Dec. 19, 2019: Letter to the community

Dear Spartan community,

A new year — and a new decade — quickly approach. With fall semester having drawn to a close and the holiday season just ahead, I want to update you on several aspects of our ongoing work at Michigan State and introduce a few important new initiatives.

Saluting our scholars

It was a wonderful experience congratulating 2,700 of our newest graduates at last week’s commencement ceremonies. It was my first graduation season as president of MSU, and that makes it particularly special to me. I wish all our graduates the very best and look forward to seeing how they remain engaged with Michigan State as they pursue the next chapters in their lives.

At last week’s Board of Trustees meeting, we recognized 17 fall graduates who distinguished themselves by achieving 4.0 GPAs through their undergraduate careers.

And it is with great pride I extend congratulations to two very exceptional MSU scholars. Anna Esenther, a 2019 MSU and Honors College graduate, is MSU’s 20th Rhodes Scholar. She holds degrees in economics, psychology and history from the College of Social Science, a degree in education from the College of Education, and a degree in statistics from the College of Natural Science.

Our 18th Marshall Scholar, Emily Steffke, is an Honors College senior majoring in neuroscience in the College of Natural Science and in English in the College of Arts and Letters. She is an undergraduate researcher at MSU’s Institute for Quantitative Health Science and Engineering.

Beginning provost search

The role of a provost is key to the academic mission of a higher education institution. I’m grateful to Interim Provost Teresa Sullivan and our provost search committee as they begin seeking nominations and collecting campus community input in our search for a permanent provost/executive vice president for academic affairs. Three public conversations — one each for faculty, staff and students — are planned for early spring, and open on-campus finalist interviews are set for March 2020.

Supporting students

Since my arrival at MSU in August, I have had many occasions to hear members of the campus community speak and to reflect on the university’s challenges and opportunities. In addition to visits with faculty and staff in our degree-granting colleges and with student groups and leadership, I also scheduled my first monthly office hours to meet with individual students. In these conversations, I expect to hear directly from students as they share concerns and ideas.

I am committed to ensuring MSU is doing everything possible to support and improve students’ health and wellness. Undergraduate student government leaders have described how a fall break would be beneficial to students, and I think it is a good idea. I am working with Interim Provost Sullivan to plan a pilot fall break next year. With agreement from the appropriate university governance bodies, we would cancel undergraduate classes on Nov. 2 and 3 — the latter being election day. We will ask university governance committees for a proposal to revise the academic calendar to make a two-day fall break permanent the following year.

Ensuring a safer campus

On Nov. 21, we released the full results of last spring’s Know More @ MSUcampus climate survey. This information will help assess our programs and culture with the intent to purposefully address incidents of sexual assault and harassment. I’ve asked MSU’s Relationship Violence and Sexual Misconduct Expert Advisory Workgroup and the two presidential advisers on RVSM issues to prepare a plan to ensure our campus is safe and that we address sexual misconduct in a trauma-informed way. The group is holding a series of campus conversations to discuss the results of the survey, and we will use those, together with input gathered at earlier meetings I had with survivors, to help formulate an RVSM strategic plan.

We have worked diligently to find the right leaders to advance our programs and address campus concerns. On Nov. 19, we announced the addition of Melody Werner as the new director of the Office of Institutional Equity. She will oversee all investigations under MSU’s Relationship Violence and Sexual Misconduct and Anti-Discrimination policies. Our new associate vice president of the Office for Civil Rights and Title IX Education and Compliance will be Tanya Jachimiak. She will lead MSU’s Prevention, Outreach and Education Department, the Office of Institutional Equity and Resolution Office when she joins MSU on Feb. 3.

Planning for the future

I have recently announced two key and complementary initiatives that will support our planning for the future.

First, I named a Strategic Planning Steering Committee to develop a comprehensive strategic plan for the university. I have asked the group to consider MSU’s current state; identify underlying themes, strengths and trends; consider new opportunities; and respond to emerging challenges. The process will include opportunities for conversations with campus and other stakeholders — including alumni — about the university’s vision, values and strategic direction.

From my initial days on campus, I have said that a culture embracing diversity, equity and inclusion is essential for all Michigan State wants to accomplish. So, at the same time we’re building a strategic plan, I have named a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Steering Committee to focus on this essential foundation.

That committee will reach out across MSU and take inventory of our efforts around diversity, equity and inclusion; identify potential synergies; pinpoint existing gaps; and establish a framework for making MSU a national leader in this area. I want the group to examine, among other areas, the composition and success of the faculty, staff and student body; research and scholarship; curriculum and educational programs; community engagement; and the culture MSU community members live and experience each day.

I also have been meeting with leaders and members of diverse student groups and others, and those discussions have included a request for a campus multicultural center. This concept has long been proposed by MSU students, and a planning team that includes three students has been selected to provide input. Other universities have multicultural centers, and we expect to learn from those institutions as we move forward.

Celebrating MLK

Looking toward the new year, MSU’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Celebration next month will feature a week of events starting Jan. 17. The 2020 event celebrates several important milestones, including the 40th anniversary of our campus celebration and the 150th anniversary of the first women students at MSU.

I hope you enjoy the warm company of friends and family this holiday season and that the pause in our busy routines allows each of us to recharge. I believe 2020 will bring a renewed sense of Spartan optimism and determination.

I look forward to working with you as we honor our history and prepare for an exciting future.


Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D.