Jan. 30, 2023: Spartan Community Letter

Dear Spartan Community,  

With a new semester and calendar year underway, I am pleased to share some exciting recent developments and upcoming events with you.  

New year and some new leaders 
We started 2023 with some new trustees and officers for the MSU Board of Trustees. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer last month appointed banking executive and honorary alum Sandy Pierce to a board vacancy, and she joined the board this month along with political consultant Dennis Denno, who was elected to his seat in November. The board elected Trustee Rema Vassar as chairperson and Dan Kelly as vice chairperson at its January organizational meeting. Congratulations to all, and I look forward to continued collaboration with the board. 

At the Michigan Capitol, there is a new Legislature, too. I am pleased to note that, in addition to two-time MSU graduate Gov. Whitmer, 29 members of the 102nd Legislature are Spartans. As we begin the annual university budget process with leaders here on campus, the Legislature also is entering its budget and appropriations season. Given how state support has lagged the cost of an MSU education for a generation or more — shifting the greater part of the burden to Michigan families — this is a good time to remind your lawmakers of the importance of supporting MSU and public higher education. Learn more and become a Spartan Advocate. 

As we approach the Feb. 12 anniversary of MSU’s establishment in 1855, let us remember how MSU was created to uplift not only individuals and their families but also the entire state through our mission of education, research and outreach. MSU and other public universities will be vital for Michigan to achieve its goal of 60% of residents earning a postsecondary credential by 2030 to be competitive. Gov. Whitmer reminded us of that goal in her State of the State address last Wednesday, framing her economic opportunity proposals in the context of making sure Michigan is the choice for graduates. I am proud that MSU is already a key producer of credentialed talent — 80% of our undergraduate students are Michigan residents.  

Addressing the State of the University 
With MSU’s impact in Michigan and beyond in mind, I was excited to deliver the State of the University address earlier this month at the Wharton Center. In short, the state of the university remains sound as we consider our challenges as well as our accomplishments and vision for the future. In the final analysis, it is our people — students, faculty and academic staff, support staff, leaders, alums and donors — who drive this great university’s ongoing excellence and impact. You can watch the recording here.  

I was honored to shout out several examples of Spartan excellence in the address, including Samuel Sottile, an Honors College senior majoring in advanced mathematics in the College of Natural Science, who was recently named MSU’s 18th Churchill Scholar. These highly competitive scholarships support graduate study at Churchill College at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. Congratulations to Samuel, and special thanks to the faculty and academic staff at MSU who have mentored and supported him on his undergraduate journey.  

The State of the University address gave me the opportunity to announce an important new grant from our partners at the MSU Research Foundation. The funds will help keep MSU at the cutting edge of global plant science and complement the investments being made in our research infrastructure. The foundation is contributing $5 million to advance plant sciences at MSU as well as critical research for mitigation and adaptation to global climate change. Thanks go to the foundation and to our faculty Plant Science Excellence Committee IV, which conducted strategic planning for plant science-related activities that expand our global leadership and support the grant request. 

I also touched on some of the results of last spring’s Know More Survey. More than 11,500 MSU students, faculty and staff participated in our second online campus climate survey assessing the culture, perceptions and policies associated with relationship violence and sexual misconduct, or RVSM.  

We learned the prevalence of several types of victimization has declined since the first survey in 2019, together with improved awareness of our trainings and policies and gains in other measures of university climate and culture. Further, the majority of RVSM survivors who participated affirmed that the support they received from MSU was helpful and timely. The survey did reveal areas requiring more attention, including the higher rates of sexual harassment reported by members of our LGBTQIA+ community — for which we are focusing more specialized resources and prevention methods. 

Celebration and our multicultural community 
We are also looking at the results of another important campus survey, the Fall 2022 Student Experience Survey conducted by the Division of Student Life and Engagement. Sent to all enrolled students, it focused on students’ feelings about belonging, campus safety, enrollment persistence and the MSU experience. Students gave positive responses overall with few large differences between groups. As we act on what we’ve learned, we will also consider how we can address gaps in subsequent surveys and further strengthen the student experience.  

January got our diverse campus off to a busy start, including musical and cultural events marking the beginning of the Lunar New Year, which is celebrated by many in MSU’s Asian Pacific Islander Desi American and Asian Spartan communities. 

I also was honored to participate in several activities surrounding the campus and community celebrations of the national holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr. That included the annual commemorative march across campus, this year starting at Beaumont Tower and concluding at the site of our planned multicultural center at the northeast corner of North Shaw and Farm lanes.  

We are setting the campus stage now for February’s observance of Black History Month, featuring the College of Osteopathic Medicine’s William G. Anderson Lecture Series, “Slavery to Freedom: An American Odyssey” — now in its 23rd year — the College of Education Office of K-12 Outreach’s Sankofa Project and other special events. 

While traveling to New York City to hear MSU College of Music students compete in the Jazz at Lincoln Center Jack Rudin Jazz Championship, it was a privilege to visit with former MSU President Clifton R. Wharton Jr. and former MSU first lady Dolores Wharton. Among his highly accomplished lifetime of “firsts,” Wharton was the first Black president of a major U.S. university, serving here from 1970 to 1978. Our performing arts center was named in the Whartons’ honor to acknowledge their strong advocacy and fundraising efforts for that project. And speaking of performing arts, congratulations to the Jazz Studies Program for earning its third top-three finish at the Rudin competition. 

And not to forget next month’s Board of Trustees meeting, which will be the first business session for Trustee Vassar as chairperson — making her own history as the first Black woman to lead the MSU board. 

Spartan excellence 
I am proud of MSU’s many firsts and historic moments. A new, grant-funded research project brings to mind MSU ornithologist George Wallace, whose connection of indiscriminate pesticide use to widespread bird deaths informed and inspired Rachel Carson’s pivotal 1962 environmental science treatise, “Silent Spring.” The new research focuses on protecting our native bird populations in decline, now in connection to climate change and land use. MSU researchers are working with the National Audubon Society to develop statistical models to evaluate how such factors impact birds. This will help identify species most at risk and suggest opportunities for protecting them.  

We have more markers of excellence from the newest U.S. News & World Report rankings, which place three online MSU graduate programs and four disciplinary areas in their top 10. The Broad College of Business online non-MBA graduate program in business jumped from No. 12 to No. 6 to break into the top 10 for the first time. The College of Education’s online graduate program returned to the top 10 as well, with a No. 1 disciplinary area ranking for curriculum and instruction. The College of Social Science’s online master’s program in criminal justice ranks No. 6 and has remained in the top 10 since 2017, while MSU’s mechanical engineering online graduate disciplinary area moved up three places to No. 11. 

And congratulations to the women of Spartan gymnastics, who defeated No. 3 University of Michigan for the first time since 2007 behind the sixth-highest score in MSU history. They triumphed in front of a packed crowd at Jenison Field House on Alumni Day — a perfect night for such an exciting match!  

These examples and more herald a bright new year filled with opportunities and possibilities for our Spartan community. You can read more musings and MSU highlights on my social media channels: Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn. And you can hear me discuss these topics at greater length on the MSU Today with Russ White podcast. 

My best, 

Teresa K. Woodruff, Ph.D. (she/her/hers) 
Interim President 
MSU Foundation Professor