Letter to the campus community

To the MSU campus community:

Monday, Dec. 17 was a historic day for Michigan State University. Leaders from MSU and McLaren Health Care gathered to break ground for a major new investment in community health care. McLaren will build a state-of-the-art, $450 million hospital on property purchased from the MSU Foundation in the University Corporate Research Park near Collins Road.

McLaren and MSU are collaborating to redesign traditional hospital and ambulatory care settings to offer the safest, most efficient health care campus anywhere. We expect many new opportunities to work together on clinical trials and services will be possible, and benefits that were only dreams may now be realized.

McLaren’s new hospital will help MSU recruit top physicians and researchers to our region by providing access to tools and data that will build a healthier mid-Michigan and develop new life-saving therapies and treatments.

It was a stirring occasion last week as Spartan graduates once again marched into the world, equipped with the knowledge, skills and character to be leading citizens and successful individuals. Upward of 2,700 students received their undergraduate or graduate degrees this semester. Large enthusiastic crowds at Breslin Center helped honor their accomplishments and send them on to their next challenges.

Graduation highlights included four distinguished individuals who accepted honorary degrees from MSU. Former congresswoman Jane Harman spoke to our graduate degree awardees about making the world a better place. She’s the director, president and CEO of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, helping to bridge academia and public policy to inform and develop solutions to the nation’s challenges.

Ann Dunwoody, America’s first female four-star general, now retired, spoke to one of Saturday’s undergraduate commencement ceremonies about her unexpected career journey, which represented many “firsts” for women in the military. Life sometimes takes unanticipated turns, she said, and she encouraged graduates to seize the opportunities those afford. 

Also speaking to undergraduate degree recipients was former Ambassador Josette Sheeran, president and CEO of the Asia Society and a former journalist, trade representative and diplomat. She currently holds a special assignment as United Nations envoy to Haiti, overseeing the fight against cholera and to improve water, sanitation and health systems there.

Finally, retired lieutenant colonel and flight test engineer William Cuzick, who now oversees the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory’s Systems Technology Office, also delivered brief remarks. His organization is focused on delivering new technological capabilities in the air, space and cyber domains.

This year we set a new standard when we reported a record high MSU graduation rate. Of the first-time, full-time students who entered MSU in 2012, 80 percent graduated by 2018. That compares to an aggregate graduation rate of 60 percent among all four-year degree-granting institutions nationally. Of those who did not graduate from MSU, 12 percent transferred to another institution and 1.7 percent remained enrolled here.

Our students are an accomplished group. Last Friday, the Board of Trustees recognized 21 fall graduates for maintaining the highest scholastic average of a 4.0 GPA at the close of their final semester. Our student–athletes have also recorded impressive grades, as Spartans led the Big Ten Conference with 11 earning a 4.0 GPA in the fall. In all, 116 MSU student–athletes in our seven fall sports were Academic All-Big Ten honorees. Student–athletes also recorded a Graduation Success Rate of 88 percent, an all-time high for MSU.

Members of the board and I met another most impressive undergraduate last week. MSU’s 19th Rhodes Scholar is Nikkita Ngalande, an Honors College senior majoring in actuarial science in the College of Natural Science. From Zambia, she is the first MSU international student to earn that prestigious recognition. We wish her well at her postgraduate destination, Oxford University.

Our faculty members also are an incredible source of pride. Seven Spartan researchers were recognized recently in an annual compilation of the most influential global scientific leaders. These highly cited researchers represent renowned programs in plant, animal and environmental sciences at MSU.

Michigan State’s quality was validated once again in the U.S. News & World Report Best Global University rankings. Out of nearly 1,400 universities worldwide, MSU ranked No. 90 overall. Twenty of our academic programs appeared in the 2019 rankings. Elsewhere, MSU recently was ranked No. 8 in the nation in study abroad participation.

Spartan alumni also are worthy of celebration. The engagement and generosity of Spartans were borne out once again during this year’s Give Green Day on Nov. 27, when more than 4,000 alumni and friends made gifts totaling more than $739,000 to MSU programs. A cadre of volunteers used social media and their Spartan networks to help raise 27 percent more than last year. Recipients ranged from MSU college and alumni club scholarship programs to the Wharton Center’s sensory-friendly performance fund.

Getting across campus just got easier. The recently opened extension of Wilson Road now connects Harrison and Hagadorn roads through the campus. It will greatly improve campus access and relieve traffic from busy Shaw Lane and make campus access from the east smoother when headed to venues such as the Wharton Center.

We’re sad to bid goodbye to retiring MSU Police Chief Jim Dunlap, who retires at the end of the year after a nearly 50-year career here. Taking over for him Jan. 1 will be Deputy Chief Kelly Roudebush. She will be the fifth chief, and the first woman, to head the 120-person department. I look forward to working with this well-respected law enforcement professional who has been with the department for 24 years

We also were pleased to welcome former Consumers Energy communications executive Merri Jo Bales as vice president and strategic director of university communications. She will work under Executive Vice President for Government and External Relations Kathleen Wilbur to help develop a strategic, coordinated and more effective approach to communications and public relations. She also will oversee marketing, crisis communications and related areas.

A national search firm has been selected to help recruit the best person to serve as an associate vice president and lead the MSU Office for Civil Rights and Title IX Education and Compliance. The firm of Isaacson Miller of Boston tells us there is great interest in the MSU position given the significant changes we have made and the new emphasis on education and prevention. Recent judicial decisions also are adding complexity to the responsibilities, so we are hoping to move early in the new year on a permanent leader.

We also announced the execution of the university’s financial transfer into a court-created settlement fund to fulfill MSU’s $500 million agreement with sexual assault survivors of Larry Nassar. We paid $425 million to the plaintiffs’ Qualified Survivor Fund for the benefit of 332 plaintiffs. The remaining $75 million has been set aside in a litigation fund and will be used to defend and possibly settle the claims of those who did not participate in the original settlement.

And so, this year draws to a close. I well appreciate that 2018 has been a year of challenges for our Spartan community, but it also has been a year of significant progress in many areas. I believe that actions we have taken to fix our problems, address shortcomings, restore equilibrium and rebuild momentum will make 2019 a year of even more progress and continued renewal. We also will welcome a new president and three new trustees in 2019, so it will be a year of excitement as well. 

I wish everyone a safe and joyful holiday season. Go Green!

Sincerely, 

John Engler
Interim President