Dean Nakanishi’s Inauguration Speech (April 3, 2023)

The Institute of Medical Science, The University of Tokyo (IMSUT) is the oldest research institute affiliated with a national university corporation in Japan, with its origins in the Institute of Infectious Diseases founded by Dr. Shibasaburo Kitasato in 1892. I am Makoto Nakanishi, the 29th Dean of IMSUT. When I was elected as the next Dean at the Senior Faculty Meeting last December, I was both deeply honored and grateful for the opportunity to serve as the Dean of IMSUT, and at the same time, I was acutely aware of the weight of responsibility I was taking on. As we begin the new academic year, I would like to extend to you my warmest greetings.
First of all, I would like to express my deepest gratitude to former Dean Yamanashi for his efforts in steering IMSUT through the difficult period of the last four years. The most significant event during this period was the COVID-19 pandemic. I would like first and foremost to express my heartfelt condolences to the victims of the disease. This unprecedented pandemic brought to a halt in an instant many of the key systems that humanity has built up over the years. IMSUT was also greatly affected, both in terms of operations and research activity. Regarding its operations, researchers’ and graduate students’ access to the campus and other onsite facilities was often restricted, if not locked down. This would normally have caused a major obstacle to the resumption of research. However, under the enlightened leadership of Dean Yamanashi, our research activity was steadily resumed without major confusion or the spread of infection. At the same time, in terms of research and clinical practice, IMSUT has been at the forefront of efforts in academia to control COVID-19 in Japan. Thanks to the tireless efforts of our researchers, mainly those in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, and to those of the doctors and medical staff at IMSUT Hospital, the name of IMSUT has become widely known throughout the world. I am truly grateful to all of them, and I am proud of their achievements.
Another important issue during Dean Yamanashi’s tenure was reform of the university system. The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) has begun to implement its Designated National University Corporation System as part of its reform of national university corporations. The goal of this system is to significantly improve the standard of education and research at Japanese universities and to encourage them to innovate. Therefore, the national universities that are selected must have considerable prospects for developing world-class education and research activity. Under the banner of ‘Shift from operation to management’, this initiative aims to introduce to universities a concept of active management involving the private sector, as opposed to passive university management dependent on public funds such as Management Expense Grants. This is a major reform, comparable to the conversion of universities into independent corporations. However, it is undeniable that the mission of the university, to explore scientific principles and return the results of this exploration to society at large, is at odds with the mission of a private company, the pursuit of profit. Dean Yamanashi balanced this issue carefully with his calm and precise judgment while guiding the development of IMSUT. I would like to express my respect and sincere gratitude to him.
Now, please allow me to introduce myself briefly. I graduated from Nagoya City University Medical School in 1985 and immediately entered graduate school. From the time I was a medical student, I had always thought of pursuing a career in basic medicine rather than becoming a clinician, and there was little doubt in my mind that this was the way to go. I was interested in aging, and within a year of entering graduate school, I moved to Jichi Medical University to work on mitochondrial ATP synthesis and amino acid metabolism. I then studied in the United States, which prompted me to start my research on aging in earnest, particularly cellular aging. After returning to Japan, my research focused on the relationship between aging, the cell cycle, and DNA damage response. I worked at the National Institute for Longevity Sciences and Graduate School of Medicine at Nagoya City University, then relocated to IMSUT in 2016 to join the Division of Cancer Cell Biology in the Department of Cancer Biology. I have served as Vice Dean for General Affairs under Dean Yamanashi for the past four years. In that role, I have faced some very difficult situations, including some personnel issues, but I managed to overcome them thanks to the great support of former Dean Yamanashi, former Vice Deans Iwama and Furukawa, former Hospital Directors Tojo and Yotsuyanagi, former General Managers Kato and Matsui, General Director Uehara, and all of the faculty and staff. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to all who have helped me.
In FY2020, Professor Fujii succeeded Professor Gonokami as the President of the University of Tokyo and launched UTokyo Compass, a new vision for the University. This vision is based on the three key principles of ‘knowledge’, ‘people’, and ‘place’, along with the ‘establishment of managerial competency’ that is expected of a designated national university. I believe that these principles must be kept in mind in the ever-changing environment surrounding IMSUT, and that they are indeed like a compass providing precise directions on a chart in rough seas. During my two-year term, I intend to contribute to the development of IMSUT through reforms made in accordance with this compass.
Focusing on IMSUT, I consider the first key principle, ‘knowledge’, to encapsulate our most important and constant mission: strengthening our research capabilities. I would like to create an environment in which all researchers and graduate students affiliated with IMSUT can perform at their best. To this end, I plan to make effective use of research space and to enhance common facilities, as well as actively recruit personnel who can bring about greater synergy in our current research programs.
I see the second principle, ‘people’, as representing our desire to strengthen the training and development of our graduate students and young researchers. Although IMSUT does not have its own graduate school, it jointly administers many graduate schools, including the Graduate School of Frontier Sciences, the Graduate School of Medicine, the Graduate School of Science, the Graduate School of Pharmaceutical Sciences, the Graduate School of Agricultural and Life Sciences, the Graduate School of Engineering, the Graduate School of Information Science and Technology, and the Graduate School of Interdisciplinary Information Studies. However, as our graduate students come from various graduate schools, I sometimes sense a lack of unity among them. In order to foster a sense of unity that transcends the boundaries of the graduate schools and research groups to which the students belong, I think it may be helpful to create our own training system for graduate students and young researchers.
And I see the third principle, ‘place’, as referring to the enhancement of our education and research environment with the International Joint Usage/Research Center at its core. I believe that IMSUT has a responsibility both to serve as a hub for national and international research institutions to share research facilities and collaborate across borders, and to create an environment that fosters graduate students and young researchers. To achieve these aims, I believe it is more important than ever to build close ties with more world-leading institutions in many fields.
In addition to the ‘establishment of managerial competency’, UTokyo Compass specifies another key concept to realize its three key principles. That is to create an environment in which everyone can flourish by promoting both respect for the diversity in the members of our community and inclusion necessary to reflect their various perspectives, as specified in The University of Tokyo Statement on Diversity and Inclusion. For example, in response to this statement, a five-year plan for the acceleration of departmental female personnel changes was established for the entire university. The ratio of female faculty members in IMSUT used to be around 20%, but by actively promoting personnel appointments that take gender equality into consideration based on these new initiatives, it has now increased to close to the 25% target set by the University. I intend to continue to promote these changes in the future. Of course, gender equality is not simply a matter of the number of female faculty members. I think it is very important to create a supportive workplace environment where employees feel comfortable taking maternity and childcare leave. These initiatives also have a significant impact on faculty evaluation and hiring. Therefore, I think that it is essential to carefully create measures to address gender issues that everyone can understand. IMSUT has already set up a Gender Equality Committee to discuss the issue, and I expect that the Committee will produce actionable proposals on this issue in the future. In addition, I will actively promote awareness of diversity and inclusion among all members of IMSUT through seminars and other activities.
MEXT is now taking the idea of a designated national university system a step further and is about to launch a system called Universities of International Research Excellence. Under this system, designated universities are expected to meet certain requirements: They should have a sense of urgency about improving their research capabilities through friendly international rivalry; they should make efforts not only to attract world-class researchers, but also to make bold resource allocations to foster independent young researchers who will lead the next generation and enable them to play an active role; they should lighten the administrative burden on researchers so they have sufficient time for research; and they should value the intellectual resources possessed by universities. The University of Tokyo is in the process of applying for this program. One of the frameworks of these institutional reforms is the concept of ‘comprehensive knowledge’. In other words, it aims to build a new academic system by integrating knowledge that transcends the boundaries of existing academic fields, especially the boundaries between the humanities and sciences and between universities and research institutions. One of the most attractive features of IMSUT is that it brings together researchers from diverse research fields and heterogeneous research backgrounds. I am confident that the ideas emerging from this kind of environment are promoting the practice of knowledge integration. I am also confident that IMSUT, with its function as an International Join Usage/Research Center, will lead the colleges of the University of Tokyo in developing this approach to comprehensive knowledge. I think that it is essential for IMSUT to continue promoting these reforms, and I intend to discuss this as a pressing issue with the new Executive Board.
Another key characteristic of IMSUT is its affiliated hospital. In the past, many of the national institutes had their own hospitals, but for various reasons, the number has steadily decreased and IMSUT is now the only national institute with its own hospital. Of course, it is not easy even for IMSUT to maintain an affiliated hospital. However, the philosophy of emphasizing practical learning established by our founder Dr. Kitasato is still one of the basic principles of IMSUT, and the presence of an affiliated hospital is indispensable for the realization of this ideal. One of IMSUT’s missions is to respond to unmet medical needs. I aim to promote the further development of our affiliated hospital so that as many of the advanced medical treatments originating from IMSUT as possible can be implemented in society. For this purpose, Professor Iwama, who served as Vice Dean for Finance for the past four years, has taken on the role of Vice Dean for Hospital Management. Furthermore, in order to proceed with this initiative, I sincerely ask for the support and cooperation of Hospital Director Todo, Vice Hospital Director Nannya, Nursing Director Yoshii, Pharmacy Director Kuroda, and General Manager Uehara, all of the doctors and co-medical staff who work at the hospital, and staff in the Administration Office.
Let me then introduce the core members of IMSUT who will contribute to its development in the coming years. Firstly, the members of the Heads' Meeting: Professor Shibata of G0, Professor Inada of G1, Professor Murakami of G2, Professor Miyake of G3, and Professor Fumitaka Nagamura of G4. Many of them have served as Dean, Vice Dean, Chair, or Director in the past, and I am confident that they will continue to provide us with wise advice from a broad perspective.
As for the Vice Deans, I am pleased to announce that Professor Takekawa has been appointed as Vice Dean for General Affairs, Professor Kawaguchi as Vice Dean for Finance, and Professor Imoto as Vice Dean for Research Support. As I mentioned earlier, Professor Iwama has been appointed Vice Dean for Hospital Management to strengthen our affiliated hospital. Professor Takekawa and Professor Kawaguchi were Vice Deans during former Dean Murakami’s tenure and have been reappointed to those positions. Professor Iwama, former Vice Dean for Finance, has kindly accepted our strong recommendation of him as Vice Dean for Hospital Management. Professor Imoto has also taken on the role of Vice Dean, despite his busy schedule as Director of the Human Genome Center. General Manager Uehara will continue to serve as General Manager. Many of these faculty members have long experience in running the Institute, and I don’t think that we could have chosen better candidates as executive officers. I am very grateful that the Executive Board is made up of such richly experienced members.
Last but not least, in order for IMSUT to continue to develop as a world-class research center for biomedical sciences and as a strong leader in medicine, medical care, and the life sciences, I believe that it is essential to create an environment in which all faculty members, researchers, graduate students, technical staff, medical staff, administration office staff, and university research administrators can play active roles in the continued development of the Institute. I will listen to each and every one of you as much as I can. Together with all of you, I will promote steady reforms to further enhance our Institute. I very much look forward to working with you all in the years to come.
Thank you very much for your kind attention.
Makoto Nakanishi, M.D., Ph.D.