State of the University Address 2008

Impact and Innovation: At Home and Around the World

State of the University Statement
February 12, 2008

Lou Anna K. Simon
President, Michigan State University

It’s an honor to be here today to recognize the work of distinguished colleagues and to celebrate the founding of Michigan State University. Each year, we take this time to collectively acknowledge extraordinary accomplishments of members of our academic community, to reflect on the challenges and achievements of the past year, and to look forward to the promise of the year ahead.

Often, the State of the University Address also provides the opportunity to lay out strategic directions or introduce new initiatives, much like the president and the governor did two weeks ago in their State of the Union and State of the State addresses. Over the past few years, that is exactly what I’ve done in my remarks at this event and at other formal addresses around the university community.

During MSU’s sesquicentennial year, I introduced Boldness by Design, a guide for defining MSU’s path and our accountability to one another, to the people of Michigan, and to partners and investors, current and potential, around the world. In last year’s State of the University Address, I laid out the framework that underpins this strategic positioning initiative, our guide to the transformation from pioneer land-grant university of the 19th century to model world-grant university for the 21st century, and it has stood the test of time.

Boldness by Design defines our path and provides us with a structure within which we identify and take the steps necessary to reach our stated goals. We have defined some specific ideas for reaching our goals and are making progress on a number of them.

Now, as we move forward, we must continue to focus on the execution in some key areas, specifically on growing our research dollars and other external support, especially with corporations and foundations, while still encouraging state support.

We can look at our strategic positioning initiative, Boldness by Design, as something greater and more meaningful than simply a strategy for Michigan State University alone. If we achieve the goals we have laid out, the impact will be felt far beyond the borders of this campus. Our mission compels us to approach global problems systemically, to go into communities in Michigan and around the world and work with the people within those communities to cocreate lasting solutions to the problems that are limiting prosperity and quality of life.

In that vein, I want to talk today more specifically about the impact MSU is having—locally and globally. I want to talk about why and how the research that goes on in our labs and the instruction that happens in our classrooms are making a difference in the world. In the face of our high expectations and our commitment to continuous improvement, it is sometimes easy to lose sight of what we do well, what we know for sure, and how we are—right now, today—enhancing prosperity and quality of life at home and around the world.

Challenges and Achievements in 2007

First, however, let’s take a brief look back at 2007. Last year was clearly a time of daunting fiscal challenges for the state. In the face of continued disinvestment in higher education at the state level and reductions in research support at the national level amidst a host of mounting pressures, it often felt like we were operating in a vise. Dwindling financial support challenges our ability to produce a strong, globally competitive workforce and to maintain both the excellence and accessibility that have been hallmarks of our land-grant mission. We spent the year working against strong headwinds, and they are still blowing strongly today.

I wish I could stand here today and tell you that there are better times ahead and that 2008 will be different, but you all know that is not the case. I think it’s reasonable to assume that we will face these challenges for the foreseeable future. The good news, however, is that amidst the challenges of the previous year, we all have seen in MSU a university that steadfastly weathered the storms. About Michigan State, I would say that we’ve truly demonstrated our ability to work—and achieve— in the rain and the snow. If we look at what we accomplished last year in a most difficult economic climate, it’s hard not to be impressed.

Highlights from 2007

I can’t list every one of the remarkable achievements from the past year, but let me highlight just a few that exemplify the tenets put forth in Boldness by Design and signify our ongoing commitment to this strategic positioning initiative.

The Campaign for MSU was an enormous success. We raised more than $1.4 billion, exceeding our $1.2 billion goal, and, in the process, significantly increased our endowments. More than 20,000 new donors joined our efforts during the campaign, and more than 1,000 new endowments were established.

Perhaps most extraordinary, however, was the impact you made on the success of the campaign. Faculty, staff, and retirees of the university contributed more than $85 million, which represented 6 percent of the total amount raised and stands as the largest dollar amount raised by this group out of any capital campaign in the Big Ten.

As part of our commitment to expand the university’s international reach, this past fall we announced the launch of MSU Dubai. Our presence in Dubai is a reflection of our world-grant mission to extend MSU’s knowledge and innovation around the globe and specifically to a region of vital importance to the state and the nation.

MSU will be the first North American university to have a presence in Dubai International Academic City. MSU Dubai will help Michigan State establish a world-class model for global engagement that is firmly rooted in our land-grant values and dedicated to advancing knowledge and transforming lives throughout the world. Construction is proceeding on pace, and MSU’s first students pursuing programs in Dubai will begin classes this fall.

In 2007, we announced the expansion of both the College of Human Medicine and the College of Osteopathic Medicine in response to the impending physician shortage. With the establishment of Grand Rapids as the new home of the College of Human Medicine and the new partnerships and opportunities this entails, we will advance the science of medicine, improve patient care and medical education, and contribute to regional economic development. By expanding the College of Osteopathic Medicine to two sites in southeast Michigan, we can significantly enhance the educational mission, while simultaneously serving the area of the state with the greatest population and greatest need.

Clearly part of the strategy for moving Michigan forward and returning the American auto industry to preeminence is the development of more energy-efficient automotive technologies. Energy is one of the most important issues facing the world today.

The MSU Energy and Automotive Research Laboratories, which opened in the fall, will lead the way toward finding more environmentally responsible and economical ways to power transportation and industry. These facilities will allow for further development of hybrid technologies, the creation of more efficient combustion engines, and the pursuit of economically viable use of biobased fuels. The work being done here is of critical importance to the economic future of Michigan.

The 2007–08 academic year also has been a dynamic time for arts and culture. Arts and culture play a vital role not only in preparing students for a global world but also in nurturing the human spirit and enriching prosperity and quality of life in Michigan, which is why we officially designated this year MSU’s Year of Arts and Culture.

From the opening of newest living–learning unit—the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities—to the elevation of the School of Music to the College of Music, from the announcement of the new Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum to the celebration of Wharton Center’s 25th anniversary and the launch of a campaign to expand its facilities, MSU recognizes the importance of fostering a sense of cultural entrepreneurship in our students and throughout Michigan.

By selecting one of the most sought-after architects in the world to design the Broad Art Museum, we are making a bold statement about MSU. We are providing our campus and the entire state with an extraordinary work of art that will attract art and architecture lovers from all over the world for many years to come.

As part of Boldness by Design, we have committed to a strong environmental stewardship effort that will improve the sustainability of our campus and reduce our carbon footprint. As part of that commitment, we’ve launched the Be Spartan Green initiative.

The Environmental Stewardship Systems Team, a group of faculty, staff, and students, has developed a set of 26 initiatives to significantly reduce Michigan State’s environmental impact. The recommendations were based on research and pilot projects that explored recycling preferences; energy use in laboratory, administrative, and classroom buildings; recycling behaviors and attitudes; and communication and education programs. You will hear more about this initiative in the coming weeks and months, and I hope that each of you, individually, will decide to support the effort and Be Spartan Green.

Our partnership with Wayne State University and the University of Michigan in the University Research Corridor (URC) is an important strategic alliance for the state. It is not, as some would assert, simply a political strategy for securing funding from the state. The URC—much as the Research Triangle did for North Carolina—can change the perception of Michigan and reposition the state as a hub for research, innovation, technology transfer, knowledge generation, and economic development.

The three URC universities are magnets for investment and jobs, and they bring into Michigan more than $1.3 billion annually in federal research grants. An economic impact report released last fall found that in 2006, the URC’s operations resulted in $8 billion in new earnings to households and more than 68,000 jobs in the state.

The Research Triangle is credited with turning around North Carolina’s economy during a very challenging downturn. There is no reason to believe that the URC cannot have the same kind of impact on Michigan. The three member universities are working proactively and collaboratively to accelerate economic development in the state by educating students, attracting talented workers, driving innovation, and encouraging the transfer of technology to the private sector.

Michigan needs this kind of coordinated and sustained strategy in order to successfully transform our economy and encourage businesses to locate here and Michigan college graduates to stay. I am particularly pleased that representatives of area economic development organizations are here with us today. They represent important partnerships between the university and our community. But, in fact, our partnerships extend far beyond the surrounding communicates and span the state.

These are but a few examples of the outstanding achievements from the previous 12 months. There are hundreds more examples throughout the university offering a testament to the hard work and dedication of the faculty, staff, and students who continually push themselves to find ways to make their community, their state, and their world a better place. I am proud of all of the accomplishments, especially in light of the pressures we felt throughout the year.

Challenges in 2008

We must be realistic, however, about the continued pressures facing higher education. Today, higher education, and, in particular, internationally recognized universities like Michigan State, continue to face unprecedented challenges to their mission, their covenant with society, and their future.

The world around us is caught up in monumental changes. These changes range from the dynamics of global trade to the blights of global poverty, environmental stress, and all of the social dislocation and disorder they foster, including epidemics, terrorism, and war. They include lightning-fast developments in technology that are continually shifting the ways people communicate and work as the world moves from an industrial economy to a knowledge-based economy.

Society increasingly looks to public universities to expand our role in national and local economic development, deliver more breakthrough discoveries, and partner to address the nation’s—and world’s—most urgent problems.

Frankly, some of these challenges are simply the societal tensions that institutions of higher education are built to address. It is part of the role we play, and it is certainly part of MSU’s distinctive role and responsibility as a land-grant institution.

In addition to what I would call these intrinsic challenges, however, are more troubling issues that emerged from Washington over the past year—issues that strike at the heart of the academy and have the potential to dramatically change the higher-education landscape.

I am sure you are all aware of the discussions at the national level surrounding the issues of accreditation, accountability, and affordability, much of it in the context of the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. These issues will continue to be a collective challenge over the next two to three months, and we must not only follow closely the developments in Washington but also be as active as possible in the higher-education associations to which we belong to help frame the dialogue in ways that are both relevant and meaningful in the current national context.

Higher education—and especially land-grant universities—must be responsive to external voices, even to our harshest critics. But as we are responsive, we must also be responsible. And that sometimes means resisting frameworks, formulas, standards, and quid pro quos more driven by pressures of the “now” than by a sustainable vision for the future. The “solutions” are often well-intentioned, tempting, and nicely packaged, but they are just as often simplistic and “term-limited” in their impact. We must never sacrifice a long-held principle to solve a thorny problem. Our accountability to future generations is not negotiable and neither is our responsibility to society.

It is my belief that if higher education is perceived as only resisting pressures, not addressing problems, we will see imposed formulas and standards. If higher education is seen as hoarding wealth, citing autonomy as an excuse rather than a value, and responding only to voices inside the academy, we will see in our states and in our nation externally imposed rules and regulations. And these “standards” might tell us how to measure ourselves, how to spend our endowments, how to compose our classes, how to gauge individual success, how to become more efficient, and how to invest and disinvest.

Standards and measurements must always be about both efficiency and effectiveness. As Peter Drucker has told us, the former is about doing things right and the latter is about doing the right things. We must be open to external and internal counsel on how to do the right things the right way. But our measures of success also must be transparent and available to the public.

In addition to these national issues, we still face difficult times here at home. There is no denying what is going on in Michigan right now. The unemployment rate is the highest in the nation; the Big Three automakers continue to dramatically restructure and downsize in their efforts to remain competitive; and the housing market has been devastated.

The state is at a critical point as it transitions from the 20th-century economic foundation built on the back of the auto industry to a 21st-century knowledge-based economy built on advanced manufacturing and biobased economic strategies. As we all know, this doesn’t happen overnight nor does it happen without a clear strategic investment of both financial and human capital. It is, by any definition, a very difficult time in Michigan right now.

Difficult times, however, provide enormous opportunities for those visionary enough to see beyond the current situation and for those who have positioned themselves to lead when the time for change has arrived. The time has clearly come for change in Michigan, and MSU is positioned to lead, thanks to the work and achievements of our faculty, staff, and students.

The work we have been doing in biobased technologies, teacher education, automotive engineering, and food security, to name just a few areas, has put Michigan State at the forefront in the development of new economic drivers and competitive outputs that will help transform Michigan and make it once again a strong and relevant player in the global marketplace.

Michigan’s agribusiness and tourism sectors—areas in which MSU faculty and staff provide vital research and development support—are, in fact, growing. Michigan’s agribusiness has grown from $60 billion to $64 billion in two years, and the $18 billion tourism industry is poised for expansion with a new strategic plan cocreated by MSU faculty.

I was pleased to hear Governor Granholm, in her State of the State speech a couple of weeks ago, talk about the potential for Michigan to capitalize on the opportunities provided by the growth of the alternative- and renewable-energy sectors. She said in her remarks that whenever we see the terms "climate change" and "global warming," we should think: jobs for Michigan. And I would add, we should think: Michigan State University.

Another bit of encouraging news came last week when the governor presented her fiscal year 2009 budget recommendations, which included increased funding for Michigan’s public universities.

It is still very early in the process, and there will be much debate over the coming months about a final budget model and the appropriations it will yield. Yet I am cautiously optimistic that after years of decreasing state support for higher education, the prospect of increasing appropriations may signal a shift in the state’s view of funding higher education—a shift from seeing it as a cost to viewing it as an investment—and a new determination to support higher education at a level that enables Michigan to be competitive in a global marketplace.

Whatever the financial climate, whatever storms blow our way, we must continue to focus on addressing some institutional challenges while still remaining true to our core land-grant values of quality, inclusion, and connectivity.

I’ve spoken often over the past year about our commitment to inclusion, diversity, and free speech. While tensions continue to surround these issues—particularly in the case of inclusion where the legal landscape changed with the passage of Prop 2 in 2006—we must and will continue to be strenuously committed to supporting our values in all of our plans and actions.

The exploding cost of health care also is a difficult reality we must address. Like other institutions and like corporations, we must move to bring our health-care costs under control or face erosion of our quality and impact.

In addition, we face the challenges of an aging campus with significant deferred maintenance and the continuing need for upgrades in our information technology infrastructure. In these areas, we simply have no choice but to make the requisite capital investments in order to remain competitive on all levels.

We must also renew our emphasis on economic development and tech-transfer activities, both locally and globally, in order to continue to fulfill our world-grant mission by empowering people all over the world to make a difference in their communities.

Mark Twain once said that thunder is good and impressive but it is the lightning that does the work. We hear a lot of thunder from institutions that do great work but then just hand their solutions through the window as they move on to the next big thing. The work you all do—the work we do as an institution—is the lightning.

Our approach meets people and communities where they are, engaging local constituencies in the cocreation of long- term solutions to the challenges standing between individuals, families, communities, and entire nations and the promise of greater prosperity and quality of life.

In a new President’s Report, released online today, you can see some of the impact MSU is having at home and around the world in the areas of sustainability, economic development, education, food and food security, technology, and health. The report tangibly underscores MSU’s emerging position as the model land-grant university for the 21st century by providing compelling examples of how the university is addressing significant challenges—both local and global—to help create a more sustainable and prosperous world. I’ll share with you just a few examples from the report, but I encourage you to visit to read more.

Innovation and Impact: At Home and Around the World


  • Around the world: A group of MSU researchers and doctoral students is partnering with researchers from institutions in the United States and around the globe to develop improved technologies for purifying water supplies essential to populations throughout the world.
  • At home: MSU is partnering with the University of Wisconsin–Madison to establish the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center to tackle the task of finding clean, inexpensive, efficient methods for creating renewable energy to power industry.


  • Around the world: Researchers in MSU’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering are developing a handheld pathogen tester that can be used to measure pathogens in a manner and at a cost that will improve human health in developing countries. To make the devices available commercially, the researchers founded Lansing-based AquaBioChip LLC in 2006, with funding from Michigan’s 21st Century Jobs Fund.
  • At home: To help automakers improve the fuel efficiency of their vehicles in a cost-effective manner, a team of thermoelectric researchers in MSU’s new Energy and Automotive Research Lab is working to turn heat from engines into electricity that can power vehicles.


  • Around the world: In China, recent MSU graduates are part of a team of Western and Chinese educators working in a cutting-edge school unlike any other in the world. The kindergarten students at the school experience two worlds as they learn in both Chinese and English and are taught in styles that reflect the educational practices of both cultures. The initiative has been so successful that similar multimodel approaches are being developed in some Michigan schools.
  • At home: MSU is at the forefront of work to improve K–12 math and science teaching and learning. In an ongoing partnership with the National Science Foundation, researchers from the MSU College of Education are leading a series of studies to analyze the root causes behind a drop in student performance in math and science between the elementary- and middle-school levels in the United States.

These examples provide just a glimpse into the efforts of thousands of Spartans here on campus and around the globe whose work is transforming the world in meaningful ways.

Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, “The great thing in this world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving.” Michigan State is moving forward, sometimes at warp speed, sometimes running as we learn to walk, to fulfill our land-grant mission for the 21st century.

Thanks to all of you for the work you do to make Team MSU a success. I hope that when you look back in the years ahead on the work you are doing today, you will see that you have had an impact not only here on our vibrant campus but far beyond its borders to communities and people across Michigan and around the world.


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