Oct. 23, 2020: October update for all Spartans

Dear Spartan Community,

Here we are already halfway through fall semester, less than two weeks to the national election and a day away from the start of Spartan football.

The 2020 football season kicks off at noon Saturday at home against Rutgers with the MSU debut of Head Coach Mel Tucker. I hope you’ll join me in the safety and comfort of our own homes by watching on the Big Ten Network or following it on the radio, through msuspartans.com or the official Michigan State Athletics app.

Our rivalry game against the University of Michigan plays away the following Saturday, Oct. 31. I urge Spartans everywhere to summon only good spirits this Halloween by celebrating with class and safety to protect ourselves, our loved ones and our neighbors.

Although football is resuming, MSU Athletics continues to face an unprecedented financial crisis with implications extending beyond this year’s pandemic-associated revenue shortfall. A hard look at the long-term financial outlook for MSU Athletics has led to the very difficult decision to discontinue sponsorship of men’s and women’s swimming and diving as varsity sports after the 2020-21 season.

Given the limitations of MSU’s pool facilities, we do not believe we can offer a first-class experience or championship-level support to those student-athletes and coaching staff, despite their dedication. I fully appreciate how painful this development is for all those affected. As detailed in our announcement, MSU will continue to offer them a variety of support.

COVID-19 updates
With COVID-19 precautions and protocols, fall semester is demonstrating we can safely house a limited number of students on campus and offer some in-person classes. We are confident now we can bring more students to our residence halls and schedule more in-person courses, particularly those needed by students to be able to graduate on time. From offering about 40 in-person classes this semester, we hope to offer approximately 400 in the spring semester.

Approximately 2,500 additional single-occupancy residence hall spaces will be available to students in the spring semester. Residential and Hospitality Services will soon offer a request process, with priority granted to students needing additional academic assistance, those with an in-person or hybrid class and first-year students. Students currently living on campus will remain in their current rooms.

MSU will require participation in the COVID-19 Early Detection Program for students living on campus or undergraduate students coming to campus during spring semester for classes or work. 

With the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and the Ingham County Health Department, MSU has brought an important new tool to the fight against COVID-19 in our community. The MI COVID Alert app, available for iOS and Android devices, notifies you if you might have been exposed to someone who recently tested positive for COVID-19. This pilot program is an important layer of defense against the coronavirus, together with our individual and community testing and preventive measures, such as wearing face coverings, washing hands and maintaining physical distance.

Our financial picture has cleared in recent weeks with final fall enrollment figures and state appropriations finalized in Lansing. Our state funding will stay at last year’s level, and we are grateful for the support of our elected leaders. Athletics and RHS at MSU, which are self-sustaining, have felt a particularly heavy impact and have had to make many painful cuts and adjustments. Hundreds of employees have had to be furloughed from units with severe budget challenges. A number of capital projects were deferred, and executive managers, deans and non-union faculty and academic staff also have taken cuts.

With 49,695 undergraduate, graduate and graduate-professional students enrolled, we are down 883 students from last year, with first-year student enrollment down 342 students to 8,228. While not as severe as initially feared, the drop still represents a $54 million decline from last year’s tuition revenue, given fewer international and out-of-state students. This reduction also will have a four-year impact as that class advances toward graduation. Despite our financial challenges, we did still increase student financial aid 4% this year.

You can follow our progress in protecting the campus community on our testing and reporting webpages. The information is updated weekly. As global experience has shown us, suppression of COVID-19 is an unrelenting challenge. I’m pleased our safety programs on campus in residential, learning and research settings so far have been as successful in containing the coronavirus as we could hope. 

It couldn’t be done without a conscientious community of students, faculty and staff members doing the right things to protect themselves and others. Many are going the extra mile to make even this year’s challenging experience positive for others, including the student government and registered student group leaders giving voice, connection and support to their peers.

The dedicated resident assistants in our residence halls also deserve mention. One hundred RAs work in MSU’s eight open residence halls and our university apartments this semester, not only making their own adjustments to the new normal and upholding university policies but also making extra efforts to keep residents engaged. Given fewer opportunities for personal contact this year, those include offering a collective 400 virtual office hours each week for their residents to connect to seek information, share concerns or just talk.

Leadership searches
Earlier this month, I announced Jabbar R. Bennett as MSU’s vice president and chief diversity officer. Pending approval by the Board of Trustees at its Oct. 30 meeting, Dr. Bennett will start Dec. 1. The search committee, representing faculty, staff and students, worked hard to make every step as open and inclusive as possible and apply community feedback to inform the selection of the best candidate. I’m certain MSU’s new chief diversity officer will help find new ways to further transform equity and inclusion in our community.

As an active member of my leadership team, the chief of police and director of the MSU Police Department is responsible for the overall planning, development and implementation of a comprehensive and dynamic public safety and law enforcement program at MSU. The search for MSU’s sixth police chief is moving forward now that a search committee and search consultant are in place. Listening sessions are planned for November, and finalist candidates are expected to be interviewed in January.

FRIB milestone
MSU’s $730 million Facility for Rare Isotope Beams reached a significant milestone recently with its designation by the U.S. Department of Energy as a DOE Office of Science user facility. U.S. Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette visited us to announce the designation.

The FRIB project started in 2009 and is more than 94% complete. It remains on track for completion in early 2022. More than 1,400 scientific users are expected to conduct research there when user operations start. MSU has the nation’s top-ranked graduate nuclear physics program, and FRIB will help keep the university at the forefront of global nuclear science research and education.

Remember in November
The nation casts and counts ballots for crucial federal, state and local election contests on Nov. 3. Exercising and defending this right is, to me, a solemn responsibility and one that is vital to maintaining our democracy.  

MSU has prepared citizens to critically weigh vital issues for more than 160 years, and many of our faculty experts have been quoted in news media this election season. Casting a vote is an essential expression of our freedom and will. Through our MSUvote program and other messaging, MSU has been active in encouraging our campus community to register, vote and maintain civil and respectful political discourse.

Our democracy has been secured against external threats since the dawn of the republic by our armed forces. We on campus join our nation saluting our past and present veterans on Nov. 11, Veterans Day.

MSU is home to hundreds of student, faculty and staff veterans and many veteran spouses and dependents. We have an opportunity this Veterans Day to support those who served. You can find impactful ways to strengthen initiatives supporting veterans and military affiliated students at MSU here.

Finally, here’s another meaningful way to support your community and protect your own health: Get a flu shot. Widely offered by pharmacies and physician offices, they’re an easy way to keep influenza from putting you and your loved ones further at risk in this pandemic year. Sparty even dropped by Cowles House the other day to help make this video message. I hope you enjoy it.


Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D.