UChicago alum inaugurated as University of Michigan president

Santa J. Ono, AB’84, welcomed at event featuring address from UChicago President Emeritus Hanna Holborn Gray

Santa J. Ono, AB’84, was formally inaugurated March 7 as the president of the University of Michigan—becoming the latest University of Chicago alum to lead a higher education institution.

A scholar whose pioneering work in experimental medicine focuses on the immune system and eye disease, Ono is the first Asian American to lead Michigan. In his inaugural address, Ono discussed the challenges facing the world and higher education.

“Everywhere we look, we see a world in distress, with tensions rising and conflicts raging. Abroad, we face a fundamental challenge between democracies and autocracies, even as the bloody hands of tyrants are set against innocents aspiring to basic rights and dignities.

“At home, we see a challenge between pluralism and zealotry, between the shrill cry of political tribalism and partisanship, and the quiet call of civic engagement and citizenship. Even today we are wrestling with racism and inequity and injustice, and as heirs to the unfinished work of Martin Luther King Jr., we must not falter in that task.”

As part of the event, Ono welcomed Hanna Holborn Gray, who was UChicago president while he was an undergraduate student. He described Gray as “an outstanding scholar, an exceptional president and a truly inspiring model of leadership.”

Gray noted that it was nearly 40 years ago that she conferred Ono’s bachelor’s degree, and “you’ve now become the guy who gives out the degrees,” she said, drawing laughter.

In her remarks, Gray talked about the challenges facing higher education and its leaders.

“The world of higher education is struggling today, with a widespread sense of crisis, a time of questioning and sharpened conflict over the quality and cost and performance of its institutions, of doubt as to whether higher education is doing its job, uncertainty as to what that job should in fact be and how it should be accomplished,” Gray said. 

Ono’s task, Gray said, will be to push against such a devastating outlook and to assert the positives that are indeed at work in colleges and universities today.

“You understand the current problems very well, and you will confront them, as you have always done, with determination and openness, with patience and courage, consulting widely and wisely to reach solutions that will command respect.”

Read more about the inauguration on the University of Michigan website.