Founders Day Reflections: Optimism and momentum


Each year I deliver remarks on the State of the University at MSU’s Awards Convocation, which roughly coincides with our Founders Day celebration. This year I tried something new—a conversation about current MSU topics on a live webcast. I invite you to view a video of that 40-minute Q&A-style conversation.

When I think about Founders Day today, 161 years after MSU was established, I think about what kind of university we would create if we could do it all over again. I know it would reflect the core, land-grant values we continue to embrace today: quality, inclusiveness and connectivity. I know that we’d want to be an institution that is among the world’s best in terms of scholarship and innovation, the kind of top-100 research university we are today.

 And I know our faculty, staff and students would include the kind of people we honored at this year’s Awards Convocation. They are exemplars of the land-grant ideal of excellence and engagement, of being actively connected with the challenges of today while anticipating the problems of tomorrow. In short, they’re terrific examples of the impact MSU Spartans have on the world, not simply because of what we do, but also because of why and how we do it.

Spartans build momentum

MSU physician Mona Hanna-Attisha is one such dedicated Spartan. She has been called a hero for her work in helping bring to light the toxic lead problem in Flint. The director of the Pediatric Public Health Initiative partnership between MSU and Hurley Children’s Hospital in Flint, she used her expertise and her passionate commitment to speak out when others did not want to hear her message. She was able to do that in part because of the university’s longtime partnerships and presence in the Flint community. MSU Extension, for example, has been working there for a century.

The College of Human Medicine has been part of Flint for some 40 years, working with community hospitals to train medical students. The college, with support from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, has expanded its footprint there in the last couple years. This followed dozens of meetings with community groups to lay out priorities for the expansion of our research program in public health.

That kind of partnership—built on trust and understanding forged through the years—helps us to be a part of the solution today. I want to thank the MSU community for reaching out to Flint in a variety of ways. We’ll continue to be there long after the world’s attention has shifted elsewhere—and that really is a metaphor for Michigan State University and how we work.

Asking more of ourselves

At two pivotal times in the university’s history, issues of social justice and social mobility have been at the forefront—in the 1850s when we were founded and also in the 1960s when we really grew into the university we are today.

Today we once again face a confluence of challenges in these areas. But I believe this is an inflection point for Michigan State. And I am confident that when people look back on this time they will see a set of people committed to thinking and having conversations about the most profound issues and then translating them into positive action.

I want to thank the university community for engaging in genuine conversations through Project 60/50 and other programs. These are conversations that will strengthen the academy and its values. In times of stress it’s sometimes difficult to remain hopeful. We all feel the pace of change, and we’re all being asked to do more. But it is in asking more of ourselves that we build the confidence to meet challenges together.

So I want to thank Team MSU for your optimism and for the way you’ve helped Michigan State weather the storms of the past to create today’s measurable momentum.

Thank you for helping create this university, the kind of institution the world needs today and one in which the world will take pride when we look back decades from now.


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