June 26, 2020 Remarks to the MSU Board of Trustees

Good morning everyone. I want to acknowledge and thank those who spoke to us this morning.

Diversity, equity and inclusion issues

When I arrived at MSU I emphasized our shared mission of creating a safer, more diverse, and more inclusive and welcoming campus. The events of the last few months have tragically and powerfully driven home the importance of that goal, not only for our campus but for our country.  

The disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on the Black community in our state, and many others, has highlighted the need to more aggressively address health disparities and economic inequities that have fueled the far greater death rates among blacks. We’ve seen too many searing images of brutality against Black Americans, including the murder of George Floyd, and we agree the need for action and fundamental change is indisputable. 

I believe the MSU community is galvanized by this opportunity for change, and we will respond. We have a head start. 

Under the leadership of Luis Garcia and Wanda Lipscomb, the DEI Strategic Planning Committee has already been working for months on pushing diversity, equity and inclusion forward at MSU. Their efforts include:

  • Benchmarking where we stand in a number of key areas;
  • Inventorying and evaluating our programs dealing with diversity, equity and inclusion at both the unit and central level;
  • And the difficult work of prioritizing which challenges we need to tackle first, and how we bring our approaches to scale.  

This work is critical and we will now accelerate our efforts. With assistance from Paulette Granberry Russell, I have asked the DEI Strategic Planning Committee to create a smaller task force to identify areas that deserve more immediate attention. I have also empowered them to add any additional content experts, faculty or researchers that they deem helpful.   

One topic we know will be considered is safety on campus, and one critical component of that is policing. I communicated my belief in the need for police accountability in the letter that went to the Spartan community earlier this month. It also noted that our police department already practices the “8 can’t wait” police conduct policies advocated by Project Zero.

I look forward to more open discussions on this issue in the coming weeks.  

This university-wide DEI priority will require effort from all of our leaders. Last week I learned from provost-designee Dr. Teresa Woodruff and Interim Provost Sullivan about the efforts to identify and eradicate policies, practices and behaviors that create barriers to success for students of color. These include financial aid reforms, general education reform, curricular analysis and expansion of the first-year seminars program. Dr. Woodruff and Dr. Thomas Jeitschko, who is graciously serving as acting provost, are fully engaged on this. 

I want to update you briefly on the multicultural center feasibility study. The planning and steering committees conducted interviews last month with two minority-owned architectural firms that were the finalists for the project. Feasibility study planning work will get underway next month.

Campus reopening update

Turning to the fall reopening of campus, Michigan is much farther ahead than most in containing the coronavirus. Localized outbreaks such as we saw recently in this community underscore the importance of personal responsibility and taking the necessary steps to protect ourselves and others — including wearing a cloth face-covering in public spaces and avoiding large gatherings. All of these factors contribute to making everyone safer, and they are key as we open up campus.

The initial work of the COVID-19 Reopening Campus Task Force is complete and now we’re in full preparation mode and implementing the actions needed to return people to campus. Twenty-two subcommittees will provide recommendations and will remain active throughout the return to campus.

Other updates

I’m pleased we could announce a letter of intent with Henry Ford Health System earlier this month for a new affiliation. This creates a new, deep partnership that will improve health care in Michigan.

This partnership will increase each partner’s basic and translational research capacity, expand educational opportunities for both entities, create more educational opportunities for our medical, osteopathic and nursing students and for our MSU clinicians.

It’s an expansion of our existing relationship focused on basic needs that will also address disparities in health care. It will create a larger community of researchers, foster innovation and expand learning and research opportunities for MSU students. A proposed partnership on public health in southeast Michigan will focus on addressing some of the health disparities that are so clearly shown by the vastly disproportionate act of COVID-19 on the Black community. We see great potential for this alliance.

A new validation of Michigan State’s quality came out recently when we were ranked in the top 8% of higher education institutions in the nation by the publisher of the QS World University Rankings. Institutions’ commitment to diversity, employability and internationalization were big drivers of those results. 

Last week, at my request, Stephen Hsu resigned as senior vice president for research and innovation at MSU, and he will return to the faculty on July 1. Today I ask the Board of Trustees to approve the appointment of Douglas Gage as vice president for research and innovation. Doug currently serves as the assistant vice president for research and innovation and has led important efforts such as the Global Impact Initiative for the office. He is currently playing a vital role in bringing back research to the campus.

Doug is a plant scientist by training and has great experience in the industry, having served in advisor and senior leadership positions. I thank Doug for stepping up for this role, and we’ll begin a national search for vice president for research and innovation nearer to fall.

I want to congratulate the 133 Michigan State student-athletes in MSU's nine spring sports named Academic All-Big Ten honorees for the 2020 spring sports season. MSU had 12 student-athletes with a perfect 4.0 GPA, the most of any school in the Big Ten.

Finally, I want to conclude by again expressing my deep thanks to Terry Sullivan for her willingness to serve as Michigan State University’s provost over the past months.

As I mentioned to the Faculty Senate this week, Terry has served MSU as she served her other distinguished institutions — with intelligence, decisiveness, expertise, empathy, and a true commitment to the success of each and every member of the MSU community — students, staff and faculty. 

It has been a privilege to work with her, and I know you all join me in wishing her all the best as she returns to the University of Virginia to resume her post-presidential sabbatical. 

Budget discussion remarks

I want to briefly share a few comments related to the fiscal year 2021 budget for Michigan State University. In the Board materials for today posted on the website, we detail many of the challenges brought on by the novel coronavirus and the implications to our campus and other locations.

The 2021 budget comes on the heels of the fiscal year where we experienced roughly  $60 million in decreased revenue and increased costs secondary to COVID-19; suspension of RHA operations; cancellation of summer programs; the cancellation of part of our winter and all of our spring sports; a modest decline in research support; and significantly increased costs associated with our move to fully remote and online teaching.

As we look to fiscal year 2021, we see impacts on enrollment, particularly in international students due to the pandemic and U.S. immigration policies, and probable reductions in state allocations that will even more significantly affect our revenues going forward.

We also see increased costs with preparations necessary to prepare the campus for the return of some in-person classes this fall.

However, recognizing the fiscal challenges for students and families in Michigan and beyond, the Board of Trustees unanimously supported our recommendation not to increase tuition, fees or housing and food services costs this year.

In this budget, we are also increasing financial aid to provide more support for our students and their families and increasing graduate student stipends this year.

To address these revenue losses and cost increases, we have had to make some difficult choices. We have instituted both university-wide and unit-specific reductions. Employees have been furloughed, wages have been reduced for others and we have asked leaders to also make difficult choices. We are postponing a number of major capital projects and we are using some of our reserves to close gaps in the budget.

Our ultimate objective is to remain focused on our mission — to continue to offer a high-quality education to students without increasing tuition and fees, to conduct world-changing research and to reach out to communities, particularly those most impacted by COVID 19. 

Getting there has required significant sacrifices in salary and benefits from our faculty and staff — and university leaders — at a time when they are working harder than ever. I thank them for their unwavering commitment to Michigan State University.