Reflections on 2008

01-05-2009

The past few months have been difficult for many Americans as the global financial situation has steadily worsened. For families in Michigan, the uncertainty surrounding the future of the Big Three automakers has added an extra burden. All of this has raised concerns for MSU students and families about paying for college.

In the days and weeks leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday, I met with students, the Provost, and the Office of Financial Aid, to determine what the university could do to assist students whose family’s economic situation has been dramatically weakened by job loss or other catastrophic incidents as a result of the economic crisis. The outcome of those meetings was the establishment of the Adverse Economic Circumstances Fund.

The more than a half million dollars earmarked for this program will be used by the Office of Financial Aid in conjunction with other available assistance to help students whose families suffer serious financial setbacks due to loss of income. These funds will make the difference between continuing studies and withdrawing from MSU for many students.

The times ahead will still be difficult, however, especially in Michigan as our state continues to weather a recession that began nearly eight years ago. Michigan State University has been significantly affected by tightening budgets and the state’s shifting priorities over this period. We are grateful to the Governor and members of the state Legislature for sparing higher education from the recent budget cuts. However, the relief we feel about this is tempered by the reality that Michigan families are affected by any cuts, and we as a state and as a university must do all we can to mitigate the impact on our fellow citizens. At Michigan State, we have worked tirelessly, and will continue to do so, to contain costs, improve operational efficiencies, and provide financial aid for students in need, all while maintaining world-class quality.

Taking a conservative approach to financial stewardship over the years has positioned Michigan State well to weather the current storm. The university’s endowment performance for the past year, though experiencing a double-digit decline, achieved a top quartile peer ranking. In addition, the institution continues to manage its liquidity in a manner that allows for planned investment decisions, targeted to long-term market performance.

Another priority is to continue to build on the success of the recent capital campaign that raised more than $1.4 billion for Michigan State. We are enormously grateful to the thousands of Spartans who continue to invest in the future of this great institution. Ongoing support is more important than ever.

As the state continues to struggle financially, and our students feel some of this impact, we will focus our efforts on increasing general university endowed scholarship and fellowship funds in order to ensure that MSU continues to make higher education accessible to a diverse population and that we are able to recruit and retain the best and brightest students.

With this in mind, I am pleased to announce that in November MSU hired Robert Groves as the new vice president for university advancement. Bob brings with him an extraordinary track record of successful fundraising at several Big Ten universities. He was most recently the associate vice president and campaign director for university development at the University of Michigan where he led their record-breaking campaign that raised $3.1 billion. I am confident that his vision and operational know-how will have enormous impact on MSU’s fundraising efforts. As vice president for advancement, Bob also will assume leadership of our alumni relations activities helping to build and deepen relationships with all MSU alumni.

Robert Groves’ announcement was just one of many bright spots on campus this fall. In early December the U.S. Department of Energy selected MSU as the site for the $550 million Facility for Rare Isotope Beams (FRIB). The new facility will bring much-needed jobs and revenue to Michigan over the coming decades. FRIB will build on the successes of the National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory, which has been the key driver for MSU’s leadership in nuclear science education and research. Please visit news.msu.edu/story/5768 to read more about this important project. It truly is a beacon of hope for Michigan in these very challenging times.

In October, then-candidate for president, Barack Obama visited Michigan State University. More than 20,000 members of the MSU community, and surrounding communities as well, turned out at a rally on Adams Field to hear the future president speak. Events like this reinforce our commitment to fostering a robust exchange of ideas and offering our students opportunities to witness history in the making.

The fall elections also brought change to the Michigan State University Board of Trustees. Trustees G. Scott Romney and Dorothy Gonzales will be leaving the board in January. Their insight and guidance throughout their tenure on the board has been very valuable, to me and to the university, and I am grateful for their service and dedication to MSU. The two newest members of the board, both MSU alums—Dianne Byrum and Diann Woodard—will each begin eight-year terms beginning in January.

We can take pride as Spartans in the many accomplishments over the past year. There is much to be thankful for even in the midst of these troubling times. Though it may seem higher education is a luxury in times like these, we believe it is quite the opposite – it is a necessity. The importance of a college education at a world recognized university has never been greater than it is right now. For MSU, helping our students complete their degrees is an essential part of our commitment to Michigan and the United States. To move forward to better times—as a state and a nation—we must continue to lead the world in innovation, and the engine of innovation is higher education.

I am grateful for the hard work and dedication of every member of Team MSU to make this university one of the best in the world. I look forward to an exciting new year with many more great achievements for Michigan State.

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