State of the University Address 2006

Around the Corner, Around the World

"To build a university … one must be able to harness the efforts, the insights, the competencies, and the energies of a great many people and, most importantly, of the best people."
John A. Hannah
President of Michigan State University, 1941-1969

On Founders’ Day, we gather to honor a group of pioneers who, inspired by their vision of a college that would blend practical and liberal arts knowledge to advance Michigan, focused their ambition and energy on creating a revolutionary new kind of institution, one that ultimately transformed the landscape of higher education not only in Michigan, but across our nation, and around the world.

On Founders’ Day, we also gather to honor those among us whose outstanding work carries forward today the tradition of advancing knowledge, transforming lives, and making it possible for each succeeding generation to reach even higher and to dream even bigger dreams.

We gather today to recognize all members of Team MSU—our board members, administrators, faculty, staff, students, alumni, community leaders, partners, stakeholders, media, and friends.


Over the last year, we’ve been celebrating the sesquicentennial of the founding of this university. Many times during this year—also the first year of my presidency—I’ve found myself reflecting on those pioneers, our founders, and their first year.

Here they were, set down in 677 acres of trees, brush, and mud alongside the plank road that ran from Lansing to Detroit, with little more than their values, their vision of what higher education could be, and their determination to make it so.

And with their determination was a sense of urgency—their desire and the desire of other state leaders to meet the needs of the people of Michigan in a rapidly changing world and, perhaps more importantly, to anticipate the needs of generations to come.

So they gathered, took stock, and aligned their resources. They cleared the trees to create the original campus and used the wood to frame the buildings. From the mud, they made bricks that became College Hall, “the barn,” and Saints’ Rest, which was so successfully excavated during our sesquicentennial year to give us a first-hand glimpse of those early days.

Their values, their vision, and their determination have proven true, charting a clear course that has helped us arrive at the point where we are today.

As I look back at our founders’ first year, I find myself marveling at their prescience, their ability, as I think of it, to “see around the corner” and innovate for a world that had not yet come into view. And I also marvel at how, although our worlds are very different, the challenges and the sense of urgency remain, now reshaped through rapidly advancing technology and relentlessly mounting global competition to an intensity that they could scarcely have imagined.

So much has changed, yet we have so much in common. Once again, we stand on the threshold of an uncertain future, our world and economy in transition. Once again we must gather our resources and apply them to meet the challenges that face the people of Michigan. Like our founders in that first year, I’ve seen in my first year my colleagues all around me rolling up their sleeves, focusing their determination, and pushing creativity and innovation to new heights to address those challenges. To all, I say thank you.

And I see accomplishments all around me as Michigan State University mobilizes its competitiveness, undertaken not in the spirit of competing against but in the spirit of competing for the resources that will enable us to best to serve the people of Michigan, the United States, and the world.


In just the past few weeks, we’ve heard both Governor Jennifer Granholm and President George W. Bush tell us that to survive and to thrive in an uncertain future, we must be prepared to compete as a state and as a nation. As your president, I have represented Michigan State University recently at a number of high-level gatherings focused on examining the mounting challenge of global competitiveness, including

  • In November 2005, Higher Education at a Crossroads, held at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, that looked at the issues facing higher education, particularly in the Midwest region;
  • In December 2005, the National Summit on Competitiveness: Investing in U.S. Innovation in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the Council on Competitiveness; and
  • In January 2006, the University Presidents Summit on International Education hosted in Washington, D.C., by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings.

As I attend all of these, I am struck by both the track record and the potential that Michigan State University has to help the nation meet these challenges.

  • We know how to innovate by making knowledge usable and accessible—not just knowledge we discover, but also knowledge we can glean from the discoveries of others and turn into practical applications.
  • We have been engaged in this way around the globe for generations.
  • We know how to build and work in partnerships—locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally.
  • And, we understand that local and international competitiveness fit together and that the paradoxes and tensions inherent in a competitive world must be resolved if we are to create and take advantage of opportunities on a day-to-day basis.

Yet, to bring our strengths to bear on addressing the nation’s challenges, we—and all higher education institutions—require resources. Just one year ago, the state and nation were both taking a dimmer view of investing in higher education, and I likened our situation to being blasted by the chill winds of change that put our education and research mission, as well as our service for the public good, at risk.


Today, I can report to you that the winds of change are still strong, but that the growing concern over competitiveness is focusing national policy attention on higher education, and the winds are warming a bit as resources are beginning to open up.

For example, the National Academy of Sciences recently released a report—“Rising Above the Gathering Storm”—that presents compelling evidence of the competitive challenge our country faces internationally from our K-20 students’ lackluster showing in the STEM disciplines: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. It also points to the need to increase investment in STEM research and to increase the number of Ph.D.s in the STEM disciplines.

Michigan State University is well-positioned to take a lead in this emerging national agenda. We are also prepared to take a leading role in addressing K-12 curriculum issues, particularly the key issues facing our high schools now and in the future. This, too, is an important component of rising to meet our nation’s competitiveness challenge.

Following President Bush’s State of the Union address that focused on national competitiveness, we are seeing indications of increased funding for research in a number of science fields as well as funding to support innovation, technology transfer, and economic development.

Over the past year, we’ve seen growing recognition at both the state and national levels that public higher education remains one of the best investments society can make in its collective future. Many states are reconsidering budget cuts to their universities that once seemed all but certain. Even in Michigan, where the economic recovery has lagged behind the rest of the nation, we see the possibility of greater state investment in Michigan’s public universities in this year’s budget. And the announcement made earlier today by Governor Granholm that the funding of Michigan’s three research universities with medical schools will be recommended as a separate bill—acknowledging that they are responsible for 95 percent of the research dollars, a majority of the patents, and much of the technology transfer leading to new businesses and new jobs—is very encouraging.


At Michigan State University, I can report that things are warming up even faster, as we have worked hard over the past year to take our future into our own hands, accelerating our efforts to ensure that we control our own destiny.

The Campaign for MSU has met with tremendous success, exceeding the $1.1 billion mark as of this month, rapidly headed toward the $1.2 billion goal for 2007. Our Planned Giving Goal of $250 million is nearly reached. We have experienced a remarkable growth rate of 20.9 percent in the university’s endowment during the last fiscal year. And, the National Association of College and University Business Officers reports Michigan State University ranked in the top 4 percent in return on investment among the 678 schools they surveyed.

We are demonstrating increasing skill at being more entrepreneurial with grant and contract activity. Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies Ian Gray has led us to a 16 percent increase in research funding in FY2005 over FY2004. The increase raised our NIH funding by $5 million in FY2005—and we posted a 17.6 percent increase over the last three years, moving toward our goal of $100 million in NIH funding.Funding from other federal agencies also increased. Research expenditures grew $14 million from $348 million in FY2004 to $362 million in FY2005.

We have also achieved tremendous growth in our intellectual property work, with a 33 percent increase in invention disclosures so far this year over last year. In the last four years, our patent application rate has doubled. And in the last three years, MSU has spawned at least 27 start-up companies, with those companies winning federal SBIR/STTR Phase I and Phase II funds, Michigan Technology Tri-Corridor funds, and private and corporate venture capital investments.

Working with a team of faculty leaders, Vice President Gray’s office has established a list of research priorities that we will focus on in the years ahead as we work to sustain and exceed this momentum.

  • Renewable resources, including biomass conversion to foundation chemicals and alternative energy like biofuels andbiocomposites,linked to economic development
  • Health and biomedical research, including food, nutrition, and disease processes
  • Environmental science and policy
  • Security and risk assessment
  • Family and community

Yet, we know that the winds of change are fickle, and we cannot rely alone on a warming trend to sustain our success. That’s why we are embarking—in all areas of the university—on research, teaching, and learning initiatives, partnerships, and planning—to position Michigan State University to withstand the strong winds of change—whether warm or chill—that will continue to press upon us and the generations that will follow.

To help us focus our activities and resources in a contemporary world filled with tantalizing possibilities, we have embarked universitywide on a strategic positioning initiative we call Boldness by Design. Built on the foundation of our tradition, our land-grant values, and Michigan State’s historic and existing strengths, Boldness by Design is not a change of direction but a call to focus on five imperatives:

  • Enhancing the student experience
  • Enriching community, economic, and family life
  • Expanding international reach
  • Increasing research opportunities
  • Strengthening stewardship

Playing from these strengths will allow us to build and intensify our competitiveness and claim our role, not only as the pioneer and prototype land-grant university, but as the world’s leading land-grant and world-grant university by 2012.

I’ve really been gratified to see people in units all over the campus embracing Boldness by Design as a framework for planning and for setting priorities. And I’ve been gratified to see how well our concept of translating land-grant to world-grant has been received.

As I’ve traveled around the state and the country to talk with people about how MSU affects day-to-day lives, I have found that although we are not always at the top of the marquee for the role that we play in their communities, they recognize that we are part of the fundamental fabric of their lives—and as a land-grant university, of American life—and that we are doing things of value that advance quality of life and contribute to the public good. They understand our land-grant to world-grant aspirations, and they think we are on the right track. We are becoming, even more, a go-to place for leadership and solutions.

As MSU’s new leadership team takes shape, we have entrusted to Provost Kim Wilcox the next phase of translating Boldness by Design into practical, inspirational, and transformative links that will guide our everyday work and lives. Already we can see the impact of Boldness by Design in a number of areas.

Probably the most obvious example was the approval by the Board of Trustees and the administration by Provost Wilcox of the Quality Fund. Between September and December 2005, nearly $19 million was competed for by faculty and staff and awarded to initiatives targeted to enhance the quality of the university and the student experience.

Now I ask you, what other university of our size could mobilize such an effort, with such determination and success, in a single semester? That alone is an extraordinary accomplishment reflecting our ability to be collaborative, responsive, and focused. We thank everyone who participated in this historic process, including all the competitors and members of the evaluation team.

Provost Wilcox and Vice President John Hudzik are now revising budget procedures and developing a set of metrics based on Boldness by Design that will define our business practices in the future and help us benchmark our competitive strengths against others. And task forces have been formed, one for each imperative, that will provide recommendations later this semester for improvement initiatives we should focus on in the short term.


Throughout the year, I’ve also seen a number of accomplishments that support our Boldness by Design imperatives and strengthen the position of Michigan State University to withstand future winds of change.

For students …
  • Our Board of Trustees has led the way in expanding access, even in difficult economic circumstances, through one of the most effective financial aid funding programs in the nation.
  • Team MSU, working with Assistant Provost for Undergraduate Education June Youatt and Provost Wilcox, is making tremendous strides in improving MSU’s undergraduate curriculum to meet students’ current needs and to prepare them to adapt to the needs of the future.
  • The profile of our incoming freshmen, the first-year persistence rate, and six-year graduation rate continue to climb.
  • And this year we launched a new Career and Professional Development program for our graduate students that will prepare them for a variety of careers. Our program, created through collaboration between our Office of the Dean of Graduate Students and Career Services and Placement, offers a path-breaking model for the nation.
In outreach and community development …
  • MSU’s Office of Outreach and Engagement leads the nation in developing evidence-based benchmarking standards that can be applied to all institutions of higher education across the country.
  • MSU’s Cultural Engagement Council is collaborating on a major new initiative, entitled "Creative Futures," in the Greater Lansing area to build a regional approach with the Greater Lansing Convention and Visitors Bureau; the Greater Lansing Arts Council; Michigan Department of History, Arts, and Libraries; and governmental units to more effectively use cultural assets to expand the economic development of this region.
  • All over the state we are working to advance economic, cultural, and social entrepreneurship, connecting liberal arts to the professions and culture to day-to-day life in ways that strengthen our ability to recruit and retain talent in Michigan.
  • Our MSU Extension has a presence in every county in the state, linking them to MSU’s knowledge and resources and identifying and addressing specific community needs, both in farmers’ fields and on city streets.
In economic development …
  • MSU played a key role in developing a SmartZone to advance economic development in Greater Lansing and in creating the Prima Civitas partnership to launch an aggressive economic development initiative in mid-Michigan. One of our notable accomplishments this year is convincing David Hollister to become the director of Prima Civitas.
  • We work with other areas as well and have economic development projects in Grand Rapids, the thumb area, southeastern Michigan, Oakland County, and more. This is part of the land-grant tradition, to foster and support entrepreneurial culture in Michigan. In each area our work is geographically focused, tailored to the needs and the opportunities of that area. So while we are in every part of the state, we are not doing the same thing in every part of the state.
  • For example, to advance both economic development and community health care in Grand Rapids, we are progressing toward establishing the Michigan State University-West Michigan Medical School to serve the community in and around Grand Rapids. At the same time, we are working toward the same goals with partners in the Greater Lansing area by developing patient information systems that will enhance health care delivery in our local area.
In international leadership …
  • In September we announced the opening of an MSU office in China.
  • We continue to have the largest Study Abroad program of any U.S. public university, with programs now offered on all seven continents.
  • And we have codified our status as an international university through the self-study on internationalization for the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, an extraordinary undertaking that lays out a plan for continued growth and leadership.
In research …
  • We have not only enjoyed the gains I mentioned earlier, we have begun building leadership in the vital areas of Homeland Security strategies by bringing together, in Michigan State University style, cross-disciplinary collaborations to address national security needs.
  • We’ve announced our commitment to leadership in advancing the bioeconomy in Michigan, both as a research initiative and as a cutting-edge economic development strategy that links and revitalizes two of Michigan’s most powerful sectors: agriculture and manufacturing. Much of this owes to the excellent ongoing work of MSU researchers, particularly those in plant science, chemistry, engineering, and the social sciences.
  • We have won major funding in food safety, water safety, game theory, identity theft, education, nanotechnology, and more.
  • Last spring, we honored 170 faculty members who had published books in the previous year, a testimony to the impact of MSU scholarship.
  • And, our elementary- and secondary-education graduate programs continue to rank number one in the nation for the 11th straight year, a reflection of their research as well as teaching excellence.
In stewardship …
  • We are enjoying—in addition to the capital campaign success mentioned earlier—many additions and upgrades to our campus, such as our new power plant that will be coming online soon, heightening our energy efficiency and lowering our energy costs.
  • And, of course, we all enjoyed our Sesquicentennial celebration, created and led by a large committee embracing the many diverse elements of the MSU family, that celebrated our founding and honored the heritage that together we hold in trust. We sincerely thank all who contributed to this year-long undertaking and also all of those who participated in the festivities.

I see many accomplishments that will continue to strengthen our position in the years ahead.

With the election of Mayor Virg Bernero in Lansing and Mayor Sam Singh in East Lansing, we have an opportunity to take a fresh look at our community partnerships and have embarked on a greater and renewed sense of cooperation regarding joint planning for athletic events and championship celebrations.

The College of Social Science launched in the fall a new Global Urban Studies Program that will serve as a research center for faculty and students to address dynamics and problems in cities across the world, with emphasis on facilitating urban areas to learn from each other. Scholars in the program will also look at the urban impacts of global trends, such as changing manufacturing structures, immigration patterns, and population gain and loss.

The College of Communication Arts and Sciences and the College of Arts and Letters are partnering to develop a new undergraduate specialization in design and creativity. This program will create an innovative and interdisciplinary academic foundation in design principles, as well as upper-level courses in such cutting-edge topics as 3D design, digital imaging, and information graphics.

Wynton Marsalis will be visiting our campus in 2008 as artist in residence to teach master classes, meet with faculty and students, and rehearse with our orchestra, culminating in the premier performance of a work we have commissioned from him.

And speaking of music, last night our MSU Children’s Choir won two Grammy Awards, one for Best Classical Album and one for Best Choral Performance, for works produced in partnership with the University of Michigan School of Music.

I wish I had the time to acknowledge all of the good work being done and the exciting initiatives in development throughout the university community today. They all build toward our ability to take advantage of opportunities, and of the opportunities we have not yet imagined that they, in turn, will create.

By using the same timeframe to reach our Boldness by Design goal—the same seven-year window of opportunity our founders capitalized on between their first year and the enactment of the Morrill Act—we recognize the sense of urgency facing our nation, our state, and our university as part of a set of leading higher education institutions around the world.

We also show our confidence in our collective resolve. As with any good research project or discovery that our university is known for, this work requires focus and attention on where we are going to go. It’s not about striking out in new directions. It’s about having time for the university community to think about what key things will chart our future.

In a minute, I’m going to talk about a time capsule, as a way of thinking about how what we do today positions us for the future, not how what we do solves yesterday’s problems or tries to soothe today’s irritations.

I appreciate all the work of Team MSU, both on campus and around the world, in trying to help us achieve the lofty aspirations that are part of land- grant to world-grant—aspirations we hold not only for ourselves but for our state, our nation, and the world.

Just as 1855 was a magical year when seeds were sown for the land-grant movement that has served our nation so well, 2005 was a magical year in which we have sown the seeds of the world-grant movement that lies ahead. Like our founders, we stand on the threshold of a future that is not yet clear, a future in which we are at the leading edge of an innovation curve, trying to see around the corner, but always moving forward, focused on our imperatives, and most importantly, determined to continue to make a positive difference in the world.

Thank you very much.


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