Letter to the MSU campus community

June 26, 2018

To the MSU campus community:

Last Friday, the MSU Board of Trustees adopted its first-ever, two-year budget and put in place new procedures to strengthen board oversight and improve board operations. This letter will outline the actions taken.

First, tuition and spending. I believe MSU’s new $1.39 billion general fund budget for 2018-19 addresses our need to compete for students at a time when numbers of high school graduates are declining, along with our desire to minimize the cost of attending MSU and the amount of debt incurred. The budget kept a promise made one year ago by the Board of Trustees to freeze tuition for incoming Michigan freshmen. At the same time, we were able to limit the increase for all other students to less than a dollar a day, except for junior and senior engineering and business students. This translates to approximately $360 for students on average, and means an increase of about $540 for the engineering and business students.

For the second year of the budget, we freeze tuition rates. In 2019-20, along with the rate freeze, we will be moving to a block tuition structure. This will provide financial incentives for students to complete their degrees in a four-year period. While we tried to keep tuition rates as low as possible, we felt it was also important to increase student financial aid. The budget boosts financial aid by $6.4 million, or 4.5 percent. The budget also freezes salaries for top administrators and deans, limits faculty salary increases to approximately 1.5 percent, raises pay rates for student employees by 4 percent, and hikes graduate assistant pay by 2 percent. In addition to MSU’s annual 1 percent reallocation of unit budgets toward university priorities, each college and department will have to absorb a 1 percent cut in the 2018-19 budget.

Two major factors influenced the decisions regarding tuition and spending. First, the need to improve the ability of MSU to compete for students in the future as the number of graduating high school seniors begins to decline. Second, to show stability in the face of the $500 million litigation settlement. I felt we needed to assure students, faculty and staff, our donors, and state policymakers that MSU budgets would remain stable and that we would still be strongly supporting program growth and important research and remain affordable for our students.

Second, the budget includes two bond issues, one for the litigation settlement and another to finance $380 million in planned construction. The smaller bond issue allows key projects to go forward. They include the College of Music building addition and renovations; new STEM classrooms and commons, gallery, and office space in the renovated and expanded former Shaw Lane Power Plant; and a new water plant. We were pleased to win approval of $29.9 million in state support for the STEM classroom building. Also, state support resulted in a 1.8 percent increase in general appropriations and 2 percent increases for our statewide MSU Extension and AgBioResearch operations. We are grateful for the strong bipartisan support provided by the legislature and the governor.

Third, Board of Trustee changes. The board approved a new committee structure that includes the creation of two new committees and the revision of an existing committee. The new committees are Academic Affairs and Student Life and Culture. The committees will interact with faculty and student liaison groups. The Academic Affairs Committee will focus on the core missions of our university: teaching and research. The provost and key offices, such as Admissions, will now have a committee to discuss what goes on in the classrooms and academic life on campus. The Student Life and Culture Committee will deal with all that happens outside the classroom: residence halls; the Greek system; off-campus issues; intramural and intercollegiate athletics; and the 900-plus registered MSU student organizations. Officials such as the vice president for student affairs and services, the vice president for auxiliary enterprises, and others whose jobs impact the student experience, will have a committee eager to learn what can improve outcomes outside the classroom. The other committee change that resulted from board action was the reformatting of the Audit Committee into the Audit, Risk and Compliance committee. Oversight for risk management in order to drive accountability across the campus will be a charge of this committee.

Last week, I established a new Office of Enterprise Risk Management, Ethics and Compliance, to be headed by a Chief Compliance Officer yet to be named. The CCO is charged with ensuring all our legal, regulatory and ethical obligations are met. Also, the CCO will oversee adherence to and effectiveness of codes of conduct and ethics. The CCO will have independent access and report on a regular basis directly to the Audit, Risk and Compliance Committee.  

Fourth, new resources in the budget. Since I arrived in February, I’ve heard from all corners of the campus about the need for more focus on and investment in student mental health. A new counseling and psychiatric services director was recruited to MSU. As of June 1, Mark Patishnock joined MSU to lead the implementation of additional student mental health programs.

Starting this month, this includes 24-hour access for all MSU students to a counselor for emotional or mental health services through a phone app to talk or instant message. The My SSP app became available to international students last fall and proved highly beneficial, and now will complement existing on-campus mental health services. In September, a second Counseling and Psychiatric Services, or CAPS, location will open on the third floor of the MSU Student Union. It will house 8-10 counselors, expanding capacity to reach more students each year. In total, 10 new positions have been added to our Counseling and Psychiatric Services. We have also funded 13 new Title IX and related positions for prevention services or investigative work.

Sexual assault awareness and prevention are important topics this summer at orientation programs for our new students and their families, along with a sharpened focus on respect as a core value of MSU. In fact, Michigan State’s incoming freshman class will be one of the largest and most diverse in the school’s history, with more than 8,400 new students expected to join us this fall. We want to assure that their expectations for college are met on this campus, both in and out of the classroom.

Finally, personnel changes. Following his swift and successful negotiation of the Nassar settlements, former Justice Bob Young was confirmed as vice president and general counsel. Shannon Lynn Burton was confirmed as MSU’s new ombudsperson. Her role is to assist students in resolving disputes with the university and staff and faculty, as well as to sort through rules and regulations related to students and their concerns. I also appointed Rob Kent from our Office of General Counsel to serve as interim associate vice president of the Office of Civil Rights and Title IX Education and Compliance. We have launched a national search for a permanent head of that key office.

The Board of Trustees approved three new college deans: Michele H. Jackson of the College of William & Mary, for Lyman Briggs College; Birgit Puschner of the University of California-Davis, for the College of Veterinary Medicine; and Phillip Duxbury, professor and chair of MSU’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, for the College of Natural Science. I look forward to working with them.

This month we expanded our Relationship Violence and Sexual Misconduct Expert Advisory Workgroup with two very capable new members. They are MSU College of Law Title IX Director Mary Ann Ferguson and Tom Fritz, a doctoral student in the College of Education who focuses on student sexual assault advocates and their development working with peer survivors.

Finally, I’d like to address the disclosure of a private email in which my genuine concern for the Nassar survivors was poorly represented by my words. From the beginning, I have been anxious to see us all move forward by negotiating a fair and equitable settlement and enacting meaningful campus reforms. In my apology, I said it was never my intent to foster an adversarial relationship with anyone, especially the survivors. I regret the resulting distress for them, for the board, and for the MSU community. You can read my apology in its entirety here


John Engler
Interim President