Sept. 8, 2023: Remarks to the MSU Board of Trustees

Good morning, everyone, and welcome to the fall semester.  I hope everyone had a great summer and is returning recharged for an exciting academic year. 

Our faculty, staff and leadership have been working very hard to prepare for it.  And I am grateful to them for everything they do to support the success of our students.

I have certainly enjoyed greeting students during campus move-in, Fall Welcome events and our fall convocation. And I was moved by the words of ASMSU president, Emily Hoyumpa, who perfectly captured how I and I believe so many others feel about this place we call home.

Emily said in her remarks to the incoming class, “East Lansing isn't just home because of the place; it's home because of the people.”

Beautifully said, Emily. And I should add our preliminary enrollment reports underscore this point.

The powerful draw of our people and this place has attracted 51,385 students to MSU – I think we should cheer! And 40,571 are undergraduate students – the largest group on record. Should we cheer again?

We also have a strong and diverse entering class of more than 11,000 first-year and transfer students and 8,564 of them come from Michigan, making MSU once again the No.1 choice across the state and truly “Michigan’s state university.”

The arts at MSU
I think that a university that celebrates is a great university and as I think about what we do to make MSU stand out as a special community, I am reminded of the words of MSU’s 14th president, Clifton R. Wharton.

He recalled in his memoir that “Any university worthy of being called great needed a rich foundation in the arts — physical no less than intellectual.”

For historical context, the Whartons hosted faculty artist exhibitions at Cowles House and purchased faculty art for their personal collection. 

Just this week we received a beautiful portrait of former First Lady Dolores Wharton, which will proudly be displayed where these exhibitions were historically held, at Cowles House.

The Whartons generously gifted their faculty art collection to the MSU Broad Art Museum in 2020, and we see some of it exhibited here today.   

We also have some pieces from the university’s collection from the 1920s, from two MSU faculty artists who were particularly impactful on arts education.

Judith Stoddart, our vice provost of University Arts and Collections, will present on the importance of our campus-wide arts strategy. I am really looking forward to her presentation, including hearing more about the launch of Arts MSU which is a unified approach to centering the arts in the MSU experience.

I am also looking forward to tonight’s public reception at the MSU Broad Art Museum introducing its fall art exhibitions. This is one of my favorite places on campus, and I hope to welcome many of you there.

All this work happening around our campus stems from our belief — which the Whartons so marvelously modeled — that the arts are essential to building an inclusive, collaborative, adaptive and globally-minded community, in keeping with our strategic plan.

The arts truly are happening all around us at MSU, and today, we celebrate this.

Highlighting MSU excellence
There is so much more Spartan excellence happening all around us.

We see it, for example, in the three MSU leaders who last month were named by Crain’s Detroit Business as Notable Leaders in Higher Education. So, hearty congratulations to our Board chairperson, Dr. Rema Vassar, College of Music Dean James Forger, and Senior Vice President, CFO and Treasurer Lisa Frace on that well-deserved recognition.

I also want to give a shout-out to the president of our Council of Graduate Students, Hannah Jeffery, who was named a Borlaug Scholar through the National Association of Plant Breeders. Hannah is working toward her doctorate in plant breeding, genetics and biotechnology. She is a highly engaged leader as well as a scholar, and someone I thoroughly enjoy working with on behalf of all our graduate and professional students. So, congratulations Hannah!

Kudos are due, too, to Professor Emeritus Dan Gould, who was recently inducted into the International Society for Sports Psychology Hall of Fame. 

Dr. Gould, who was director of the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports, is one of the first 10 living scholars worldwide to be inducted. Please join me in congratulating Dr. Gould.

And a high-five to women’s golf head coach Stacy Slobodnik-Stoll, who last week won her second consecutive Golf Association of Michigan Women’s Senior Championship. Our Spartans’ head coach for 25 years, she is the winningest GAM golfer ever, with 18 individual titles. 

Finally, as the most recent indicators of our collective excellence, two new rankings place MSU among the top 25 public four-year colleges and universities.

Forbes jumped MSU up 18 places from last year, to No. 63 among all U.S. four-year colleges and universities and to No. 24 among publics.

And MSU rose two places in Washington Monthly’s Best Colleges ranking to No. 21 among public institutions. And I can tell you there’s more good news to come later in the month.

Health, safety and well-being
Sharing these examples of Spartan excellence reminds me why MSU’s 2030 strategic plan places its people — undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and academic staff, support staff, coaches, emeritus and retired members of our community — all of us at its heart.

Through the enumeration of our aspirations, we recognize that the measure of our rise as an institution is the measure of our efforts to foster excellence and opportunity for all.

How can we advance this critical goal illuminating our path ahead?

For one thing, we must link arms and continue our march to build a place where everyone can feel safe, welcome and supported, and where health and well-being are part of the culture.

Yesterday, for example, there were shovels in the ground for the official groundbreaking of our Student Recreation and Wellness Center. We know that health and wellness are inextricably linked to the success of our students.

This wonderful new center will enable that success, support students’ overall well-being and connect with one another through recreation.

Thank you to all the students who advocated for this facility and thank you to the Board and community members and community members who joined us yesterday as we work together to empower students to lead well-balanced lives.

Another MSU placemaking initiative that improves our health took place earlier this week when we joined the Gilbert Family Foundation, Henry Ford Health and the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Detroit to announce a new physical and rehabilitation facility and a revolutionary neurofibromatosis research institute inside the new Henry Ford Health + MSU Health Sciences research facility.

Partnerships like this remind me of a question I often ask: “What can we uniquely do together, that we cannot do apart?” Quite simply, I believe, conjoining the strengths of world-class academia, clinical research and healthcare allows us to climb the highest medical mountains. And together, we will enable Detroit as a place for groundbreaking research and patient care.

Last week, we celebrated a gift from a generous corporate partner, Stellantis, of a Chrysler Pacifica minivan on behalf of ASMSU’s Safe Ride transportation service. Summoned with an app, MSU Safe Ride offers students a free alternative to walking alone to a campus building after dark. This really illustrates the power of Spartan collaborations, and we are grateful to the company for its gift and to ASMSU for operating the service.

As we continue to link arms to enable a safe environment, the instances of gun violence on campuses and in communities across the country, just in the last few weeks, are really disheartening. 

Spartans understand the pain these incidents inflict on a community, and I have offered our support to other affected institutions. We also continue to remind our students, faculty and staff of the mental health support resources we have available. 

Just this week, as we do at the start of each semester, we tested our mass notification system. To receive alerts, we encourage our campus community and our neighbors to visit as well as download the SafeMSU app and enable push notifications. 

Infrastructure Planning and Facilities is continuing work installing new locks on hundreds of classroom and teaching lab doors. Nearly two-thirds of the planned installations have been made, allowing the doors to be locked from the inside while allowing access to emergency personnel.

This semester, we expect to complete a new Security Operations Center to consolidate campus systems and provide 24-hour coverage.

The Department of Police and Public Safety is also continuing to develop an active violence training program that will be available to students, faculty and staff on MSU’s AbilityLMS training platform.

We have an amazing year in front of us, with so many people working to ensure the safety, success and well-being of everyone who attends, works at or visits MSU.

This commitment to excellence reminds me of the words of another speaker at Fall Convocation, Rochisshil Varma, president of the International Students Association. He said this: “Being a Spartan is more than just a title. It’s a commitment — commitment to inclusion, commitment to unity and commitment to excellence.”

Wonderfully, said, and, I might add, Spartans are also committed to an arts and creative culture worthy of the great university Clif Wharton envisioned. 

That work starts with us, so let us turn now to the remainder of today’s agenda.