June 28, 2023: Spartan Community Letter

Dear Spartans and friends,

Summer might bring a more serene aspect to our lovely campus, but it remains an extraordinarily busy place with classes for thousands of Spartans, the continued work of discovery in our laboratories and a variety of summer camps.

This month alone, MSU hosted residential camps for 4-H, high school drumlines and drum majors, Girls State, Dow STEM Scholars, high school engineering students and Michigan Youth Leadership. These follow the 6,500 attendees of the Odyssey of the Mind World Finals who were rooming on campus and another 3,000 staying off campus in May.

The rhythms of our university calendar, meanwhile, continue to move us forward at full speed toward another exciting academic year — starting in just a couple of fleeting months.

Foundation for success
The financial foundation for the coming year is now firm, with the Board of Trustees’ approval this month of a budget for the fiscal year starting July 1. Totaling $3.3 billion, the budget most notably invests — as I promised in my State of the University address back in January — in the success of our students, faculty and staff.

This budget responsibly advances our strategic priority of supporting the success of every student we admit, creating a highly desirable workplace for employees, and advancing our tripartite mission of education, research and outreach.

Our continued focus on expanding access to an MSU degree is borne out in next year’s increase in student financial aid, an increase of $16.4 million to a total university investment of $224 million. In the past decade, MSU’s financial support for student access grew by 105%, five times the rate of tuition rate adjustments. For employees, compensation increases in the budget recognize the talent and dedication of our faculty, academic staff, support staff and graduate assistants.

The board also acted this month to support the campus community’s well-being with approval to begin construction July 5 on a 293,000-square-foot recreation center. To be located on Shaw Lane between Birch and Harrison roads, it will replace IM West once it is substantially completed in February 2026. It promises to be a first-in-class space nurturing student success through its recreational facilities and programs.

Campus safety
The budget also includes $8 million for new investments in campus safety initiatives, which have been developed with extensive campus community input. We have continued to strengthen our campus alert systems to include outdoor emergency weather sirens and our campus Green Light emergency phones. Facilities crews are installing hundreds of new classroom door locks that can be secured from the inside while letting emergency personnel enter using a key. Meanwhile, our independent third-party after-action review is underway as we work to open a campus security operations center, integrate security systems and develop procedures for real-time monitoring. 

On a related note, the Spartan Strong Fund has closed after raising $2 million since Feb.13 from 4,200 donors, an extraordinary outpouring of support for which we are most grateful. The distribution plan for the fund is based on recommendations from an inclusive committee composed of students, faculty, staff and university leaders. About half the funds will go to supporting those most directly impacted by the violence that took place on our campus. Approximately $300,000 will go toward a memorial to those we lost and who were injured that night. We are forming a special planning group composed of university community members to discuss what such a memorial might look like. A big thank-you to all those who contributed to the fund.

Strategic plan update
As our budget affirms, students and employees are the heart of MSU, something also described in detail in our 2030 strategic plan. I was pleased to present the board this month 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.

A big part of supporting student success is expanding undergraduate advising resources, particularly for the critical first two years of students’ university experience and including programs fostering belonging for first-generation students. In addition to the 15 advising staff members hired under the initiative in the past year, we will add up to 20 more by fall, which will allow students greater access to support for their academic journeys. We also are improving the graduate student experience through means such as fellowship programs, which include a focus on recruiting and retaining diverse students.

The strategic plan encourages saluting the excellence of our people, and I want to add my congratulations to the 10 University Distinguished Professor honorees newly confirmed by the board. This is among our highest faculty honors for those who are widely recognized for their exceptional teaching, outstanding public service and scholarly and creative achievements.

Innovation for global impact is another key strategic theme, and the plan sets a goal of $1 billion in annual research expenditures by 2030. We took a big step in that direction last year, growing research expenditures by $49 million to a record $759.2 million. And 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 to breed varieties better suited to changing climate conditions.

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. In three years, MSU has moved from a global ranking above 100 to No. 26 and is the only university in Michigan and in the Big Ten to appear in the top 30.

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

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.

Spartan leaders
We have some leadership changes to mention, starting with the appointment and board approval of Brent Donnellan to be dean of the College of Social Science. Dr. Donnellan was the college’s associate dean of academic and student affairs and professor of psychology. I want to express my gratitude to Dr. Mary Finn, who served the college as dean since March 2020.

In the College of Communication Arts and Sciences, Teresa Mastin will serve as interim dean until a permanent dean is selected to replace Prabu David. Dr. Mastin is the chairperson of the Department of Advertising and Public Relations, and we appreciate her taking on this leadership responsibility. And my thanks to Dr. David, who served as dean of the college for nearly nine years and as MSU’s vice provost for faculty and academic staff development and interim vice provost for teaching and learning innovation.

And there’s a new head coach here on the banks of the Red Cedar. Stacey Rippetoe, who was head coach at Boston University and who worked as an assistant and recruiting coordinator here at MSU as well as at Rhode Island over the past two decades, now skippers our rowing program. Welcome back, Coach Rippetoe!

Around the state
MSU prides itself on being “Michigan’s state university,” an engine of advancement and prosperity reaching into every county in the state. Accordingly, the board’s meeting and annual planning retreat took us to Grand Rapids this month, affording an opportunity to spend part of the week in the Secchia Center — home of our College of Human Medicine — as well as see other facilities in our Grand Rapids Innovation Park, a collaborative hub for innovation in biomedical research, bioengineering and health technology.

Growing in all the places and spaces we carry on our educational, research and outreach missions, this month we announced a new MSU investment in another community of great importance. Our endowment fund has purchased majority ownership in the iconic Fisher Building in the New Center area of Detroit.

MSU has worked with partners in Detroit to support economic development, advance the arts, transform schools, improve health, facilitate nutrition and sustain the environment for many years. Our regional economic impact is estimated at $317 million annually, and this new investment signals our continued intent to be part of Detroit’s storied history and vibrancy.

And we are not ignoring MSU’s role in the Lansing regional community, where our annual economic impact is about $3 billion. As I outlined to business and community leaders at a recent Lansing Regional Chamber Economic Club presentation, the scope and scale of our student, faculty and staff engagement with the community is vast, from supporting neighborhoods, schools and health care with Spartan talent and energy to enhancing the community’s cultural life and prosperity in innumerable ways.

I also took the occasion to introduce local leaders to a community initiative called BELIEVE: Bringing Excellence to Lansing through Investment, Empowerment, Vision and Energy. Co-chaired by MSU Federal Credit Union CEO April Clobes and together with our community partners, we look forward to exploring new ideas as we chart a bright future for our mid-Michigan community.

Whether it’s the cycle of the academic year or the rhythms of Michigan’s seasons, we are reminded that change is part of life. Our planning will help shepherd the future we desire. With a Michigan summer in front of us, I hope you have a chance to rest, recreate and recharge, and return refreshed for what comes next.

You can hear me discuss some of these topics on this episode of the MSU Today podcast.

My best,

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