Letter to the community - Feb. 12, 2019

Dear students, colleagues and friends:

It was humbling to be appointed by our Board of Trustees last month to serve as acting president of Michigan State University. I deeply appreciated the trustees’ remarks and the many supportive messages I have received since.

That my appointment came exactly 40 years after I first set foot in America made it especially moving to me and my family. That it stemmed from one of the most difficult periods in MSU’s history deeply saddened me.

My own tenure will last only until the expected arrival of a permanent president this summer. Much has been done in the last year to make MSU more stable, accountable and safe, and to give the next president a firm foundation for success. But we need to do more. The reckoning for our past shortcomings — an important and overdue reckoning — is incomplete.

Almost exactly a year ago, I described my feelings in a message to my colleagues and coworkers. I write to you today offering the same sentiments — that we must treat each other civilly and with kindness and make sexual harassment and other forms of abhorrent behavior alien to our culture.

In the hours and days following my appointment, I met with university leaders and stated my intent to reinstate key decision-making councils. I spent time with our Relationship Violence and Sexual Misconduct Expert Advisory Workgroup and will continue to seek their guidance. I met with faculty liaisons and student organization representatives, and with the college deans — a group I was proud to be a part of for many years.

I met briefly with our newly elected governor. It also was an honor to speak at the Martin Luther King, Jr. dinner on campus to help celebrate the legacy of an inspiring leader whose profound influence extended half a world away to me as I grew up in India.

Going forward, we must reflect on how we acknowledge and support survivors of relationship violence and sexual misconduct and determine what actions within our control can best prevent and respond to such incidents on campus.

Another difficult job faces us — one of intentionally shifting our culture to include care, respect and, yes, kindness along with the other virtues we embrace as Spartans. 

Beyond the boundaries of campus, I am working to assure our many alumni, partners and stakeholders that such culture change is consistent with this institution’s important educational, research and outreach missions. It is complementary to our enduring legacy of providing everyday people extraordinary opportunities for the ultimate betterment of our communities and our society. Michigan State’s upward trajectory in core areas such as research and student success will benefit from our introspection.

Today, Feb. 12, we commemorate Founders Day — the day our institution was created by the state in 1855. It’s an appropriate time to recommit ourselves to our core values, to resolve ourselves to our many tasks and to reaffirm our identity as Spartans willing to take on the world’s toughest challenges.

This needs to be a time of active listening, of taking to heart the lessons of our experience and then acting with care. All of us hope for healing and reconciliation, and we must do our individual and collective parts to realize that hope. The many expressions of support and resolve I’ve seen in the past few weeks make me optimistic this is a challenge we can meet together.

Yours very sincerely,

Satish Udpa

Acting President