At the heart of the college is extraordinary faculty.
The LSA Collegiate Professorship is the college’s highest faculty honor. It is awarded to those who demonstrate a sustained record of excellence in research and scholarship, in teaching, in service, and in other contributions to the university. Collegiate Lectures commemorate this significant milestone in a professor’s career. Lectures are free and open to the public.
Endowed professorships have long been recognized as both a hallmark of academic quality and a means by which a university honors its most esteemed faculty and teachers. These professors are the most eminent scholars in the field, and they attract outstanding graduate students, influence generations, and enhance the reputation of the department, college, and university while creating a philanthropic legacy.
Professor Gordon Belot, James M. Joyce, and Laura Ruetsche's Collegiate Professorship in Philosophy, Inaugural Lecture
Tuesday, December 5, 2023
4:30 p.m. Weiser Hall, 10th Floor
Professor Gordon Belot, the Lawrence Sklar Collegiate Professor of Philosophy
Lecture Title: On the Road to Truth
Abstract: This talk will explore some questions raised by Larry Sklar in Theory and Truth. What does it mean to be a realist about our scientific theories in our present predicament, in which we are virtually certain that the best theories of physics cannot be true, strictly speaking, because they break down or make false predictions in certain regimes? Sklar suggests that to be a realist in this setting is to be confident that our best current theories are in some sense stations on the road to truth—but what precisely does that mean?
Professor James M. Joyce, the Cooper Harold Langford Collegiate Professor of Philosophy
Lecture Title: Decision Making and the Accuracy of Beliefs
Lecture Abstract: Epistemologists have long focused on belief as the basic epistemic attitude, with the understanding that a belief is fully successful only if true. In the 20th Century, however, some philosophers began to see degrees of confidence, or credences, as more fundamental, largely because of their ties to rational action. The philosopher Frank Ramsey and statistician Bruno de Finetti famously argued that (i) a rational person's credences will be revealed in her betting behavior, and (ii) that a person whose credences do not obey the laws of probability will accept "books" of bets that, in the aggregate, lose money no matter what the world is like. These "pragmatic" (action centered) arguments were used to justify probabilism, the idea that rational credences must be subjective probabilities. But, many epistemologists were dissatisfied with this pragmatic approach since it did not ultimately relate the quality of credences to their accuracy or "closeness to the truth". As a response to these complaints, I sought to define a meaningful sense of accuracy for credences, and to show that probabilism could be seen as a means to pursuing credal accuracy. I knew de Finetti had offered an argument that could be adapted for this purpose, but it had limited applicability and was still pragmatic in spirit. While searching for something more general, and more clearly epistemic, I was attending the UM Decision Consortium, run by Frank Yates of the Psychology Department. One day Frank pointed me to his wonderful book Judgment and Decision Making, which introduced me to the use of strictly proper scoring rules to measure the accuracy of probabilistic forecasts. This turned out to be exactly what I needed! In two related papers, I argued that any reasonable score of credal accuracy should be a strictly proper scoring rule, and that for a wide range of such rules probabilism follows in this sense: for any system of credences that violates the laws of probability there is a system of credences that satisfies those laws and is more accurate in every possible state of the world.
Professor Laura Ruetsche, the Louis E. Loeb Collegiate Professor of Philosophy
Lecture Title: "The Physics of Ignorance: Believe It or Not?"
Lecture Abstract: Should we believe our very best theories of physics? Scientific realists urge that we should: the best way to make sense of a theory's remarkable success, they argue, is to suppose that the world is (more or less) the way that theory says it is. Most physicists regard our very best theories of physics, including those making up the Standard Model of contemporary particle physics, to be effective theories. Not itself fundamentally or universally valid, an effective theory is rather, within an avowedly limited domain, an able mimic of more fundamental theories. But what do we believe, when we believe an able mimic? And is that something we should believe? I'll critically consider a resourceful realist answer to these questions. I'll also defend an alternative that becomes available once we liberate ourselves from a constrictive presupposition: that to understand a theory, we must articulate the way that theory says the world is.
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Professor Sara Blair, the Patricia S. Yaeger Collegiate Professorship in English Language and Literature, Inaugural Lecture
Portrait v. Landscape: Visual genres, anti-racism, and the photograph
Tuesday, April 11, 2023
4:00 p.m. Weiser Hall, 10th Floor
In an era of digital life and nonstop photo-sharing, the modes of “portrait” and “landscape” are increasingly naturalized as orientations to the worlds we encounter. Yet both have long, complex histories as visual genres that continue, mostly unremarked, to shape our habits of seeing. Reconsidering those histories has been an important project for U.S. photographers who seek to use the camera as a resource for anti-racist imaging, potentially transforming the role of photography itself in representing and reproducing power, difference, and the right to look. This talk, drawn from a project on prehistories of digital imaging, focuses on mid-20th-century photographer Gordon Parks and a recently rediscovered body of his work made in the Jim Crow South. Shooting in the square format, at the intersection of portrait and landscape orientations and genres, Parks draws on their effects both to center lived Black life and to disrupt assumptions about what it means to see and to know race in America.
Professor Helmut Puff, the Elizabeth L. Eisenstein Collegiate Professorship in History and Germanic Languages and Literatures, Inaugural Lecture
Toward a History of Waiting: Time, Space, and the Social Hierarchy
Wednesday, April 19, 2023
4:00 p.m. Weiser Hall, 10th Floor
Waiting is one temporal modality among others that makes time experiential. Waiting portions out the flow of time as waiters anticipate what is to come. Yet is there a history of waiting? This talk proposes to anchor such a history in the spaces where people waited, especially the early modern antechamber. By doing so, it draws attention to the significance of waiting and letting others wait when studying society and culture.
Professor Nuria Calvet, the Helen Dodson Prince Collegiate Professorship in Astronomy, Inaugural Lecture
Watching Stars Grow
Wednesday, May 3, 2023
4:00 p.m. Weiser Hall, 10th Floor
Many things have changed since I got my degree - eons ago. Advances in instrumentation and techniques have revolutionized the field of star and planet formation and evolution. I have been fortunate enough to participate in some of these developments as I will describe in my talk. I will also mention some of my experiences in being a female astronomer and how things have changed over these many years. And I will be happy to talk about my time at the University of Michigan, especially for having had the opportunity to see so many students under my watch grow and become stars.
Please note that the auto-generated captions are in the process of being edited.
Professor Nils Walter, the Francis S. Collins Collegiate Professorship in Chemistry, Biophysics, and Biological Chemistry, Inaugural Lecture
Can RNA Do It All? From Spawning Life on Earth to Fueling Modern Personalized Medicine
Monday, May 8th, 2023
4:00 p.m. LSA Multipurpose Room
Billions of safely given mRNA vaccine doses have saved millions of lives worldwide and proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that a transformative era of RNA Therapeutics is upon us, with great promise for overcoming virtually all diseases within this century through personalized medicines. Yet RNA can do so much more! Since the human genome project was completed, we know that at least 75% of our 3 billion DNA base pairs are transcribed into RNA, with the vast majority not coding for proteins but rather for “non-coding” RNAs (ncRNAs). Many of these ncRNAs remain uncharacterized in terms of their structure and function, spawning discussions of whether they are functional or not (and what “biological function” even is!). These applications and discoveries suggest that so far we have underestimated the far-reaching “RNA World” in our body, which may well also have spawned life on earth.
After an introduction to the power and benefits of these “new” and “old” RNA Worlds, this seminar will highlight some of the foundational work by the Walter lab, in which we use modern single molecule fluorescence microscopy to dissect and control the nanometer-sized RNA-protein assemblies that govern life, and particularly gene expression. Specifically, single molecule fluorescence resonance energy transfer (smFRET) allows us to measure distances at the 2-8 nm scale, whereas complementary super-resolution localization techniques measure distances in the 10 nm and longer range where biology occurs. Embracing the power of these technical advances, we have combined single-molecule, biochemical and computational simulation approaches to show that a bacterial riboswitch – controlled by a metabolite ligand – manipulates the speed of the much larger bacterial RNA polymerase. We posit that many more examples of such intimate coupling between RNA folding and gene expression remain to be discovered, leading to opportunities to identify new Achilles’ heels of the many pathogens that threaten human health. In addition, we are developing tools to observe single RNA nanomachines in action within their natural habitats inside living cells, leading to discoveries that may guide the development of novel cancer-fighting approaches.
Please note that the auto-generated captions are in the process of being edited.
Professor Rebecca Lange, the Alexander N. Halliday Collegiate Professorship in Earth and Environmental Sciences, Inaugural Lecture
Setting the Stage for a Catastrophic Supervolcano Eruption
Wednesday, November 16, 2022
4:00 p.m. LSA Multipurpose Room
The magma type ejected in some of the largest supervolcano eruptions in the U.S. (e.g., Yellowstone, WY and Long Valley, CA) is the most differentiated and evolved on Earth, which gives it unique characteristics. One is that it transitions between 100% liquid and 100% solid within a few tens of degrees of cooling. In this talk, insights extracted from the magma ejected during the Long Valley, CA, supereruption are used to unravel its origin. The evidence points to rapid segregation and ascent of voluminous (>400 km3) melt, which had previously been held in cold storage (i.e., largely crystallized) only months, if not weeks and days, before the eruption. However, the processes that set the stage for such rapid mobilization, leading to a supereruption, took >1-2 Myr to unfold.
Professor Ann Chih Lin, Endowed Professorship in Chinese Studies, Inaugural Lecture
Scapegoating Chinese American Scientists in the Name of National Security
Thursday, September 22, 2022
4:30 p.m. 10th Floor, Weiser Hall
Over the past decade, Chinese American scientists and the American universities they work at have come under increasing government suspicion. Some academics have been arrested in high-profile raids on their homes and laboratories. Many who support multi-million dollar research teams on federal grants have had their grants terminated, their laboratories closed, and their personal savings bankrupted. And large majorities, particularly at research universities, are rethinking their hiring of postdocs, their international collaborations, their research strategies, and even their lives in the United States. Yet few of their university colleagues understand the scope and scale of what is happening. My talk will explore how fears about China’s economic development strategy, zero-sum assumptions about international conflict, and the lack of a coordinated national R&D strategy have led to a cynical focus on Chinese American university scientists as the reason for China's rise and America's decline. I also explore how these suspicions have parallels in the treatment of German American academics in World War I, using the University of Michigan’s treatment of German American academics as a cautionary tale.
Professor Sarah Moss, the William Wilhartz Professorship in Philosophy, Inaugural Lecture
Knowing What's at Stake: Epistemology and Criminal Justice Reform
January 25, 2022
In many criminal trials, judges are not allowed to inform juries of the sentences that a defendant may face if convicted. This prohibition is commonly justified on the grounds that informing juries about sentencing would “inject irrelevant considerations into the jury’s deliberations as to guilt.” Unfortunately, this justification is missing something big. In this talk, I argue that there is an important reason for jurors to know the potential consequences of a conviction—namely, without this knowledge, jurors may be unable to grasp the legal standard of proof that they are being asked to apply.
Professor Susan Juster, the Rhys Isaac Collegiate Professorship in History, Inaugural Lecture
"Mumbling Masses and Jumbling Beads": Finding Catholics in Early America
November 10, 2021
How do we find people in the past who don't want to be found? Catholicism in post-Reformation England was a fugitive faith. In the century before the first colonial settlements were established in North America in the early 1600s, English Catholics had lived a twilight existence scarcely visible in the archives. Their faith driven underground, their priests hunted down and executed, their children taken away from them and their dead denied Christian burial, men and women who adhered to the old faith learned to live in the shadows. Overseas migration changed this equation, offering an environment that was freer in some respects ((law and coercive institutions were underdeveloped in the first century of settlement) and more repressive in others (persistent imperial war and emerging racial codes ensnared Catholics whose loyalty and ethnic identity were always suspect). This talk explores some of the evidence available to historians who seek to understand the world colonial Catholics made for themselves, drawing examples from both textual and material sources. My aim is to show how historians use the fragments left to them by the vagaries of time and preservation to reconstruct the lives of men and women who inhabited the threshold between the medieval and the modern world.
Professor Jianming Qian, the David M. Dennison Collegiate Professorship in Physics, Inaugural Lecture
Quests and Discoveries at the Energy Frontier
November 4, 2021
The Standard Model of particle physics has been remarkably successful in describing phenomena at the smallest distances that are explorable with current technologies. Discoveries over the last half-century at the energy frontier, enabled by powerful accelerators, are imperative in the development of the Standard Model. In this presentation, I will discuss research and major discoveries which I have been fortunate to be part of
Professor Vonnie McLoyd, the Ewart A.C. Collegiate Professorship in Psychology, Inaugural Lecture
The Ecology of Childhood Poverty
October 5, 2021
Poverty exposes children to multiple environmental inequities that increase the risk of impaired physical health, lower educational attainment, mental health problems, delinquency, and worse outcomes as adults. Adverse outcomes are stronger when poverty occurs in early childhood or persists throughout a large portion of childhood. Experiments that test the effects of policies and programs that increase cash income and “near cash” benefits (e.g.,nutrition assistance) suggest that income poverty itself causes negative child outcomes, and that differences between the outcomes of poor and nonpoor children do not stem exclusively from the cluster of other disadvantages associated with poverty that may be harmful to children (e.g., low levels of parental education). There are numerous pathways through which poverty can influence children's development. In this lecture, I will emphasize research that adopts a “family stress” perspective, which posits that poverty can adversely affect children’s socioemotional development partly by increasing psychological distress and depressive symptoms in parents and in turn, undermining the quality of parenting. Neighborhood characteristics and interpersonal factors can contribute to, amplify, and mitigate links in this pathway. Extensive research suggests that alleviation of poverty can foster children’s development by increasing the goods and services that parents can buy for their children and by promoting a more responsive, less stressful environment in which more positive parent-child interactions can occur.
Professor Ken Kollman, the Frederick G.L. Huetwell Professorship in Political Science, Inaugural Lecture
Why You Should and Should Not be Worried about American Democracy
September 21, 2021
Many people have intense worries about the future of American democracy. They should worry less about the long term survivability of democracy, and just like parties and politicians, focus more on winning the next round of elections. The partisanship that appears to be hardening in our society is actually a source of stability and predictability, and it gives people a stake in election outcomes. The major parties, contrary to popular belief, remain moderating forces. Granted, norms and electoral institutions are under threat but they are more robust than many people think, and if people focus on winning elections and adopting policies, and worry less about what damage others might do, American democracy will survive just fine.
Professor Gregory Dowd, the Helen Hornbeck Tanner Collegiate Professorship in American Culture and History, Inaugural Lecture
“Fake News” at the Founding of America: How Deception and Ambiguity Shaped U.S. Independence, Denigrated Native Americans, and Serve as Weapons of War
April 13, 2021
Two iconic documents mark the achievement of formal independence for the United States: The Declaration of Independence (1776), in which the thirteen colonies manifested their determination to be free of Great Britain, and the Treaty of Paris (1783), in which the British Crown finally recognized that freedom. This paper approaches the Declaration and the treaty negotiations from the standpoint of both rumor and Native American history. The Declaration defames Native Americans. The Treaty claims vast Native lands for the United States without indigenous consent. Among the forces that produced these outcomes were deliberate anti-indigenous—and anti-British—deceptions, or hoaxes, or what we might call today “fake news.” Benjamin Franklin, signer of The Declaration and a leading treaty negotiator, understood the workings of rumor and the power of misinformation; he lied actively in his war-time efforts for the United States. This paper examines two hoaxes, one the invention of settlers in the Smoky Mountains, the other the invention of Franklin, suggesting that "fake news" helped shape the two documents. What’s more, this fake news, and its circulation, though aimed largely at the Crown, profoundly reveals the deep colonial and imperial contempt for indigeneity.
Note: The lecture quotes anti-indigenous slurs. It references a Pennsylvania militia attack on an indigenous community, arguably the greatest atrocity of the Revolutionary War.
Professor Vincent Hutchings, the Hanes Walton Jr. Collegiate Professorship in Political Science and Afroamerican and African Studies, Inaugural Lecture
“If They Only Knew”: Informing Blacks and Whites about the Racial Wealth Gap
March 31, 2021
Even after the historic demonstrations against racially biased policing in the summer of 2020, most White Americans continue to oppose racially liberal policies such as affirmative action. Social scientists dating back at least as far as Gunnar Myrdal have argued that support for egalitarian policies would increase substantially if Whites only knew about the plight of African Americans. Similarly, Black support for policies of racial redistribution is also less than monolithic. For example, some surveys find only tepid support among Blacks for affirmative action or efforts to “defund the police.” Would this support increase if White and Black Americans were informed about the enormous racial wealth gap? We examine this question with two survey experiments fielded online by CloudResearch. Study 1 (N=1,908) was fielded at the height of the George Floyd demonstrations in June of 2020. Subjects were randomly assigned either to a control condition, where they were merely provided a definition of the racial wealth gap, or to one of two treatment conditions that provided a defintion of the racial wealth gap. They were also provided with textual and visual information on the current size of the Black/White racial wealth gap based on information from the 2019 Survey of Consumer Finances. In general, we find that the treatment conditions do increase information levels on the perceived size of the racial wealth gap, but they do not increase support for racially redistributive policy proposals. In a second experiment, scheduled for February of 2021, we seek to replicate the results of the 2020 experiment and add two additional treatment conditions highlighting the fact that the median household headed by a Black college graduate has less wealth than the median household headed by a White high school dropout. This Study 2 experiment represents an even stronger test of the hypthesis that public support for racially redistributive policies would increase if Americans only knew the truth. We discuss the implications of our findings for the prospects of racial reconciliation in our conclusion.
Professor Steven Cundiff, the Harrison M. Randall Collegiate Professorship in Physics, Inaugural Lecture
Optical Frequency Combs
March 4, 2021
Just over 20 years ago, the demonstration of self-referenced optical frequency combs solved a long-standing problem of linking radio- and light-frequencies. This breakthrough allowed direct measurement of the frequency of light and enabled optical atomic clocks with exquisite precision. The development of dual-comb techniques led to a second wave of activity over the last ten years. Dual comb techniques enable rapid, high-resolution spectroscopy that can be used for applications such as atmospheric monitoring or breath analysis. I will explain what an optical frequency comb is, how they are generated and used, and present some of our recent work on them.
Professor Jeffrey Veidlinger, the Joseph Brodsky Collegiate Professor of History and Judaic Studies, Inaugural Lecture
Anti-Jewish Pogroms and the Origins of Multiculturalism
November 19, 2020
As the tsarist empire collapsed in 1917, liberal intellectuals and political leaders in the newly-independent states of Poland and Ukraine offered new models for integrating ethnic and religious minorities into the nation-state. But they were confronted instead with another brutal reality, as some one hundred thousand Jews were murdered in a wave of violence and pogroms, followed twenty years later by the Holocaust and the murder of millions more. Yet, these ideas of interethnic existence were revived decades later by immigrants from that region, who sought to build new multicultural societies on American shores. This talk asks what these violent origins of multiculturalism can offer us today.
Professor Bing Zhou, Donald A. Glaser Collegiate Professorship in Physics, Inaugural Lecture
Build The World’s Most Powerful Microscopes for Discoveries
November 17, 2020
Advances in physics research rely heavily on innovations of new technology and detector development. Invention of the bubble chamber by Donald A. Glaser, a Michigan faculty who won the 1960 Nobel Prize in physics, enabled discoveries of many new particles (resonances), which set the experimental foundation of building the quark model. Over the past five decades from bubble chamber to wire chamber, the particle detector size grew from a table-top box to a football field, such as the ATLAS detector at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). In modern particle experiments, thousands of physicists and engineers worldwide work together to build the most powerful microscopes to study particle physics at the most fundamental level to unlock the mysteries in nature. With an outstanding Michigan team, we designed, built, and operated the largest precision muon detector for the ATLAS experiment at the LHC over the past twenty years. This detector is crucial for the Higgs boson discovery in 2012, which was regarded as a scientific breakthrough in particle physics. The discovery opened a new window for research into the properties of the Higgs boson and the electroweak symmetry breaking mechanism, which has unique significance for the dynamics of the Standard Model of particle physics and stretches the horizons of even the most ambitious future-collider proposal.
Professor Adam Matzger, Charles G. Overberger Collegiate Professorship in Chemistry, Inaugural Lecture
From Better Health to Improved Lethality: Controlling Crystallization of Pharmaceuticals and Explosives
November 12, 2020
Crystalline materials play a pivotal role in a broad range of technologies that are central to a modern society. Crystalline silicon enabled the computer revolution, for example, and studies of protein crystals have advanced our current understanding of human disease. I will discuss our work with the crystallization of small organic molecules with particular emphasis on how controlling crystallization can create better therapeutics and more powerful energetic materials. Much of the work hinges on the approach of manipulating multicomponent crystallization and several of the unique properties of crystallization relative to other synthetic techniques.
For a lecture recording please contact the Department of Chemistry at email@example.com
Professor Webb Keane, George Herbert Mead Collegiate Professorship in Anthropology Inaugural Lecture
Can Ethical Critique Change Society? Lessons from Ethnography
October 29, 2020
We often say the purpose of the liberal arts is to foster critical thinking. This rather vague expression allows a wide diversity of scholarly disciplines and pedagogical styles to cohabit more or less peacefully. But what about the world beyond the academy? Drawing on anthropology’s “ethical turn,” this talk looks at how social interaction prompts people to reflect critically on their ethical intuitions and bring them into a public realm. It considers examples from American feminism, eighteenth century Mongolia, and Vietnam’s anti-colonial struggle to show the ethical underpinnings of political thought.