June 16, 2023: Remarks to the MSU Board of Trustees

Good morning and welcome to today’s board meeting.

It is wonderful to spend part of the week here in Grand Rapids for our annual board retreat and meeting.

Today, I would like to focus chiefly on three topics: how the university engages in this and other communities; our progress toward our strategic objectives and safety activities; and additions to our university family.

Placemaking in Grand Rapids
I have been thinking a lot lately about placemaking. The Grand Rapids community is such a great example of investing in itself, and one in which Michigan State has made a pronounced difference over the past dozen years or so since we opened this gorgeous Secchia Center.

We see it most spectacularly in the downtown skyline.

What we can see, what we have accomplished with our community partners has been truly inspirational: opening this building as the home of our College of Human Medicine and then building out the Grand Rapids Innovation Park with our Grand Rapids Research Center … the Doug Meijer Medical Innovation Building … and the North American headquarters for Perrigo.

These developments do much to enhance the area’s health care and its economy.

The direct annual economic activity from just these four buildings was calculated in a 2021 study to be $203 million dollars, with a broader annual economic impact of $339 million dollars … and annual support for 2,017 local jobs.

We see many more examples of MSU’s placemaking and engagement throughout the Grand Rapids area.

One of these that comes to mind as we move toward summer is MSU Extension’s Grand Ideas Garden on Ball Avenue, where guests can draw inspiration as well as helpful knowledge for their own gardens.

At John Ball Zoo, the Kellogg Biological Station’s Haddad Lab is conserving an endangered native butterfly, at the moment raising more in captivity than exist in the wild.

This partnership is so successful, they are now working to conserve a second endangered species.

We see our placemaking at area farm markets, schools and hospitals, where our Extension educators connect food managers with local growers.

Kent County is a national leader in growing apples, and our Extension specialists support growers and farmers with timely research-based information to enhance their yields and profitability.

And with the support of our partners at the Steelcase Foundation, Extension’s Mental Health First Aid program is being offered to tenth graders in Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids schools.

Speaking of powerful partnerships, our West Michigan Spartans club is one of our biggest and most philanthropic clubs, volunteering locally and supporting several scholarships at MSU.

We count some 18,400 Spartan alums in Kent County alone.

And we are proud to enroll some 3,600 students from the Kent/Ottawa/Allegan/Muskegon county region, and last month saluted 533 of them at our graduation ceremonies.

I want to give a shoutout to Trustee Scott for her leadership in West Michigan.

Strategic plan update
So I want to give you a little bit of an update on our Strategic Plan.

Students and employees are at the heart of MSU. Spartans, together with MSU’s placemaking and community engagement, are also the focus of our 2030 strategic plan.

We were pleased to present the board recently with our second annual strategic plan update, which highlights our progress in fostering a university environment in which all students and employees can grow and thrive, and communities in which everyone is lifted up.

On that note, as we observe our tenth anniversary of preparing leaders and change-makers through our LGBTQ academic minor in the College of Arts and Letters, I want to wish all a joyful Pride Month.

A big part of supporting student success is our continued expansion of undergraduate advising resources, particularly for the critical first two years of their university experience.

Those include programs fostering belonging for first-generation students.

And in addition to the 15 advising staff members hired in the past year, we will add up to 20 more by fall under our Advising Initiative led by Provost Jeitschko.

We are improving the graduate student experience too, through means such as the University Fellowship Program led by Dean Pero G. Dagbovie.

That program focuses on recruiting and retaining a more diverse body of students while increasing the number of participants by 25% by 2028.

And we are strengthening our overall academic excellence.

You might have seen, for example, that four MSU graduate degree programs were recently ranked No. 1 in the country by U.S. News & World Report: Those are curriculum and instruction, elementary education and secondary education in the College of Education; and supply chain management in the Broad College of Business.

For employees, we are creating an environment allowing all of us to do our best work, individually and collectively.

Encouraging and recognizing faculty and staff achievement is a key part of that.

Last month, I enjoyed congratulating the winners of the 46th annual Jack Breslin Distinguished Staff Awards and the Ruth Jameyson “Above and Beyond” Award.

We also gathered this season to celebrate 753 dedicated employees reaching employment milestones, along with retirees, at our annual Service and Retirement Recognition Awards.

Two of our employees have served our university for a remarkable and sprightly 55 years!

I had the pleasure last month, as well, of joining the annual MSU Awards Convocation to honor outstanding faculty and academic staff for their research, teaching and outreach.

I want to add my congratulations to the 10 new University Distinguished Professor honorees being confirmed today.

And congratulations, too, to the 65 faculty members whose promotions are included in today’s personnel report.

In the spirit of recognizing faculty excellence, I want to take this opportunity to welcome microbial ecologist James Tiedje into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Over more than 50 years, Dr. Tiedje’s research and mentoring have made a mark in the field of microbial science.

And in the same vein, I want to give a shout-out to College of Law Dean Linda Greene.

Next month, she will participate in the Higher Education Resources Services (or HERS) Leadership Institute.

This important program is for those who are ready to usher their universities into a more inclusive and equitable future.

I look forward to hearing more about her experience there.

Innovation for global impact is another key strategic theme, and the plan sets a goal of $1 billion dollars in annual research expenditures by 2030.

We took a big step in that direction last year, growing research to a record $759.2 million dollars.

Knowing how important cherry production is in Michigan, especially in the Grand Traverse region, I am proud to know Spartan scientists have now sequenced the tart cherry genome.

That will make it possible to breed varieties better suited to changing climate conditions.

We at MSU could not be more proud of this outcome.

Meanwhile, we are working to ensure our facilities keep pace with our aspirations, most recently leveraging state support to upgrade our dairy and greenhouse research and teaching facilities on campus, and breaking ground on the new multicultural center.

Our work toward our strategic sustainability goals is reflected in our recent rise in impact rankings to No. 2 in the U.S. by Times Higher Education.

Thank you, Executive Vice President Woo.

And reflecting our strategic DEI and sustainable health goals, we grew our number of students of color across our three human health care colleges by more than 10%.

Thank you, EVPHS Norm Beauchamp.

Speaking of rankings, and to illustrate MSU’s commitment to improving the lives of people wherever they live, it was great to see the university ranked No. 6 by the Peace Corps on its list of the top volunteer-producing colleges and universities.

We are very proud of the university’s global engagement efforts.

As we look toward the strategic plan’s endpoint in 2030, MSU will be 175 years in the making.

Our strategic vision today adds to our foundation of excellence as we gaze even further ahead to make our next 175 years just as transformative as our first.

Safety enhancements
Certainly, safety and security are prerequisites for any placemaking — and always at the forefront as we enable a safe and welcoming campus.

In recent weeks, we have continued to strengthen our campus alert systems to include outdoor emergency weather sirens and our campus Green Light emergency phones, along with many other actions.

Our facilities crews continue installing hundreds of new classroom door locks. Those can be locked from the inside while letting emergency personnel enter using a key.

Our independent third-party after-action review is underway, meanwhile, as we work to open a campus security operations center, integrate our security systems and develop procedures for real-time monitoring.

New appointments
Another important component of our work to ensure a safe and supportive university will be in place shortly with our selection of a new vice president for civil rights and Title IX education and compliance, following a national search.

Laura Rugless is an Army veteran who most recently was Title IX associate vice president at Cornell University.

She will join us July 1 pending board approval, and I look forward to her perspective on preventing and responding to discrimination and sexual violence and misconduct.

Later this morning, I am also looking forward to recommending the appointment of two college leaders.

First, we are recommending Teresa Mastin, the chairperson of the Department of Advertising and Public Relations, to be interim dean of the College of Communication Arts and Sciences.

I would like to formally thank Dean Prabu David for his leadership of the college and look forward to his continued contributions as vice provost for Faculty and Academic Staff Development and interim associate provost for Teaching and Learning Innovation.

Additionally, the board will be asked to confirm the appointment of a new dean for our College of Social Science, something we announced just yesterday.

We are pleased to recommend Brent Donnellan, the college’s associate dean of academic and student affairs and professor of psychology, for that leadership role.

And I want to express my gratitude to Mary Finn, who has served the college as dean since March of 2020.

Finally, we have a new head coach for our rowing program to welcome back to the banks of the Red Cedar River.

Stacey Rippetoe was head coach at Boston University and worked as a Division I assistant and recruiting coordinator here as well as at Rhode Island over the last two decades.

At MSU, she was honored as the regional Assistant Coach of the Year in 2007. So we want to welcome back our coach!

As the strategic plan underscores, our people are absolutely essential to the success of this university, a fact that is also recognized in the budget before the board today for approval.

This budget responsibly advances our strategic priority of creating a best-in-class workplace while supporting the success of every student we admit and advancing our tripartite mission of education, research and outreach.

I want to thank the board for your support for these institutional priorities as we continue to advance the excellence of “Michigan’s state university.”

Placemaking elsewhere
Before I conclude, I want to note Tuesday’s exciting announcement of the latest MSU investment in a community of great importance. Investment by our endowment fund in the iconic Fisher Building demonstrates the sincerity of our commitment to the city of Detroit.

This comes on the heels of an endowment investment in the Piquette Flats affordable housing and adaptive reuse project, which with our plans for a joint research facility in Detroit stems from our 30-year partnership with Henry Ford Health.

Later today MSU hosts a community celebration of Juneteenth back on campus at the Breslin Center – so there will be a lot of cars heading that way after this meeting

I want to commend Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer Jabbar Bennett and all those producing this year’s event.

I look forward to being there this afternoon and encourage everyone to join us as we live our commitment to making a place that is safe, warm and welcoming for all.

That concludes my report of just the work of the last few months and now we will turn to the next agenda item, public participation on items germane to the agenda.