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June 28, 2024

Jun. 28, 2024: Remarks at MSU Board of Trustees annual retreat

MSU Board of Trustees annual retreat
Flint, Michigan, June 28, 2024
MSU President Kevin M. Guskiewicz

Good morning, everyone. It’s been wonderful to be here with you in Flint over the past three days. This community is very important to Michigan State University and over the past three days, we’ve seen the many ways in which our faculty, through their research, teaching and community outreach are helping improve the lives of those who call Flint and Genesee County home.

The MSU-Hurley Children’s Hospital pediatric public health initiative works with many partners we had the opportunity to meet with over the past few days and it’s amazing to see the impact made here as you improve the health outcomes and healthy lifestyles of vulnerable populations in this region.

I want to take the opportunity to congratulate Associate Dean for Public Health Dr. Mona Hanna Attisha who, alongside her research team, is doing amazing work here. It was great to spend time with Dr. Mona — as we all know her and know so well about the game-changing work that takes place here in this community. To see it up front and center was very special, I know, for me and for our leadership team yesterday.

I also want to take the opportunity to congratulate Dr. Jennifer Johnson, chair of Michigan State University’s Charles Stewart Mott Department of Public Health, and her team, as we witnessed their commitment to conducting impactful policy, relevant mental health suicide prevention and maternal health care implementation through a very science-based approach. It’s unlike any place I’ve ever seen in how it intersects with the community here and has an impact, is incredible. I think the best way I can describe it is — we were talking about it over dinner last night at the arts center — I think the research, the clinical care and community engagement is changing the family trees of the people who call Flint home, and I know it’s a very rewarding effort for the work there.

None of this would be possible without the partnership and commitment of the C.S. Mott Foundation and the financial commitments they’ve made to Michigan State University and the Flint community over the past several decades. So thank you, and I think all of you deserve a round of applause.

Before I begin my formal report today, I want to give a shout-out to Spartan student-athlete Heath Baldwin, who recently qualified for the Olympics’ Team USA in the decathlon. Heath holds Michigan State records in the decathlon and the heptathlon, and I look forward to seeing him compete in the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris.

In fact, six Spartan athletes are participating in Olympic trials for the U.S. or Canada, and we’re wishing all of them the best of luck. Hopefully at the Olympics, there will be a little bit of “go green, go white.”

I also want to take the opportunity to congratulate Spartan golf team members Shannon Kennedy and Brooke Biermann for recently winning the women’s amateur titles in the states of Michigan and Missouri, respectively. Those wins qualify Shannon and Brooke for the U.S. Women’s Amateur in Tulsa in August, so good luck to them both.

I also heard last evening that Brooke Biermann actually made the final 16 at the North & South tournament at Pinehurst yesterday, and so more good news on the way, hopefully, this weekend for Brooke.

And since we are offering up congratulations, I want to take a moment to recognize our vice president for Student Life and Engagement, Vennie Gore, who earlier this week received the James C. Grimm Leadership and Service Award from the Association of College & University Housing Officers — International. Well deserved, Vennie!

I love singing the praises of our Spartan students and all those who contribute to their success. These have been highlights for me, as this month I passed my 100-day mark — I think I’m now at 120 days. It’s been quite a ride and a wonderful journey over these 120 days as Michigan State University’s president.

Through my 52-stop listening and learning tour of the university and some of the surrounding communities, I’ve met so many Spartans and I’ve been impressed by the transformative power of MSU’s teaching, research and outreach in the lives of our students and communities.

Today, I want to give you a sense of the impressions I’ve formed, focusing on four broad themes. This is a view that will help shape the vision I hope to share in my investiture address this fall, which will be on Sept. 29.


First, Michigan State University is clearly an extraordinarily student-focused institution — I talk often about the importance of being strategic, bold and student-focused — and I’ve seen it on every one of these stops along the way. This is empowering Spartans to achieve their aspirations and to make the world a better place.

I’m thinking now about Dr. Tammy Long, to whom I had the pleasure of presenting the President’s Distinguished Teaching Award this year. She creates engaging science classroom environments through interactive and inquiry-based learning and peer instruction.

And I’m thinking of my conversations with Dr. Melanie Cooper and her colleagues on the College of Natural Science educational research team, and their success in moving students through redesigned STEM gateway courses which we’re reinventing to help students get through those sometimes very challenging gateway courses so they can matriculate up and achieve their goals of becoming a scientist or teaching science education.

On my tour, I heard many of our college deans and faculty discuss the growing support they are providing students. And today, as part of the budget being adopted by the Board of Trustees, there is funding for more academic advisors to support student success, increase student retention and close opportunity gaps, which is something we’re going to have to do if we’re to attain our goal of 86% graduation rate by 2030.

Our student success efforts start with accessibility to a Michigan State degree. Today, the Board will also consider new tuition levels, while cognizant of concerns about higher education affordability — something we’re committed to at Michigan State University. So this fall, we will begin offering the new Spartan Tuition Advantage, a gift aid program that will eventually provide 6,000 qualifying resident MSU Pell-eligible students free tuition. It was a decision that was made last year and we’re going to begin to see the impact of the Spartan Tuition Advantage this coming year.

At the same time, the new Spartan One-Stop, which was maybe stop No. 6 on my listening and learning tour, will begin offering integrated student services to reduce administrative barriers while supporting students’ navigation of their enrollment, financial aid, tuition and billing. And I hope you’ll stop by to check it out on the main floor of the Hannah Administration Building.

Safety, inclusion and diversity

Second, a crucial underpinning to our commitment to success for all students and employees is fostering an inclusive culture where everyone feels safe, welcome and valued. Here again, the budget prepared for action today anticipates funding the completion of our multicultural center and continuing the inclusivity-focused 1855 Professorships.

I’ve said my favorite place on a college campus is the classroom in front of students, and I have seen how engagement is sparked -— and learning enhanced — in spaces populated by diverse students. When you can see the curriculum come to life through the conversations and discussions that happen in classroom, with each student bringing their own unique and valuable life experiences into those conversations. That’s what allows the curriculum to come to life and the students to become active participants in a thriving democracy, both while they’re at Michigan State and when they’re a Michigan State graduate.

If we mean to develop leaders and difference-makers — which we most certainly do — developing the ability to understand others’ perspectives and to be able to work alongside and across differences is absolutely vital. And we can best teach it by modeling it, and I encourage all of us to model that.

And so, I am firmly committed to the university’s goals around diversity, equity and inclusion as well as our expressions of that commitment, such as we enjoyed at our fourth annual Juneteenth celebration earlier this month and our campus recognitions of Pride Month.

On my tour, I made it a point to discuss our DEI goals with all the colleges and units I visited. I came away impressed with the efforts they are making to attract and support diverse students and faculty.

Consider, for example, the good work of our Office for Institutional Diversity and Inclusion and such programs as MSU Dialogues. At a time of widening social divisions, they’ve created a space to facilitate dialogue and understanding across identity groups in our community.

We’re also building a culture of trust and accountability, and I was impressed by our Department of Police and Public Safety’s proactive approach to protecting our campus community. They are clearly an experienced and dedicated group, and the department has a firm commitment to transparency and outreach, with programs such as the new Citizen’s Police Academy starting in September. And as a dog lover, I enjoyed meeting the K-9 members of the department and their human partners.

Grand challenges

Third, it's clear we’re a great and passionately public university, advancing our land-grant mission while becoming a more contemporary and bolder institution. Back to my point: strategic, bold and student-focused. This includes enhancing our presence as a leading global public research university.

And I want to stress the word “global.” Our research, education and service presence around the world was among the things that attracted me to Michigan State University. We have been a leader in this for decades, and we’ll continue to thrive in this space.

My visit with our International Studies and Programs about our impact across the world left me almost jet-lagged learning about our research into things like climate change in the Amazon, environmental justice in the Mekong Basin and exploring the relationship between religion and art in countries around the world.

I’m also pleased with our good work building pathways to our goal of $1 billion in annual research and development spending — and we’re getting close — engaging our research faculty and reigniting our strengths in global engagement.

We need to continue to address the grand challenges of our time, advancing the common good and making a profound difference in people’s lives. My conversations with Spartan researchers and leaders have revealed a tremendous will to tackle such challenges, and next year’s budget includes continued funding for our Global Impact Initiative for attracting and hiring more top faculty researchers in areas of high opportunity.

We are seeking what I like to call a “synergy unleashed” approach through the power of our impactful culture of partnerships and collaboration — something we see at work here in Flint. We saw it front and center, a synergy unleashed approach, with our world-class faculty, researchers and community partners to solve big problems, none more important than the public health initiatives here in Flint.

And with last week’s groundbreaking for a new joint research center fresh in our minds, our 30-year commitment to partner with Henry Ford Health will nourish a number of health research initiatives, including confronting the challenge of equity in health care and expanding our joint capabilities in cancer research and neuroscience.

Challenges and opportunities

And finally, all our colleges and administrative units face challenges such as keeping up with facility needs and technology obsolescence. I’ve toured some great, world-class buildings across the campus and others I’ve heard described as looking and feeling “tired” and in need of attention.

Simultaneously, we need to move forward on new facilities we’ve identified as necessary for our upward trajectory, such as the Engineering and Digital Innovation Center. This is a major priority for us at Michigan State.

I am confident of our capacity to rise to facility and other challenges, and I’m excited by the many opportunities in front of us. And as “Michigan’s state university” — or, as I’ve said, the University for Michigan — we need to look at expanding professional and master student programs, meeting demands in urban areas and rural communities and improving relationships with community colleges — a commitment we will live up to.

Among these opportunities is serving as an even stronger engine of Michigan’s economy, which, of course, is the very reason Michigan State was founded 169 years ago. Much of our research and many of our degree programs are keyed to the economic and workforce needs of the state, working in close collaboration with corporate and community partners.

Just yesterday, for example, we celebrated the third graduating class of the MSU Apple Developer Academy in Detroit, an amazing program preparing people for digital careers and entrepreneurship. I had the chance to visit it about a month ago and it’s pretty cool, if you haven’t seen it.

In addition to the opportunities afforded by our association with Henry Ford Health and other partners to enhance medical education, research and health care, another arises with the transition of leadership in our Health Sciences.

Although we are bidding a sad goodbye to EVP Dr. Norm Beauchamp, our interim leadership arrangement will give us time to consider the best ways to organize and align our educational and research programs and our clinical operations, and I’m confident that we’ll get there.

Our mandate to support the state’s economy makes us a key stakeholder and partner in its communities, including in our home Lansing region. I am convening an area economic development council to formalize conversations with community and business leaders to seize our shared opportunities in community development and quality of life — to be an engine of economic development for the region.

And as an institution that contributes significantly to the state’s economic development, talent attraction and population growth, we look forward to our continued partnership with the governor and Legislature to move Michigan forward. We applaud having a balanced state budget that allows us to adequately plan our internal finances as we look forward to another successful academic year.

Finally, I am pursuing an overall operational excellence initiative that will offer a comprehensive picture of how best to invest our limited resources as we strive to always be strategic, bold and student-focused. I’ll be working with internal and external advisors to assess our opportunities and strengths to supplement what I’ve gathered across my listening and learning tour over these past four months.


I’d like to wrap up this glimpse of my first 100 days by reminding all of us that, in my view, the headline of our university’s most important story is Spartans’ ongoing and passionate commitment to our interlocking missions of education, research and outreach.

Advancing knowledge … transforming lives … as a university, we are truly built for this. Each of us has an important role in this most crucial of undertakings — preparing people for the challenges of today and tomorrow.

And in that spirit, let’s get to the business in front of us with the next item on our agenda.