May 14, 2020: Letter to the Spartan community

Dear MSU community,

A most challenging spring semester is now behind us, and I trust this message finds you safe and well. I hope you have been keeping up with the many ways MSU is contributing to the community, state and national response to the novel coronavirus pandemic. As we have done throughout the 165 years since the university’s founding — in wartime, through epidemics and during times of economic hardship — Spartans continue to advance MSU’s vital land-grant mission. Today, we put safety at the forefront of all we do.

Virtual commencement ceremony
Spring commencement ceremonies are among the most fulfilling events we plan for every academic year, and I was particularly looking forward to these celebrations in my first year as president. Rest assured that those earning degrees this season will be invited to participate at a future in-person commencement event. Meanwhile, I am happy to report that MSU colleges are finding ways to recognize their newest graduates on reaching this milestone, and so is the university.

I’m inviting those earning undergraduate and graduate degrees this semester, together with their families and Spartans everywhere, to attend a university-wide virtual commencement celebration Saturday. The virtual ceremony will be held via MSU’s Facebook page beginning at 10 a.m. EDT, May 16. It also will be accessible from MSU’s homepage, and a recording will be available on the MSU commencement webpage afterward.

In the meantime, we’ve had a phenomenal response to a special video featuring Spartan alumni sending good wishes to the class of 2020, and I hope you take a moment to enjoy it.

New provost
On April 27, I announced Teresa Kaye Woodruff as MSU’s new provost and executive vice president for academic affairs as of Aug. 1, subject to Board of Trustees approval. She currently is dean of the Graduate School at Northwestern University and is the Thomas J. Watkins Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

She is a specialist in ovarian biology and reproductive science and coined the word oncofertility for a specialized area of medicine. She helped persuade the National Institutes of Health to require the consideration of gender as a biological variable in basic science and preclinical research, helping to ensure the development of better treatments for women as well as men.

Teresa was one of three final candidates recommended to me by a diverse search committee as being well-qualified for the position. She also is an engaged advocate for diversity in the STEM disciplines. Among her activities at Northwestern, she created the Women's Health Science Program for High School Girls and Beyond. That program serves primarily African American and Latinx girls from disadvantaged backgrounds in Chicago by providing opportunities to study at four Northwestern academies. She was awarded the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring by President Barack Obama in 2011.

Her outstanding academic career and her experience as dean of the Northwestern Graduate School — working with multiple colleges at a top university — gives her a firm grasp of the potential for education and research at a place with the scale and impact of MSU. She also possesses a great appreciation of the critical importance of the arts and humanities. The position of provost has a broad portfolio of responsibility, and Teresa has the right skills and experience to drive institutional momentum across all of our critical areas of endeavor.

I’m also confident Teresa shares our priorities for student success; campus safety; diversity, equity and inclusion; the pursuit of academic excellence; and world-changing research. You can hear from her in this video message to the MSU community and on the MSU Today podcast.

I want to extend the university’s thanks to Terry Sullivan, who, as interim provost, has been an extremely effective and knowledgeable administrator. I’m personally grateful for her leadership and partnership during the past year. MSU has benefited greatly from her insights and experience.

Academic governance leaders
I was pleased to see the Associated Students of MSU were honored as the Outstanding Student Government of the Year by the group’s peers. Congratulations to outgoing president Mario Kakos and his team.

Among the important university activities that have continued in virtual spaces are academic governance and student government. I want to offer my congratulations to the newly elected president of ASMSU, international relations major Abii-Tah Chungong Bih, and the incoming chairperson of our Faculty Senate and Steering Committee, Jennifer Johnson from the College of Human Medicine. I look forward to working with them and with Meagan Abel, continuing as Council of Graduate Students president this year.

Novel coronavirus precautions
Among the most pressing questions in front of us is when — and how — MSU will resume in-person instruction and on-site operations. Across the nation, colleges and universities are under tremendous pressure to resume something close to normal activities in the fall, and some are making bold pronouncements to that effect.

Before I became a university president, I was a physician and infectious disease research executive, and I can assure you: Safety will continue to be Michigan State’s guiding principle. At this moment, the unknown far exceeds what we can know about the public health picture and governmental responses that will be in effect in late summer, here in Michigan or anywhere. We must not only consider the health of our student body, faculty and staff, but also their families and our community.

At the same time, we must do everything we can to ensure the continued forward motion of this university and the success of our students. We must mobilize strengths and insights across the campus to support the physical and emotional needs of those served and serving. We must advance with a commitment to safety, openness and transparency, and with an unrelenting focus on being inclusive, equitable and responsive to all members of the MSU community.

To help me assess how best to do this, I have established a COVID-19 Reopening Campus Task Force. The task force is chaired by MSU Executive Vice President for Health Sciences Norman Beauchamp and University Physician David Weismantel, who are planning for multiple scenarios from fully normal operations to continued remote operations, with a variety of blended options.

What might such intermediate options look like? To help us manage the risk, cloth masks and hand sanitizer could be issued to all who return to campus. Large classes could be replaced by hybrid courses with smaller classroom groups staggered through the week, augmented by online lectures. We will be further refining contact tracing protocols in collaboration with local health departments. We could adjust the academic year to be able to conclude the semester by Thanksgiving, reducing trips to home communities that could increase the risk of transmission. Importantly, options will embrace the specific and unique college, professional and unit requirements with prioritization of sustaining mission across the university.

The very significant financial impacts of the crisis on this university and its employees, meanwhile, also are a source of great concern. Revenue losses could reach as high as $60 million in the fiscal year ending June 30 and between $150 million and $300 million next fiscal year. Such severe impacts necessitate all of us employed by the university to make financial sacrifices, and I went into detail in a message to employees earlier this week.

I encourage you to monitor MSU’s novel coronavirus webpages for the latest information. Students, faculty and staff can find academic resources at the MSU Guide to Remote Access.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and this is an especially good time to remind everyone to consider the additional mental health burdens the current crisis presents. Please pay attention to your own well-being and that of your loved ones. Students who need help can contact MSU Counseling and Psychiatric Services. MSU staff, faculty, graduate student assistants and retirees (as well as spouses/partners and benefits-eligible children) can seek assistance through the MSU Employee Assistance Program. Both are currently delivering services remotely.

Spartans keep serving
Not even a global pandemic can keep Spartans from serving others. I want to thank the alumni groups and individual Spartans who quickly organized and participated in what became this year’s Virtual Global Day of Service on April 18. And thanks to those who inspired us by sharing their activities on social media.

Michigan State is making a priority its continuing mission at every step, and an MSU education continues to create a lifetime of benefits to individuals and the world. Sign up for weekly or daily email options to stay informed about our vibrant and engaged university.

Thank you for continuing to observe safety precautions for your health and that of your family and community. Thank you for your Spartan steadfastness. I look forward to the day when we can be together again.


Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D.