Nov. 23, 2021: Spartan Community Letter

Dear Spartans and Friends,

I want to share a few items you might find of interest as many of us prepare for Thanksgiving and the busy holiday season it kicks off.

Rising graduation rate and rankings
First, I’m immensely proud to report that Michigan State University’s graduation rate is up for the seventh straight year. The rate for first-time, full-time students entering MSU in 2015 increased from 81.3% last year to 82.1% this year.

The six-year graduation rate is a key indicator of the success of our students and the university. This year, it was great to see progress for some groups of students exceed the overall increase, notably Black students and those receiving federal need-based Pell grants. The MSU strategic plan calls for reaching an overall graduation rate of 86% by 2030, and we also need to focus on closing graduation gaps between groups.

To do that, we will continue investing in student support systems, including seamless advising through graduation, redesigning introductory courses and holistically supporting students’ physical, mental and emotional well-being.

A prime component of the student success equation is the excellence of MSU’s faculty, which earned more validation recently with new rankings placing MSU among the top 60 universities in the world. Those academic reputation measures considered elements such as teaching, research, external funding and faculty honors. These measures account for a third of the scores that ranked MSU in the top 6% of the broader Times Higher Education World University Rankings announced recently.

It’s always great to see others recognize what we know about Michigan State’s faculty,  who are dedicated world-class scholars driving the university’s research, instruction and external engagement and making a real difference in the lives of students and the society we serve. In this case, being recognized by academic peers around the world is particularly rewarding.

Athletic honors
Excellence is also being demonstrated this season by Spartan student-athletes. I’m pleased to send hearty congratulations to our men’s water polo club team, which this month won the men’s national collegiate club championship. Congratulations, also, to our women’s and men’s cross country teams, which both competed at the 2021 NCAA Cross Country Championships.

Spartan excellence includes MSU student-athlete facilities as well. I was privileged to take the field at the home football game against Maryland to help thank Greg and Dawn Williams for their generous $10 million commitment for expansion and renovations to the Tom Izzo Football Building.

Campus safety and spring semester update
The Oct. 29 campus disappearance of a visiting student from another university gained widespread notice and led to questions and concerns from students and others in our community. MSU Vice President of Public Safety and Chief of Police Marlon Lynch and Senior Vice President for Student Life and Engagement Vennie Gore were joined last week by East Lansing Police Chief Kim Johnson at a virtual town hall to share information and answer questions.

I want to thank those leaders, who you can watch on the event recording, and all who have volunteered information or participated in the search for student Brendan Santo.

Earlier this month I sent a message to the campus community to convey expectations for how MSU will continue defending against COVID-19 in the spring semester. The level of vaccination among our students, faculty and staff now exceeds 91%, which through this fall semester has done a great deal to limit the spread of the virus and allow us to offer in-person living, learning and activities.

Next semester we will continue requiring COVID-19 vaccination for students, faculty and staff. Requirements for regular testing through the MSU Early Detection Program or other means will remain for those granted exceptions. To start the semester, we also will continue to require masks indoors.

Focusing on ethics
If the pandemic gave rise to much-needed reflection on individuals’ obligations to society, it’s an age-old question that directs our daily lives. I recently participated in a campus symposium framing an exciting new initiative to integrate ethical consideration more thoroughly into MSU’s curriculum, research and, we intend, the character of our university community. A joint column by three deans leading this effort offers a compelling outline, and I look forward to continued engagement in the initiative’s development.

Electric autonomous bus
This month, we introduced an exciting new component to our connected campus mobility infrastructure — a 22-passenger electric autonomous bus. Now undergoing rigorous safety and operational testing, it is one of the largest electric autonomous transit vehicles on United States roads.

Not only will the electric bus add to the ways we’re reducing MSU’s environmental impact and meeting our sustainability goals, but it will also allow MSU researchers to develop a variety of real-world data to advance our already impressive advanced mobility capabilities.

The new bus is expected to enter service sometime next year. It will connect the MSU Auditorium to the MSU Commuter Lot (#89) at Farm Lane and Mt. Hope — where you can also find part of the largest solar carport array in North America.

Spartans making a difference
It was a real pleasure to join our 75th Alumni Grand Awards Gala to help honor Spartans whose contributions to their communities, companies and the university have been especially impactful. My congratulations and thanks go out to all those recognized in this program, and my respect extends to all Spartans making extraordinary efforts to contribute to the good of others.

Giving of ourselves is the Spartan way. I also recently helped salute many of the 5,259 faculty, staff and retiree donors who collectively contributed $21 million to the university and its students in the last fiscal year, at the annual Thanks for Giving luncheon. Such truly impressive figures put MSU second in the Big Ten and seventh among the 66 members of the prestigious Association of American Universities in employee and retiree giving.

Looking toward the season
Such generosity of spirit is especially appropriate to consider as we approach the holidays. An excellent seasonal opportunity to join with Spartans and others around the world to make a difference in the lives of others comes on GivingTuesday, Nov. 30. There are many ways to support Spartan students and campus initiatives, and I urge you to consider the causes that matter to you and make a financial gift on that day.

In the coming festive season, I sincerely hope you have the opportunity to safely enjoy the warm company of friends and family. Health is the greatest gift of all, so please, help make it a safer season with a flu shot. And with regulatory approval for those 18 and older now granted, I encourage you to seek a COVID-19 booster shot as well.

Once again, you can hear more from me on this month’s MSU Today with Russ White podcast. 

Go Green!

Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D. (he/him)