Working with MSU’s community partners


It’s a good thing when we have a chance to get out into the community, to roll up our sleeves and put the resources of this great university to work on behalf of the people who support us. A lot of MSU folks do that every day.

Last Monday afternoon, I had the opportunity to do a little of that as well.

Michigan State University is really part of a broader community, around the state and around the world. And over the years, MSU presidents have participated in a wide variety of discussions with various governmental groups around issues of particular concern. One of the places we focus time and attention is the mid-Michigan area, not only because it’s important for the recruitment, retention and success of Michigan State, but also because, as a land-grant university, that kind of engagement on behalf of the public good is what we do.

You’ve probably heard about some of the challenges facing the Lansing School District right now. Enrollments have been declining, deferred maintenance requirements are staggering and costs have been soaring. The school board was faced with some particularly difficult decisions to balance financial resources, educational programming and community schools. In the end, they resolved to put educating children ahead of keeping buildings open. But even so, a lot of people who have schools closing in their neighborhoods feel like they’ve been dealt a very bad hand.

So Lansing Mayor Tony Benavides put together a Commission on Schools and Neighborhoods—co-chaired by Lansing Community College President Paula Cunningham and me—not to revisit the Board’s decisions, but to figure out what we can do together to help sustain vital neighborhoods, to look at economic development opportunities in those neighborhoods, and to find ways for them to remain viable and strong even when their schools are a bit further away.

Staff from the city, from LCC and from MSU have been meeting for weeks to lay the groundwork and to outline the issues. Mayor Benavides and his staff, President Cunningham, and the MSU team—that included Assistant Provost for University Outreach & Engagement Hi Fitzgerald, John Schweitzer from the Center for Urban Affairs, Patricia Farrell from the Department of Family and Child Ecology and University Outreach, and Bettie Menchik from the College of Education—met for the first time on Monday.

I’m really proud of the role that our faculty and staff have played so far, particularly their willingness to bring their best thinking to the table to address this issue with cutting-edge research and creativity. We already have many connections with Lansing and the Lansing School District. For example, 700-800 MSU students already volunteer in Lansing schools through service learning each semester. That’s all part of the spirit of an engaged university that’s not just located in this community, but a part of it.

As is typical when you’re addressing complex problems, out of our meeting came another meeting where we’ll focus on finding strategies to engage both the citizens and some of the best minds LCC and MSU have to offer and to begin working toward recommendations.

We’ll be looking at what lessons there are to be learned, what kinds of options might be available, and thinking about ways in which neighborhoods can contribute to the success of schools, instead of simply focusing on the idea that the presence of school is essential for the success of a neighborhood.

And as the discussions go forward, our emphasis will be on neighborhood approaches.

No one in any of these neighborhoods would choose the hand they’ve been dealt. But part of being a land-grant university is figuring out how best to play the cards we have and turn them into a winning hand.

It’s easy to feel like you’re making a difference if you only address questions that have relatively clear solutions. But our land-grant mission demands that we also take on the more perplexing problems, and that we use the knowledge and resources we have to make a difference, to improve the quality of people’s lives and to make the world a better place—sometimes one neighborhood at a time.


MSU on Social


President's Desk




Speeches & Statements