University officials are quick to note Darlyne Bailey is the first woman and the first African American to head the College of Education in its 100-year history.
University President Robert Bruininks points to Bailey as the type of recruit he's looking for to make the U of M one of the top three research institutions.
"In Dr. Bailey we not only have an exceptional academic, but we also have someone with the leadership profile and the breadth of experience to bring these academic units together," he says.
A standing-room only crowd greeted Bailey at the announcement in the college's Burton Hall entry. She calls the move a compelling opportunity to act on educational ideas she feels strongly about.
"I have preached and taught about the power of education and the power of taking a multi-disciplinary approach for way long," she says.
Bailey says her first book, about building strategic alliances, is an indication of her knowledge and interest in bringing entities together.
Bailey says she'll focus on working collaboratively, and keep an eye on popular college rankings such as the annual assessment from U.S. News and World Report magazine.
"Our parents and our students, particularly our undergraduate students, pay close attention to those ratings. And we'll pay close attention to those ratings as well. And yes, sir, you can expect our ratings to go up," she says.
Bailey's hiring comes at an unsettling time as faculty and staff face significant restructuring.
In the fall, the college Bailey heads will incorporate both the former College of Human Ecology and General College. Last year's announcement that the General College would be dismantled was met with protests and charges the university was cutting off a portal for many minority and economically disadvantaged students.
Administrators and faculty are both cautious and hopeful as the General College's 74-year history come to a close.
Patti Neiman has worked at the General College for more than half her life, starting as a graduate student. She now coordinates the Transfer and Career Center. Neiman has solicited comments from faculty and staff for a book commemorating the end of General College.
"Some people are comfortable writing memories," she says. "For some people this is such a difficult transition for them they may choose to submit a poem instead that sums up how they feel."
Nieman will present the writings to employees at a special event commemorating the end of General College. She isn't sure what her new role will be in the combined college.
Associate professor Catherine Wambach wonders how the General College programs, geared mainly toward freshmen, will translate into the larger unit that admits only graduate students and upperclassmen.
Ideally, she says, the existing general college support system for minorities and others will remain intact in the new college. And she hopes other programs will recruit and sustain more diverse students.
"I think the intention is there will be no decrease of students of color on this campus. In fact, we may even have more of them. I think that's the hope," Wambach says. "So time will tell."
One strong argument for closing the General College was the low percentage of its students who went on to graduate. About 40 percent of those who started out in General College will graduate this year.
Professor Terry Collins first started at the General College 30 years ago. For the past year, he's filled in as dean. He'll retire after the college dissolves on June 30.
Collins says the university administration was right to scrutinize the General College. But he says just getting rid of the college won't fix the problem.
"I think the burden of proof falls to the university to demonstrate to the communities that were concerned about the closure of General College that the university will still be accessible," says Collins.
So far, Collins says the university is delivering on that promise. He calls the recent expansion of efforts to cover full costs for students eligible for federal Pell Grants one of the most meaningful gestures toward access he's seen in decades.
"If the future looks like the present, in terms of the university following up on promises about access, I have to end the year pretty optimistic that so far so good," Collins says.
In addition to being a leading research university, Collins says the plan to improve the university will have succeeded when students who face financial burdens graduate at a higher rate, with less debt, and are more satisfied with their academic experience.