Sept. 18, 2020: Moving forward in a new academic year

Dear Spartan,

As I enter my second year as president of our great university, I want to thank all who have made me feel welcome. I also thank all those who continue to demonstrate Spartan spirit by rising to the significant challenges posed by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

While we face challenges ahead, there also are developments of which Spartans should be proud.

National rankings
According to rankings compiled by U.S. News & World Report, MSU’s undergraduate and graduate supply chain management programs again ranked No. 1 nationally. Among public universities, MSU was ranked No. 1 for study abroad, No. 3 for service learning and No. 4 for learning communities.

Money ranked MSU in the top 7% of schools in the nation. For educational quality, affordability and alumni success, MSU surpassed eight Big Ten universities and two Ivy League colleges. Money said MSU’s graduation rate of 81% is 8% higher than expected for students with similar test scores and economic backgrounds. Washington Monthly, meanwhile, ranked MSU No. 11 in the Midwest in “bang for the buck.”

Student enrollment
Although the official count doesn’t take place until near the end of the month, total university enrollment appeared at the start of the semester to be close to last year’s mark at just under 50,000. Our student body diversity, reflected in the number of students of color enrolled from Michigan and around the country, looks to be at its highest recorded level, about a quarter of our total.

Personnel and organization changes
Last week, the MSU Board of Trustees approved the appointment of Senior Vice President for Information Technology and Chief Information Officer Melissa Woo to executive vice president for administration. Since joining us last year, Melissa has been able to observe how MSU works and assess its strengths and challenges. She has proved herself a strong administrator of large, complex units and a strong collaborator who leads with integrity.

This move is part of changes being made to promote greater efficiency and effectiveness in support of our academic mission. With financial challenges brought on by the pandemic and other issues in higher education, we needed a new way to think about our financial and administrative structure. The Board this month also approved the creation of a new position, senior vice president and chief financial officer, for which there will be a national search. The CFO will evaluate our historical budget model and develop a long-range financial plan for MSU.

We say goodbye and thank you this month to Vice President and Associate Provost for Student Affairs and Services Denise Maybank. She departs to pursue an extraordinary opportunity as interim vice chancellor for student affairs and enrollment management at City University of New York. MSU has benefited greatly from Dr. Maybank’s leadership since she joined us in 2005, and we wish her well.

The units under the vice president for Student Affairs and Services will report temporarily to Senior Vice President Vennie Gore, effective Sept. 28. He leads MSU’s Residential and Hospitality Services and Auxiliary Enterprises and is an exemplary and transformational student services leader. He and Provost Teresa Woodruff will examine the best long-term structure for student affairs at MSU, and I know they will consult widely, including directly engaging with students as well as faculty and staff.

Coronavirus updates
MSU researchers continue their vital work and some 2,800 students are housed safely on campus this semester as most classes are held online. Last weekend, a new self-quarantine recommendation was issued by the Ingham County Health Department for all local MSU students following a concerning surge in COVID-19 cases, mostly off campus. An emergency quarantine order issued by the health department now covers 39 large multi-resident houses in East Lansing with known exposure to the novel coronavirus. These actions are designed to break the chain of spread and reduce student social gatherings, which are the primary drivers of the increase. Fortunately, at this point we have not seen a pronounced rise in health consequences, such as hospitalizations, for the local MSU community.

The MSU Community Compact, which outlines safety protocols and expectations for students, faculty, staff, alumni, contractors and visitors on campus, remains in force. We continue to work closely with community leaders to encourage and enforce behavioral expectations.

Early detection remains critical to mitigating the spread of the novel coronavirus, which is why I encourage MSU students and other members of the local MSU community who visit campus at least once a week to join me in taking part in MSU’s COVID-19 Early Detection Program.

Fall sports resuming
The Big Ten Conference this week announced the resumption of the football season starting the weekend of Oct. 23-24, a decision I support. With what we’ve learned about rapid-response testing and from other professional and collegiate athletic leagues, I’m confident we can collectively play football while still keeping our student-athletes, coaches and staff safe.

MSU will adhere to the Big Ten’s regulations to move forward in a safe and thoughtful manner. No fans will be allowed in the stadium, except possibly for student-athlete or staff family members, nor will tailgating be permitted on the MSU campus.

Student success 
I’m grateful for the efforts made by members of the campus community as we work to advance MSU’s mission and support the success of our students. That includes the extensive work faculty members did to prepare for online instruction, such as the hundreds who took professional development over the summer to sharpen their remote-instruction skills.

We also added a support and mentoring program for new students called Circles of Success. Each first-year and transfer student is supported by a professional and a peer mentor during the fall 2020 semester to encourage social connections and academic success.

Diversity, equity and inclusion
Our work to support diversity, equity and inclusion across the university continues, and four final candidates for the position of vice president and chief diversity officer were interviewed by MSU leadership, including the Board of Trustees, and participated in virtual forums with students, faculty and staff. I look forward to an announcement of our selection soon.

The Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Steering Committee is assessing institutional conditions as it prepares recommendations to deliver near the end of 2020. The committee’s Task Force on Racial Equity is reviewing issues calling for more immediate attention, with three initial areas of focus: campus climate and safety, policing and increasing the number of underrepresented faculty and staff. Meanwhile, design consultants continue working with staff, students and other stakeholders on a feasibility study for a new campus multicultural center. We’re looking forward to a recommendation in the first part of 2021.

We anticipate the introduction of a new online educational and development program this semester focused on combating racial bias. All members of the campus community — students, faculty and staff — will be expected to complete the program, the same as for our continuing program addressing relationship violence and sexual misconduct. Such programs are crucial to continuing our progress in making this a safe, respectful, welcoming and supportive university.

National Hispanic Heritage Month
From Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, the nation observes National Hispanic Heritage Month by celebrating the cultures and contributions of the many Hispanic populations, which today comprise the second largest population in the country. Michigan State takes great pride in serving Hispanic communities in Michigan, the Midwest and across the nation through our Hispanic/Chicano/Latinx programs. We also take great pride in our Hispanic students, staff and faculty, who bring different experiences and perspectives to bear on the learning experiences of our students and the culture of the campus.

I’m pleased to note that the preliminary total enrollment figure for students identifying as Hispanic/Latinx this semester is higher than ever. I hope everyone at Michigan State joins me in acknowledging and celebrating our Hispanic MSU community members and the many contributions made by Hispanic people to our campus, state and nation.

Title IX
We recently introduced a new Relationship Violence and Sexual Misconduct and Title IX Policy as part of regulations issued by the U.S. Department of Education in May. We viewed the new federal mandates as an opportunity to create a better policy supporting improved clarity, communication and supportive measures and to better set community expectations of prohibited conduct and reporting obligations. It also will support improved collaboration with campus community partners and an unbiased, equitable process for all parties.

Briefly, our new policy defines prohibited conduct in alignment with community expectations as to what constitutes relationship violence, sexual misconduct and stalking as well as prohibited conduct under Title IX. It makes clear that Title IX also applies to complaints brought by or against employees and explains the process for responding to and addressing reports of prohibited conduct. It gives claimants more autonomy as to whether to request an investigation through the formal grievance process and explains the availability of equitable supportive measures, interim measures, MSU-provided advisers and confidential resources.

In closing …
Our common challenge this year is to maintain the momentum of the university and the academic success of our students in a dynamic environment. I hope you are proud of all the important work Spartans are engaged in to create new knowledge, address the spread of this pandemic and to support our students as they pursue a valuable degree from MSU. Thank you for all you do to support these vital priorities.


Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D.