Michigan State University President Lou Anna K. Simon delivered her annual State of the University address on February 11, 2014 during the MSU Awards Convocation.
Each year at this time we celebrate our founding and also the great achievements of our All-University Awards winners. Through great ideas, determination, and commitment to excellence, these people illustrate how Michigan State University aspires to always be better tomorrow than it is today. They exemplify the phrase: Spartans Will.Over the last few years since our sesquicentennial in 2005, we have been talking together about the question of the mounting challenges and criticisms facing American higher education. Those questions have led us to a larger question: what would it be like if the world could create a new kind of university today?That was the question America was facing at the time we were founded in 1855. We were founded as a place that would be unique, a place that could do all the things the great universities of the time could do and still open its doors and opportunities to all deserving students, regardless of class or heritage.At that time, place meant:
- not only a campus, but in those early years a state, and later with John Hannah, the world;
- not only a university that would worry about the outcomes of student learning in the traditional sense, but one that would worry about what students could do with that learning when they left the university;
- not only where students could explore specific traditional disciplines, but be very interdisciplinary in their interests, studies, and aspirations—and that interdisciplinary focus has continued from our beginning to today;
- not only where students worried and applied themselves to meeting close-to-home challenges, but the great challenges of the world.
So I truly believe, that if we were to create a new university of today, we would create us—Michigan State University.We’re built on a proud tradition, and our future is about achieving even greater excellence. Today we have:
- Multiple-source rankings among the top 100 universities in the world
- Multiple top-ranked programs in US News & World Report
- Research funding of nearly half a billion dollars
- Positive impact around the state and world through our work and through Spartan Impact
These things are critical to our future as we always try to be better tomorrow, and we are greatly proud of them. But we also honor our yesterdays. Today we dedicated Morrill Plaza. A video screen there will introduce you to faculty members from throughout our history: people who were instrumental in plant science, who developed great things like cancer drugs, who were great teachers—some of whom you will know and some of whom you might not. They all represent our tradition of being leaders of change, not simply reacting to change.One of the things we often talk about is student success. How do we continue to grow the values we impart through learning and experiences so that people believe that the value of a Michigan State degree appreciates over time, not simply when students are here, but when they graduate from Michigan State?That requires we focus on student success and innovative programs like the Neighborhoods and the Media Sandbox. It requires us to really rethink the nature of education in this new world of technology. It’s not simply about having online courses or MOOCs, which we have. It’s really about answering:
- How can we use technology differently to expand the student experience?
- How can we use technology to bring people inside the great discoveries happening in our laboratories?
- How can we use technology to involve people in our work in the communities?
- How can we use technology so people can participate in and benefit from our work?
That’s being a pioneer, not simply reacting to technology.We would be remiss if we didn’t consider athletics since it has got a lot of attention lately. If you look at the responses we’ve received since our Rose Bowl victory, it’s an extraordinary achievement and a way in which Spartans worldwide can learn more about us and feel connected to the university.But our goal is not simply to have Rose Bowls. Our goal is to have an athletic program of great integrity that represents the values at Michigan State University to young people we would want to have as prospective students, as our sons and daughters. That’s our goal. Winning is a derivative of that, and it requires that we view athletics in the context of university values.It also leads us to ask: How can we create “Rose Bowls” for everyone? I’ve been asking faculty and students since that January One victory:
- So what’s your Rose Bowl?
- What’s the kind of thing that in your career you would really love to be able to do?
- What’s the one thing that you would want to celebrate, even though there won’t be a million people watching you? What would it be?
At Michigan State, we want to enable that for everyone. That requires:
- We push boundaries.
- We think about things a bit differently.
- We don’t simply react to things.
- We don’t simply spend time delineating disruptive influences.
We need to be the disrupters. We want to be the people others want to emulate because we’re doing new and different things, and we’re doing them with great pride, great energy, and a capacity to take risk. That capacity to take calculated risks has been a part of this university for a very, very long time, and it must be a part of its future.We must through our planning process continue to improve our standing in all the traditional measures, while creating our own measures for active learning, outreach and engagement, and other aspects that make us the 21st Century model university.We’ve done part of that through planning, through the five imperatives called Boldness by Design, now refreshed with a sixth imperative added to become Bolder by Design. You’re going to hear more about that in the future as we delineate under each of Bolder by Design’s six imperatives the things that we plan to do to be that disruptive force for the world. The imperatives are:
- Enhance the student experience
- Enrich community, economic, and family life
- Expand international reach
- Increase research opportunities
- Strengthen stewardship
- Advance our culture of high performance
However, we know moving forward that resources are still going to be constrained and that’s why we’ve added the sixth imperative: Advance our culture of high performance. We must demonstrate every day that we make the most of the resources we have.We’ve just been through one of the worst times in our history. Ten years of really tough budgets, year after year after year. And we know that tuition is too high, and we try to address that by being very aggressive in financial aid.Currently, we have a 6.1 percent funding increase recommendation in the governor’s budget. However, it includes tuition-restraint language, giving us a bit less than 4 percent to work with. While it’s a breath of fresh air, it’s still only keeping pace with inflation. We will still have to worry about how we do things and whether we have money to do the most valuable things. That means we have to look very closely at cost structures. We don’t call it cost cutting, because we’ve done all that. Now we must focus on becoming a more high-performing organization, really looking at what we do fundamentally, managing carefully, and being good stewards of our resources to create better value for our students, faculty, staff, and partners. That is our challenge under Bolder by Design.I’ve had a chance to talk with President Obama about his initiative to have more students in world-class universities. Obviously one of the drivers in this is student debt. Looking at us in comparison to our peers:
- We have more Pell and Pell-eligible students than almost the entire Ivy League combined;
- We remained a very middle-class university through difficult times even though costs have risen;
- We’ve had fewer students leaving with outstanding loans than our peer institutions; and
- The average debt of our students is lower than the average debt of students from the other Big Ten and as well as AAU institutions.
For Michigan State University, that is an intentional measure of student success.But along with such considerations, we must also use Bolder by Design to husband our resources internally while also seeking more private support externally through the capital campaign we launch in the fall.Bolder by Design is a clarion call for action and passion. It asks you to focus both on the original five imperatives and this new one: Advance our culture of high performance.We want to engage all of you because all of us need to work together to find the next set of solutions. This is not about someone sitting in the Administration Building trying to redesign a process. It is about all of us working together.This means that we have to put our students, our faculty, our staff, and our partners in the center of this discussion to be sure that we are enabling them to be the best. I use “enabling them to be the best” because we can never force-feed education or learning. All we can do is enable people to be better. That is the role of education here and around the globe.We want to be the place—that new university of today and tomorrow—that the world would create among the top 100 universities in the world. The place that is
- A national leader;
- Concerned about resolving the issues of education, cost, and value;
- And focuses on results, not simply rhetoric.
You will see more about our expectations and measurements in the months ahead as we continue laying out the details of Bolder by Design. The essence of this is to elevate our thinking
- To inspire more;
- To say yes to good ideas;
- To accelerate our actions to respond to change quickly;
- And to take our assets and align and integrate them in better ways.
Our assets—our diverse students, faculty, and staff, our people, our technology, our tools, our data—now have to come together in the same way in which you see Tom Izzo’s team working on the floor: as an integrated whole advancing the purposes of Michigan State University and its role in the world. That is what Bolder by Design is really about, honing to top performance our collective capability for imagination, innovation, risk, persistence—all those things that you value in anyone you work with on a day-to-day basis.In all my travels, I see clearly that people care deeply about this university. People understand that their time here has impacted them greatly. They see this university as always active in their lives, including someone I talked to just a half hour ago whose life was saved by the cancer drug created in our laboratories by Professor Barney Rosenberg. Michigan State University impacts people’s lives in many ways.So what’s this about? It’s about greatness, beginning with individuals such as those we recognize today. It’s about being that new university, that place with even more dimensions.
- A place that is truly transdisciplinary.
- A place that really is courageous enough to redefine boundaries but recognize that their strength comes from strong disciplines and professions.
- A place prepared to think about what education will look like for the future and to free up our students, faculty, and staff to create that future at its best, right here.
- A place where you would want to come and feel as if you’re part of it, not simply a student who’s enrolled, but somebody who’s feels really connected, a part of Michigan State, and empowered to craft your own pathway through here
- A place where, if you’re a partner outside the university, you can find what you need from us—it’s not an insurmountable task. We may not be able to do what you need, because we can’t do everything, but you will still feel you connected with us in a way that is impactful for you.
- A place where, anywhere you go on the globe, people you meet will know Michigan State as the model for imagining and advancing big ideas.
I often ask people what they know about Michigan State’s big ideas, and recently they’ve mostly mentioned the Broad Museum and the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams. But big ideas start somewhere before they reach this level of recognition. FRIB really started as a big idea 50 years ago, with the first beam from the first cyclotron. Today it’s about advancing an area we became really good at over time and imagining where it would be 20 years from now, and saying “We’re going to go there. And we’re not going to do it slowly. We’re going to do it quickly, and we’re going to leapfrog over everyone.” That’s one way big ideas happen.There’s another way too—putting things together in new and different ways. We have so many pieces already available across the campus that can be put together in ways that are new—like the Neighborhoods or BEACON.Or we can simply say we’re going to do something that is the best in the world. We’re going to build it right here, and we won’t be satisfied with less than the best—that’s the Broad Museum.We at Michigan State are not satisfied with something less than the best, those things that capture the agility, thinking, and creativity that’s part of all big ideas.They’re in you. They’re in all of us. They’re not in me. It’s our combined strength that is Michigan State University, and driving that forward with high performance is what we want to accomplish.Thank you very much for what you will do for Michigan State University because what you do today defines what we are tomorrow. How you believe today defines what we can do tomorrow: your passions, your dedication, your capacity to prevail over challenges. Your willingness to be a pathbreaker.Today we benefit from all the pathbreakers who went before us. Now we have the opportunity to create that strong future for people we’ll never meet or even imagine. Thank you all for doing that, and especially our award winners, for all you make possible for Michigan State University.