helping prepare the proposal for what became the largest research grant in IU’s history—a $105 million grant from Indiana’s Lilly Endowment to establish the Indiana Genomics Initiative. INGEN, as it was known, received an additional $50 million grant in 2003, and these funds helped IU create a world-class biomedical research enterprise, and they were a catalyst for the development of life sciences economic investments more broadly in Indiana. Dr. Pescovitz ably led this initiative with the then-dean of the IU School of Medicine, Craig Brater, and during that time, I got to know her very well as I was the chief information architect for the initiative, leading the IT work.

In 2003, when I became IU’s Vice President for Research, I gained new perspectives on—and new appreciation of—Dr. Pescovitz’s work.

The following year, IU’s clinical health partner, now known as Indiana University Health, sought a new chief executive for its Riley Children’s Hospital, which has a close academic partnership with IU and the IU School of Medicine. As a nationally recognized pediatrician, pediatric researcher, and academic leader, Dr. Pescovitz was, of course, a perfect fit. As CEO, she helped expand Riley Hospital’s statewide presence and helped grow its reputation as one of America’s best children’s hospitals.

At that point in her IU career, Dr. Pescovitz was serving concurrently—and with distinction—in two jobs of major importance: as president and CEO of the IU Health Riley Children’s Hospital, and as executive associate dean for research affairs at the IU School of Medicine.

Then, in 2007, after I became president of IU, I asked Dr. Pescovitz to take on a third major responsibility: to create and lead a new Office of Research Administration at IU. This office was vital to Indiana University’s research programs—and leading it was a complex and difficult undertaking—but at no point did Dr. Pescovitz flinch in the face of these challenges. She approached the challenge head-on, making decisions, hiring staff, and establishing the necessary systems to ensure an effective, efficient, and compliant operation. As IU’s Vice President for Research Administration, Dr. Pescovitz was a valued member of my cabinet.

Of course, if creating and leading that office were her only achievement at IU, Dr. Pescovitz would still deserve Indiana University’s enduring gratitude, but it is one among countless contributions she made to IU. And I have not even touched upon her national service to entities that include the Society for Pediatric Research, the March of Dimes, and the Children’s Miracle Network, or her extensive history of community service with the United Way and other organizations. Taken together, these contributions offer a measure of the depth of generosity, caring, and dedication that Dr. Pescovitz brought to IU, to her profession, and to her communities—and which she now brings to Oakland University.

Dr. Pescovitz, of course, went on to serve with great distinction as the University of Michigan’s executive vice president for medical affairs and CEO of that university’s Health System.

At the end on her time at IU, I had the great pleasure of presenting her with IU’s President’s Medal for Excellence, the highest honor a president of IU can bestow, in recognition of her sustained excellence in service, achievement, and leadership over her long career at IU.

During all of the time we were colleagues together at Indiana University, I was always impressed with her leadership, her grace under pressure, her extraordinary energy, and her good humor. Those qualities helped her guide the IU School of Medicine in its efforts to transform the life sciences economy of the state of Indiana. They helped bring tens of millions of dollars in grants and awards to Indiana University. And they made Dr. Pescovitz one of Indiana University’s most respected doctors, teachers, researchers, and administrators.

And just as she has done at Indiana University and at the University of Michigan, Dr. Ora Pescovitz will make an enormous difference in the life of Oakland University and the people it serves as its seventh president.

Leading a public research university in challenging times

These are challenging times to lead a public research university.

The enduring missions of our institutions will not change. We will continue to provide an excellent education and conduct first-rate research—and to fulfill our third mission, engagement through economic development and community service.

Yet the environment in which we carry out these missions entails heightened challenges. We face fierce global competition for the best students and faculty, an overall climate of constrained resources, and sustained and powerful criticisms of the quality, cost, and relevance of higher education. The challenges we must overcome if the American system of higher education is to remain the very best in the world—and if we are to count our institutions as among the best in our states, the nation, and the world—are very real. But so are the opportunities.

As the world around us changes, what we teach and the way we teach it must change. Thereby, we can provide students with the most relevant educational opportunities possible to help position them for success in today's global marketplace upon their graduation.

As opportunities for new avenues for research emerge, we must continue to foster and support collaborative, innovative, and multidisciplinary research that can contribute solutions to the most pressing problems facing humanity.

Even as we look for the key new directions our universities should follow, we must preserve and build upon the best of our heritage—and vigorously defend the great fundamental academic principles upon which our universities are based.

As public universities, we must also continue to excel in our public mission, which includes educating students for citizenship and preparing them for public service; contributing to the economic development of local communities, states, and the nation; and fostering a public way of conducting free debate and inquiry that has been vitally important to modern science and to civil society.

And as educational and research institutions, we must continue to stand for truth; truth unembellished by artifice or equivocation; truth plain, simple and unadorned.

That is higher education.

That is Oakland University.

Those of us who have been fortunate enough to count ourselves among her friends and colleagues know that Dr. Ora Pescovitz has the knowledge, skill, and tenacity to navigate all of today’s challenges and to help Oakland University thrive in these challenging times.

I extend my most sincere congratulations to her on becoming the university’s seventh president.

Thank you very much.