My first hundred days

04-26-2005

Last week marked my first hundred days as president of Michigan State University. More than anything, I see that period as a good beginning.

My experiences during that time have really reinforced something we all know about: the very special character of Michigan State.

I’ve had numerous opportunities to meet with people around the campus, around the state and around the country in many different venues. I’ve talked to faculty, staff and students; MSU alumni, donors and families; and believe it or not, even some folks who didn’t know much about us. It turns out that many of my colleagues over the years are university presidents now too. So I’ve been meeting with some of them as well—they’re a great network of people to talk to about specific issues.

Actually, one of the reasons I’m a little behind in getting this latest entry posted is because I stayed longer in Washington, D.C., last week to talk with lawmakers working on the Higher Education Reauthorization Act. I was back in East Lansing for less than 24 hours and left for a major University Development trip to the West Coast right after the International Awards Ceremony on Wednesday evening, and I’m finally back in the office today.

It’s been busy, and there’s still a lot more to be done. I really believe that getting out and talking about the core values of Michigan State University will pay dividends. And everyone I’ve talked to has been very, very receptive to the Michigan State story.

The issues I laid out in the Founders’ Day speech have been a platform for engaging in a national conversation about why new investment in the public good of public higher education is so critical today. That’s not something we’re alone in saying, by the way—presidents of universities across the country are acutely aware of this need.

At MSU, the occasion of our sesquicentennial provides us with a unique opportunity to cast that issue—which is really about translating our land-grant spirit for a new century—both in a historical perspective and as vision to propel America and the world forward.

Our focus is on quality, inclusiveness and connectivity. We have rededicated ourselves to achieving excellence in ALL of our endeavors, to providing opportunity for learners from all backgrounds and to working collaboratively on society’s behalf with those whom we serve—locally, nationally and globally.

We envision MSU as the model of an engaged university among the set of the 100 best research universities in the world. And I think we’re beginning the conversation to do that. As Michigan State moves forward into the 21st century, we truly need to be an international university—not simply with study abroad, but with a full array of programs.

We will continue to be innovative in how we put together our academic programs, research, outreach and engagement to meet the requirements of the future—anticipating those needs, not simply being responsive to the current set.

Michigan State will continue to be a leader in reaffirming this public trust. The recent work of the Cherry Commission recognizes in unequivocal terms the vital role that a research-intensive, globally engaged university can play as a path breaker for the state’s economy in the 21st century. And that is a strong basis for a robust, new legislative strategy here in Michigan.

How state legislators and leaders will act upon that remains to be seen, but we’re pleased to see supporting public higher education being recognized as an investment that offers tremendous potential. A recent editorial in the Detroit Free Press noted “the inextricable link between economic prosperity and the level of education attained by residents” and advocated increased support to sustain that. We didn’t used to see editorials like that, but people are realizing higher education is running pretty lean. Any fat there may have been has been trimmed. Budget issues require us to focus, to be sure that we’re building strength, not just trying to keep pace. And that means we may be facing some very, very difficult decisions.

As we begin this next period, it’s more clear to me than ever that there’s great respect out there for Michigan State as an academic institution. But it’s also clear that people see Michigan State through the prism of their own experiences, whether as a student or parent, as an employee or one of our partners or stakeholders in the community, or maybe just from seeing one of our teams playing on TV. Each person sees a small piece of who we are and what we do.

Our challenge is to help them connect those small pieces to the bigger values and the bigger impact that Michigan State has. And we have to be persistent.

As I’ve traveled the state and the country and talked to so many people during these first hundred days, I’ve realized that in some cases this is the first conversation that person ever has had about MSU or at least the first one they’ve had in a long time.

So we’ve got to continue telling our story—all of us. That’s not just a job for the president, but for everyone from MSU—deans, faculty, students and others—who can tell our story and help build our reputation and a broader understanding of the quality and the enduring value of Michigan State University.

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