May 15, 2020 Remarks to the MSU Board of Trustees


Thank you, and welcome, everyone.

Novel coronavirus precautions 

The COVID-19 pandemic and its impact remain at the forefront of our thoughts. One of the terrible consequences of this outbreak has been its disproportionate impact on people of color. In Michigan 14% of the population is Black, but Blacks make up 41% of the deaths in the state. 

The toll has been extraordinary, and I have heard first-hand from our students, particularly from the Detroit metropolitan area, of the devastating impact on families, and communities, from this crisis.

MSU is committed to working both in the short term and the long term to help deal with this issue. MSU’s work in Flint has shown that we can make a difference in improving public health in underserved and under-resourced areas. And both College of Nursing Dean Randolph Rasch and Associate Dean for Public Health Integration Debra Furr-Holden — who is director of the Flint Center for Health Equity Solutions — are serving on Gov. Whitmer’s Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities. I know they will be thinking of how MSU can contribute to solutions that help reduce these disparities.

Working with the county health department and neighborhood groups, MSU Health Care this afternoon will offer testing in the Richwood neighborhood on the south side of Lansing, which is identified as a vulnerable area. On the longer time frame, we are actively pursuing collaborations that would allow Michigan State University to have a larger impact on the health of all the underserved people of Michigan.

The governor last week extended her “Stay Home, Stay Safe” executive order through May 28. Only MSU employees designated as “necessary” are working on campus, and we are issuing cloth face masks as stipulated by the governor’s orders.

Among the most pressing questions in front of us is when — and how — MSU will resume in-person instruction and on-site operations. We will be teaching in the fall semester, and hope to have our full complement of research efforts taking place on campus with appropriate protective measures in place.

I want to make clear that we have not settled on any particular mode for the start of fall classes, whether in-person or full continued remote.

Safety will continue to be Michigan State’s guiding principle. We know that zero risk is not achievable in any scenario. We must not only consider the health of students, faculty and staff, but also of their families and our community. 

At the same time, we must do everything we can to ensure the continued forward motion of this university in meeting our mission and the ensuring success of our students. Our options are very dependent upon the status of the epidemic in our state in the late summer and the public health infrastructure available to us for testing and contact tracing.

To help us assess how best to plan for fall, 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 to develop a framework and parameters for this key effort.

We hope to have a clear enough picture of the public health situation, and the capacity to host our students, faculty, and staff, to be able to announce a decision in late June or early July.

Budgetary impacts

The financial impacts of the crisis are being felt by colleges and universities across the nation. Here at MSU, the implications are significant. We have enacted a number of actions to address a shortfall of $50 million to $60 million for the current fiscal year and as much as $150 million to $300 million for the next year.

In an email message to MSU employees this week, I communicated a variety of actions that are under consideration and several which are being implemented.

So far, we are:

  • Tightening the hiring chill and limiting the filling of vacancies;
  • Looking at all capital projects to determine which can be paused, briefly delayed or indefinitely postponed;
  • Reducing or eliminating consultants wherever possible;
  • Continuing to limit travel;
  • Continuing pay reductions for executive management;
  • And implementing a minimum 3% budget reduction to academic and administrative units.

In addition, I told our employees, we are considering:

  • Proposing campus-wide salary reductions in a scaled manner for all other employees;
  • And proposing reducing MSU’s above-the-match retirement plan contributions.

These, if applied across the entire university, represent a shared sacrifice that would address our estimated budget shortfall, which is estimated to be at nearly 11% of our general fund expenditures. We’re continuing to work with our unions, deans and other campus leaders and I’ve promised to keep the campus community informed on all of our progress.

We also recognize the implications for students and families, and one of the significant moves we’re looking at making to help keep MSU affordable is to freeze tuition for the coming year. This action, if ratified by the board, will mark the third consecutive year tuition is frozen. Along the same lines, the board today also will consider a recommendation for housing and dining rates for next year.

Our focus on the MSU mission remains strong and I continue to believe an MSU degree provides tremendous value to our graduates.

New Provost

I  recently announced Teresa Kaye Woodruff as my selection for MSU’s new provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, subject to the board’s approval today. Teresa was recommended among a small group by the search committee as being well-qualified. She will join us Aug. 1.

She currently is dean of the Graduate School at Northwestern University and is the Thomas J. Watkins Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology. 

The provost has to be the academic leader and set the standards for the university. She has extraordinary academic credentials — she is a Guggenheim award winner and a member of the National Academy of Inventors. She is also an elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, as well as a fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering. In 2018 she was also elected to the highly prestigious National Academy of Medicine, and in April of this year, she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

These honors recognize both her extraordinary efforts in the area of oncofertility, a field she helped pioneer, and her efforts towards achieving sexual equality in research.

Teresa has been an advocate for the inclusion of women in research in another very important way: 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 development of better treatments for women as well as men.

Her commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion is also strong. At Northwestern, she has championed initiatives supporting the participation of women and underrepresented groups in the STEM disciplines. That includes creating a program to reach out to African American and Latinx high school girls in Chicago to bring them to Northwestern science academies to help them prepare for college and careers in STEM. This program resulted in her receiving a 2020 presidential award for excellence in science, mathematics, and engineering mentoring at the White House.

The role of the Dean at the graduate school at one of America’s most distinguished institutions has given her the experience of working with multiple colleges, and with setting high standards for the academic mission. I was also pleased with her appreciation for the critical importance of the arts and humanities in a university’s mission, and the need to support excellence across the campus.

She communicated ambitious vision for MSU’s future and a recognition of the core importance of diversity, equity and inclusion and a safe, welcoming campus at MSU.

In summary, she is a dynamic and accomplished leader, and I am pleased that Teresa Woodruff will join us on August 1. I know she’s excited about meeting the campus in person, but in the meantime, she will be communicating with Interim Provost Sullivan and me on a regular basis to prepare herself for her arrival at MSU.

Chief diversity officer search

I want to remind you that our search for a vice president and chief diversity officer, which was paused as MSU shifted to online learning and work, is back underway. The search committee anticipates being able to identify finalists to participate in a campus engagement process early in the fall semester.

This position is critical to MSU, and our need for fundamental improvements in DEI across the institution. The CDO, who will report directly to me, will have the opportunity to work with our DEI strategic planning committee to implement a comprehensive plan for DEI that harnesses the great work going on within different units across the university, on issues like eliminating gaps in student success, recruitment of underrepresented students, faculty, and staff and creating a more welcoming campus.

This work is key to moving us ahead at MSU and I remain committed to working with all of you to make a difference.

We are moving ahead with our plan for mandatory DEI training in the upcoming year for all members of the MSU community.

Campus news

For the fifth consecutive year, MSU earned “gold status” as a veteran-friendly school by the Michigan Veteran Affairs Agency. MSU is home to nearly 300 veteran students served by our Student Veterans Resource Center.

MSU Police Lt. Andrea Munford was recognized with the 2020 Professional Impact Award for her victim-centered, trauma-informed approach to sexual assault investigation. The award from End Violence Against Women International is given to those whose work has significantly influenced their community’s response to violence against women.

Andrea leads the police department’s Center for Trauma-Informed Investigative Excellence, sits on our RVSM Expert Advisory workgroup and, with Professor Rebecca Campbell, is a special RVSM advisor to me.

Another milestone we observed this season was the 50th anniversary of Earth Day on April 22. The U.S. Department of Energy recognized Michigan State for reaching its goal of reducing energy use by 20% this year in its 20 million square feet of facilities. It shows how MSU continues to be environmentally and fiscally responsible while providing a safe, productive learning and working environment. 

Broad MSU director

I’m pleased to report we have a new director for the Broad Art Museum, Mónica Ramírez-Montagut.  She currently is director of the Newcomb Art Museum at Tulane University in New Orleans. She will join us here July 1. 

She is a trained architect with 20 years of arts and culture experience. I think she will bring a fresh perspective and renewed energy to the museum and arts community.

Virtual commencement

Commencement ceremonies are the highlight of the academic year, and I’m really sorry we aren’t able to provide them for our degree-earners this season.

But I know a lot of us in the Spartan community are looking forward to tomorrow’s virtual commencement ceremony. We’ve invited graduates and the entire MSU community — including alumni — to enjoy the program and acknowledge those who earned undergraduate and graduate degrees.

The virtual ceremony will be held on MSU’s Facebook page beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday local time. It will be recorded for later viewing.

The program doesn’t replace a traditional in-person commencement, and we hope to have an in-person event in the future for the distinguished class of 2020.

Meanwhile, a number of MSU colleges have been recognizing their newest graduates online. And I also want to personally recognize the 91 graduates earning the Board of Trustees Award this semester for recording perfect 4.0 grade point averages.  It’s a remarkable achievement.

And we’re extremely proud of the 360 medical, osteopathic and nursing graduates this semester for whom we worked with the state to expedite their moves to their professional training locations. We thank them for their service and are proud of them as Spartans.

And this concludes my report to the board.