Dec. 13, 2019: Remarks to the MSU Board of Trustees

Good morning. I want to start by welcoming our newly appointed trustee, Renee Knake. It’s a pleasure to welcome you back to MSU and I’m looking forward to working with you.

I’m sure your experience in higher education, ethics and diversity issues will be of great value as we work together to build a safer, more respectful and more welcoming campus, and as we continue our work supporting student success.

I also want to thank each of those who spoke today.

Campus survey

Since the board last met, the university has released the full results of the Know More @ MSU campus-wide survey conducted last spring. Those results give us additional insight into our campus climate, the incidence of relationship violence and sexual misconduct and the impact of the improvements made so far across campus on these critical issues.

As you recall, this survey was conducted by an independent, outside firm and we recorded more than 15,000 responses across the breadth of the campus from students, faculty and staff.

The RVSM Expert Advisory Workgroup has begun a series of meetings with the campus community to discuss the survey results, answer questions and solicit ideas for improving MSU’s culture. That feedback, along with what we heard in meetings with survivors, will help inform a strategic plan for RVSM prevention efforts, policy updates and resource development.

That process will be led by the RVSM workgroup and my special advisers, Prof. Rebecca Campbell and Lt. Andrea Munford. The survey results and additional information can be found on under the Office for Civil Rights and Title IX pages’ Know More Survey Results site.

New leaders

I wanted to highlight two important hires we’ve made recently that will continue to advance our progress.

Melody Werner is the new director of the Office of Institutional Equity. She joins us from Eastern Michigan University, where she was Title IX Coordinator. She will oversee all investigations under the Relationship Violence and Sexual Misconduct and Anti-Discrimination policies.

At EMU, she built the Title IX office from the ground up, including drafting policies and designing and implementing all Title IX operational systems and processes. She also oversaw all investigations and adjudications of Title IX complaints and educated campus community members about Title IX rights and responsibilities.

Earlier, she was the senior associate athletics director, where she managed NCAA and Title IX compliance for over 11 sports.

Our new associate vice president of the Office for Civil Rights and Title IX Education and Compliance is Tanya Jachimiak. She will join us Feb. 3.

She will lead MSU’s Prevention, Outreach and Education Department, the Office of Institutional Equity and Resolution Office and be a key asset as we continue to expand our RVSM prevention and response efforts.

She has more than 20 years of experience in higher education and compliance work. Most recently, she was the Title IX and Section 504 coordinator at Wake Forest University in North Carolina.

She chaired the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center Clery and Title IX Steering Committee the Wake Forest University Sexual Misconduct Prevention, Policy and Resource Team; their Bias Incident Response Team; co-chaired the President’s Committee on the Intersection of Freedom of Expression, Bias, and Code of Conduct; and was a member of the President’s Commission on Race, Equity, and Inclusion and the Council on Inclusion and Diversity.

Before that, she was Title IX coordinator and executive associate director of the Office for Access and Equity at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

She will replace Robert Kent, who has been interim associate vice president since June 2018. He will stay on in an advisory role until March 1 and then return to the Office of the General Counsel.


I also want to congratulate MSU Police Lt. Andrea Munford, who next April will be recognized for her victim-centered, trauma-informed approach to investigating sexual assault.

The honor comes from End Violence Against Women International, which is the largest professional organization of RVSM practitioners, policymakers and researchers. The group says it applauds her passion for ensuring survivors are treated with the utmost compassion, sensitivity and respect.

With ongoing leadership from Prof. Campbell, Lt. Munford and the RVSM workgroup, and with our growing prevention and response programs and our new hires, I believe we have assembled the right people for leading positive change at Michigan State.

Campus news

In other developments — and as we saw with our student honorees earlier — this has been an impressive season for scholarship and achievement at MSU.

Last week I visited the College of Engineering’s Design Day and was really impressed with the caliber of the projects presented there.

And I want to add my congratulations to our Rhodes Scholar Anna Esenther and our Marshall Scholar Emily Steffke. Michigan State is extremely proud of both of them.

I want to note that MSU recently marked another rise in our graduation rate, adding another percentage point to 81% this year. That’s on top of the point we gained last year, and it’s a testament to the quality of our academic and student support programs.

By comparison, the national rate for four-year degree-granting institutions is 60%. But I’m committed to doing better and closing achievement gaps between groups of students by helping them overcome whatever barriers they face.

And it was certainly a great validation to have our university ranked No. 1 in the world for education in the Shanghai Global Ranking of Academic Subjects. They rank more than 1,800 universities each year based on academic publishing.

Most of us know that the College of Education is has been ranked No. 1 in the United States for both elementary and secondary teacher education for 25 years by U.S. News & World Report, among other high international rankings for education.

We had some good news for everyone who takes the bus when we signed a new service agreement with CATA to provide free on-campus bus service to riders through June of 2021.

You will recall MSU started offering fare-free service last year on a pilot basis, and we saw ridership rise 40%. That shows people really value having such a safe, convenient and efficient transportation option.

It’s also a more sustainable option than adding more cars and parking spaces to campus, although we’ve put some of our parking lots to very good use with the nation’s largest solar carport. Those solar fixtures deliver the energy equivalent of powering 1,800 Michigan homes.

And it was nice to learn MSU is one of the nation’s most environmentally responsible colleges. MSU was ranked No. 19 on The Princeton Review's list of Top Green Colleges and is the only Big Ten school in the top 50.

We’re proud of our many environmental achievements, including earning a gold rating this year from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability, cutting greenhouse gas emissions by more than half since 2006, and eliminating the burning of coal in 2016.

Planning initiatives

Of consequence to everything I’ve discussed to this point, last week I announced two important new planning initiatives for MSU.

I named a Strategic Planning Steering Committee to develop a comprehensive plan that includes an engagement process for gathering input from campus and external stakeholders — including alumni and community leaders — about the university’s vision, values and strategic direction.

This process will enable Michigan State to consider its current state and identify underlying themes, strengths and trends across campus, consider new opportunities, and respond to emerging challenges.

A strategic plan will create a shared vision for the future with a common set of principles and values, seek opportunities to work together, leverage MSU’s collective resources and establish cross-institutional priorities and initiatives.

From my initial days on campus, I have said that I believe that a culture embracing diversity, equity and inclusion is essential for all Michigan State wants to accomplish so, at the same time we’re looking at an MSU strategic plan, I’ve named a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Steering Committee.

That group will reach out across the MSU community and inventory our efforts around diversity, equity and inclusion, identify potential synergies, pinpoint existing gaps and establish a framework for making MSU a national leader in DEI.

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.

These important planning efforts will be complementary to one another. I encourage everyone to learn more and keep tabs on these initiatives on my website,

And as many of you know, I’ve also been meeting with leaders and members of diverse student groups and others, and some of those discussions have focused on feasibility planning for a campus multicultural center.

A feasibility study planning team has begun working on this project. It includes three students and three student alternates, together with five representatives of involved campus units, helping ensure student voices are an important contributor to the process.

I’m also committed to ensuring MSU is doing everything possible to support and improve our students’ health and wellness.

ASMSU has initiated conversations about how a fall break would be beneficial to students, and I think it sounds like a good idea.

I’m working with the provost on this and she will be working with the appropriate university governance bodies on implementing a pilot fall break next year by canceling undergraduate classes on November second and third. That would coincide with next year’s general election date, Tuesday, Nov. 3.

We also will ask university governance committees to craft a proposal to revise the academic calendar to make a two-day fall break permanent the following year. I’m optimistic we’ll be able to make an official announcement about the addition of a fall break to MSU’s academic calendar sometime soon.

Fall commencement

Finally, I’m pleased that later today and tomorrow, I will be joining our latest graduates at commencement ceremonies at Breslin Center.

We will be honoring 1,954 undergraduate degree recipients and 767 advanced degree recipients.

This is my first graduation celebrated with the MSU community, so it’s particularly meaningful to me to be able to congratulate all of them and acknowledge their accomplishments.

And as we look forward to commencement ceremonies and winter break, I want to conclude by wishing everyone a warm, joyful, healthy and safe holiday season.