April 21, 2023: Remarks to the MSU Board of Trustees

This morning we meet in public session for the first time since the violence that gripped our campus community on Feb. 13.

The university continues to offer counseling services to students, faculty and staff so that no Spartan need walk alone.

And I want everyone attending today to know that counselors are also available on the third floor in conference rooms 309B and 337, should anyone wish to seek support during or immediately after this morning's meeting.

Now, I want to call for a pause for a moment of silence to acknowledge the three students who were lost that night to their families, friends and the Spartan community: Brian Fraser, Alexandria Verner and Arielle Anderson.

Thank you. And let us keep in our hearts the five students who were hospitalized and who face, in some cases, profound continued health struggles.

We also recognize the significant effect this violence has had on many other directly and indirectly impacted students, faculty, staff, alumni and family and our community. I know many experience ongoing stress and trauma. 

Grief is a profoundly personal process. As we work through our own feelings in our own time frames, we can be here for one another, drawn together as Spartans.

I want to thank those present in that terrible moment who bravely responded to aid our students and this campus, and to the police, dispatchers and other first responders who responded to the call.

The university has moved promptly to enhance safety and security while balancing our role as a very public place. These actions include changes in facility access, door locks and our security camera network. We adopted a more robust leadership structure for our Department of Police and Public Safety, separating the role of vice president from the chief of police.

Most recently, we contracted with a specialist firm to conduct an outside, after-action review of the university's response, and we created an Office for Resource and Support Coordination to better support the students and families directly affected, as well as the larger university community. And we are working out how best to provide active violence training to students and employees.

Our university community responded very quickly, also, to begin the healing and recovery from our collective trauma.

The provost's office worked with colleges to ease students' immediate academic burdens, where possible. I am grateful to the faculty members and academic staff who modified their classes to support their students. Undergraduates were offered the option to take this semester's courses on a credit/no credit basis.

The arts, too, have stepped into the breach to facilitate healing among our campus community. The Wharton Center offered free tickets to students for several performances and programs, and the lovely paper butterfly exhibit installed last month at the International Center also became a place for healing.

We will observe moments of silence at our spring graduation ceremonies and will confer on Brian, Alexandria and Arielle honorary MSU degrees, certifying their enduring membership in the Spartan family.

Now, I want to highlight examples of excellence in our athletic and academic programs, discuss sustainability and RVSM actions we have taken, and conclude with some words about MSU's commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.

Graduation & recruitment
I am very much looking forward to our commencement ceremonies in just two weeks! 

We have a wonderful slate of honorary degree recipients addressing graduates at our three commencement programs:

  • Jill Hruby is the undersecretary for nuclear security for the U.S. Department of Energy and administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration.
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci is the former chief medical adviser to the president and past director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
  • And our own Professor Lisa Cook is a noted economist and the first Black woman to serve on the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. 
  • As we bid goodbye to some 9,500 spring graduates at all levels, we said hello last Saturday to several thousand admitted students visiting campus with their families.

I love playing the role of recruiter-in-chief and meeting families of incoming and prospective students at Admitted Students Day. Of course, it is hard to compete with Tom Izzo in the recruiting game, but it was fun to share the floor with him at the Breslin Center pep rally before the Spartan Football Kickoff.

Excellence in academics
Kudos to the MSU debate program, which sent teams to the National Debate Tournament for the 27th consecutive year. One of their squads advanced to the Sweet 16 round to record MSU's best showing there since 2017.

We also celebrated our 53rd Goldwater Scholar this season with the selection of Honors College junior Victoria Fex for this nationally competitive program. The Goldwater Scholarship Program seeks sophomores and juniors committed to a STEM career with intellectual intensity, and Toria is pursuing a major in neuroscience. 

And congratulations to the 25 exceptional undergraduate and graduate students and alumni selected for the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program, along with our eight honorable mentions. This is the country's oldest graduate fellowship program, supporting those in NSF-supported STEM disciplines pursuing research-based master's and doctoral degrees. 

Great students need — and deserve — great instructors and mentors, and I think it is important to highlight the world-class teaching supporting our students. I was thrilled to present environmental engineering professor Susan Masten with this year's President's Teaching Award. Her exceptional service extends beyond the classroom to communities in Michigan and beyond.

We make these presentations fun every year by surprising the faculty member during one of their classes and including their students.

Excellence in athletics
And what a season Coach Izzo and his student-athletes had, ultimately stepping out of The Big Dance in the East Regional Semifinal game with a Sweet 16 overtime thriller.

We had a couple of seniors place very highly this season on the other side of the basketball — as referees in the NIRSA Championship Series for collegiate recreational sports in Maryland. Accounting major Seth Somers placed in the top 20 among officials and finance major Jack O'Brien ranked in the top nine — earning him NIRSA All-American honors.

Congratulations, too, to the women of Spartan Gymnastics, who capped their season with a third-place finish at the NCAA Regional Final earlier this month. In their second consecutive appearance in the regional final, they tied their fourth-best overall score in program history!

We saw another milestone set this month with head baseball coach Jake Boss Jr.'s 400th win at MSU. I am sorry he couldn't be at Old College Field for that home stand, but flooding moved the game to Jackson Field, and we are grateful to the Lansing Lugnuts for opening it up to us.

We welcomed a new head coach to Spartan Athletics: Robyn Fralick, who grew up in this community, is the women's basketball program's sixth head coach. She comes to us from Bowling Green, where she built a winning program for the Falcons.

And while we celebrate academic achievement as the semester winds down, I want to say how wonderful it was this month to participate in our annual Academic Excellence Gala. We saluted 350 high-performing Spartan student-athletes this year who excelled both on the field of competition and in the classroom.

Being Spartan Green
Tomorrow is Earth Day. Today, I remember how another MSU professor, George Wallace, inspired and informed Rachel Carson's 1962 environmental blockbuster "Silent Spring" with his investigation of pesticide impacts on bird life in our own community.

In that spirit, I would note that over 500 of our tenure-track faculty today are engaged in sustainability research. And we aim to practice what we preach as a university, in part by cutting our greenhouse gas emissions by 50% from our 2010 baseline, as the 2030 strategic plan specifies. 

Along those lines, MSU's work to replace our infrastructure with more energy-efficient equipment and fixtures paid a bonus to us recently with the largest green rebates yet from Consumers Energy.

Installation last year of a new, efficient boiler at the power plant, new lighting and other campus upgrades merited rebates of $1.5 million this year from Consumers. Those emissions improvements alone are calculated to equal the impact of removing 1,100 vehicles from our roads annually.

To help us reach our sustainability goals, I am very pleased to welcome Chip Amoe as MSU's new director of sustainability, and I thank Melissa Woo for her leadership in this domain. He was recommended following his selection in an inclusive search process, and I look forward to working with Chip as we continue our long-running work to "Be Spartan Green."

Progress on RVSM
Another important position we are close to filling is that of the vice president for civil rights and Title IX education and compliance. Our search committee, which includes undergraduate and graduate students, hosted the two finalists for public presentations last week, and I look forward to being able to announce a final selection.

The work to improve approaches to prevention and response to relationship violence and sexual misconduct is never-ending. I am proud of our progress in addressing the more than 150 requirements asked of MSU in our consent agreements with federal agencies.

Since 2019 we added more than 35 staff positions in the Center for Survivors, Counseling and Psychiatric Services, Police and Public Safety, Office for Civil Rights and Title IX Education and Compliance and Office of Audit, Risk and Compliance.

We conducted two Know More Campus Surveys focused on the culture, perceptions and policies associated here with sexual misconduct. And we created the Center for Survivors Crisis Chat to support survivors, their friends and families.

We gained momentum in 2020 when MSU launched the Sexual Assault Health Care Program with free 24/7 first-response medical care to survivors — the first such program we are aware of on a college campus.

We updated RVSM and Title IX policies, including clear definitions of prohibited conduct, in alignment with community expectations and Title IX. We established a victim-centered, trauma-informed interview space for law enforcement. And we established the Climate and Response unit in the Prevention, Outreach and Engagement Department.

Progress continued in 2021, when MSU created the MSUPD Community Support Bureau, including the Special Victim and Community Care Units led by Deputy Chief Andrea Munford, and a police social worker was also added in 2022.

We updated our policy to allow revocation of emeritum status, which has allowed for revocation from several former faculty members, and we amended the Faculty Handbook to allow revocation of honors and awards in cases of misconduct.

We launched an undergraduate student advisory council within POE. And we expanded the Campus Sexual Assault Response Team.

Last year, we piloted a 24-hour Sexual Assault Advocacy Response Program for our campus neighborhoods. We updated the Discipline and Dismissal of Tenured Faculty for Cause Policy to outline a standard timeline and add transparency and consistency.

We launched the Support More Initiative to provide guidance on how to responsibly respond to disclosures. And we expanded MSU Safe Place staff with federal funding.

We also completed two rounds of Cozen O'Connor reports, recognizing continued investment in resources toward Title IX and related compliance.

Now, we are developing a new professional standards policy with academic governance to outline expectations for faculty and academic staff. We are creating trainings for academic unit administrators. And we are exploring faculty hiring policies requiring candidates to disclose misconduct investigations.

These are in tandem with our federal Title IX regulations and those recommendations in the Q-E report. I am happy with our progress but not satisfied, and I look forward to continuing with all of you in MSU's journey toward responsible conduct and aligned policy. 

Policies and procedures are just one part of our work. Conduct becoming of a great university and discernment in the application of those policies in the best interests of the students in whose interests we serve is our ongoing duty.

A welcoming, multicultural place
Another ongoing way we work to make MSU a safe and welcoming place is our recognition throughout the year of months honoring parts of our diverse community. Last month, our Asian Pacific American Student Organization celebrated its 40th anniversary at Wharton Center.

This month, MSU continues APIDA Heritage Month to recognize our Asian Pacific Islander Desi American community and its multicultural diversity. The month's events culminate tomorrow with a banquet sponsored by APASO and APIDA, which also recognizes this year's attending graduates. Congratulations to all!

And it was good to read in Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer Jabbar Bennett's annual DEI report that the 270-plus action items from the DEI Steering Report and Plan are complete or in progress.

We also have a new honor to acknowledge and celebrate in this area: Trustee Sandy Pierce was named a Michigan Diversity Council 2023 Women of the Year awardee for her leadership in helping many "rise in resilience." Congratulations, Trustee Pierce!

We will make the university's commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion a literally concrete reality when we come together later today to break ground on MSU's first free-standing Multicultural Center. I hope everyone can join us at the corner of Farm and Shaw lanes for the ceremony.

This comes just a day after we celebrated the ribbon-cutting for the expansion of our School of Packaging facility. We are proud of our top-ranked packaging program and grateful to the donors and stakeholders who partnered with us to support the expansion.

Conclusion and gratitude
I want to conclude with some thank-you's to several of our student and faculty representatives to the Board of Trustees.

First, to Jo Kovach and Belle Letcher for their leadership on behalf of MSU's nearly 40,000 undergraduate students and its 15,000 students living on campus this academic year. Thank you so much for your leadership.

And to faculty representatives Karen Kelly-Blake and Stephanie Anthony, who are leaving their Academic Governance positions after this year: Thank you for your service to your fellow faculty members and to the Board and me.

I wish all of you the best for what comes next.

And with that, let's turn to the rest of today's agenda.