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U of Michigan Hires New President

July 14, 2022

The University of Michigan will hire Santa Ono, a biomedical researcher and experienced higher education administrator, as its 15th president and first of Asian descent. The decision was made via unanimous vote by Michigan’s eight-member Board of Regents at a special meeting Wednesday morning.

A few hours after the announcement, Ono, wearing a new maize-and-blue Michigan tie, told Inside Higher Ed he was thrilled to accept the job.

“The University of Michigan is, in my opinion, the pinnacle of higher education, and has shaped it not just in the U.S. but globally,” he said. “It’s almost an irresistible place to accept an invitation to lead.”

Ono will take office on Oct. 13, according to a university press release, taking over from interim president Mary Sue Coleman. Coleman has been filling the role since January, when former president Dr. Mark Schlissel was fired after being accused of having an affair with a subordinate.

Denise Ilitch, a member of the Board of Regents who co-chaired the presidential search committee, said at the board meeting that Ono was “someone who could build trust” and “lead with integrity.”

Ono comes to Michigan from the University of British Columbia, where he has served as president and vice chancellor since 2016. Before that, Ono was president of the University of Cincinnati, and he served as senior vice provost at Emory University in Georgia.

Ono will take the reins after a tumultuous few years at Michigan destabilized the Ann Arbor university’s confidence in its leadership. Schlissel, the former president, announced last October that he would step down in June 2023, a year earlier than his contract stipulated, but he was fired without ceremony in January after an avalanche of controversies and building tensions with the Board of Regents. These included Schlissel’s handling of sexual assault allegations against former provost Martin Philbert, which resulted in a class action lawsuit against the university, and culminated in allegations that Schlissel, who is married, had an affair with a subordinate.

It won’t be the first time Ono takes the helm of a university searching for stable leadership or fills a top position that was suddenly and acrimoniously vacated by a predecessor. When he became president of the University of British Columbia, he replaced Arvind Gupta, who resigned abruptly and with little explanation one year into his five-year term.

“I have experience going into an institution where one of my primary responsibilities is to listen and to help heal that institution,” Ono said. “I’m very confident we’ll be able to move beyond this.”

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