Sept. 11, 2020 Remarks to the MSU Board of Trustees

Good morning everyone.

Start of the academic year

I want to begin my report with the start of the academic year.

Fall semester is fully underway and it’s different from past years — without fall sports, in-person student events on campus and with primarily remote teaching and learning.

It’s been great to welcome groups of students, even if in virtual settings this semester. I was pleased to participate in our virtual convocation to welcome new students as I start my own second year as MSU’s president.

I want to thank all faculty and staff who worked so hard to prepare for the start of the year.

Preliminary enrollment numbers

I want to talk now about our preliminary enrollment numbers. Our final and official numbers will be available later this month, so it’s just a preview today. Total MSU enrollment is just under 50,000, or 49,875, which after its official integration into MSU last month now includes the College of Law, which added about 750.

Undergraduate enrollment is projected at 38,675, which appears to be about a 1% reduction from last year. Of the entering class, including transfers and summer admits, 80% are Michigan residents. International students total 470, or 5.6% of the entering class, and is down about two percentage points from last year and that’s’ likely due to concerns about COVID-19.

Graduate/graduate-professional enrollment is about11,200 total, down less than 2%, or 200 students, from last year and it’s close to their five-year average enrollment.

We could be looking once again at MSU’s most diverse student body: Students of color are projected to be 25% of our U.S. student total, up a percentage point over last year’s numbers.

Surge in COVID-19 cases

While our enrollment is good news, I am very concerned about the significant increase in COVID-19 cases we are seeing this week. More than 250 cases have been reported since Aug. 30, primarily from gatherings off campus — and mainly involving students who reside off campus — the majority are those living in group houses, particularly fraternities and sororities.  

We are not seeing as much on campus or spread among staff or faculty, and research has been taking place in a safe manner on campus most of the summer, as have our few in-person classes.

We will continue to be vigilant in addressing early detection, spread and communicating public health guidance and expectations. I want to emphasize that our community compact remains in force, including consequences for violations, and we are processing interim suspensions from MSU for individuals who have repeatedly violated the community compact.

We are continuing our partnership and collaboration with the city of East Lansing and the Ingham County Health Department in addressing off-campus behavior and public health enforcement. 

Finally, I want to remind everyone that what happens right now will play a significant role in our decision about the spring semester.  

Office for Civil Rights report

Among the many important things MSU has done since we last met was providing on Sept.1 our response to the U.S. Dept. of Education’s Office for Civil Rights Resolution Agreement. We broadly shared our OCR response, and relevant documents can be found on our website.

We noted the dozens of changes the university has made to improve our response to violations of Title IX, and acknowledged that we have more to do. We addressed past policies and clarified mandatory reporting protocols for all MSU faculty and staff as part of the updated RVSM and Title IX policy.

In addition, we included several detailed scorecards on our website, which list the requirements and actions we’ve taken. We hired a new associate vice president of the Office for Civil Rights and Title IX Education and Compliance. We underwent a semiannual review of our Title IX grievance process by outside firm, and we reorganized and increased the scope of the Office of Audit, Risk and Compliance to help us assess and track our progress. 

Diversity, equity and inclusion

We completed finalist interviews for the chief diversity officer position this week. Each of the four finalists interacted with leaders, faculty, staff and students. Each hosted an open Zoom forum, shared their vision for the position, followed by Q&A. I expect a decision soon, and know you will join me in welcoming this key leader to MSU.

I now want to talk about some additional personnel news. 

Provost Woodruff

I’d like to officially welcome our new provost, Dr. Teresa Woodruff.

It’s been a very busy first month for her, as you can imagine, but I’ve been impressed with her energy and vision for MSU.

I know she will be a tireless contributor to the mission of the university and an inspiring colleague to all of us.

Maybank transition

Some bittersweet news now, Vice President and Associate Provost for Student Affairs and Services Denise Maybank has accepted the position of Interim Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management at the City University of New York. CUNY is the nation’s largest urban university, with 25 campuses and half a million students.

An alumna of CUNY’s Brooklyn College, Dr. Maybank will lead its Office of Student Affairs and Enrollment. She joined MSU in 2005, became the first female vice president for student affairs and services in 2013. She has accomplished a tremendous in her time here, which I shared in a letter to campus earlier this week.

I know the Board joins me in wishing Dr. Maybank well and thanking her for her years of dedicated service to MSU and its students. She will be missed.

Effective Sept. 28, Student Affairs and Services units will report to Vice President Vennie Gore, who heads Residential and Hospitality Services and Auxiliary Enterprises. Provost Woodruff and Vice President Gore will examine the best long-term structure for student affairs at MSU. They will engage students, faculty and staff in that process.

Melissa Woo appointment

In more personnel news, today I am asking the Board to approve the appointment of Melissa Woo to Executive Vice President for Administration, with the resignation of Satish Udpa from the position last year. She has spent the last year learning about how the university works and assessing its strengths and challenges.

Dr. Woo has proven herself a strong administrator of large, complex units, leads with integrity and is a strong collaborator.

This is part of changes we’re making to promote greater efficiency and effectiveness to support our academic mission. With the financial challenges brought on by the pandemic and overall challenges in higher education, we needed a new way to think about our financial and administrative structure.

I’m also recommending to the Board the creation of a new position – Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer. There will be national search. The CFO will evaluate our historical budget model and develop a long-range financial plan.

Successful institutions are always growing and evolving. I believe these changes will position us to become more efficient and reach our full potential.

MSU rankings

I want to talk about some good news: Two entities recently put MSU among the country’s best for affordability, graduation rate and alumni career earnings. Money’s “Best Colleges” ranks MSU in the top 7% in the nation. For educational quality, affordability and alumni success, MSU is No. 35, surpassing eight Big Ten universities and two Ivy League colleges.

Money says MSU's graduation rate of 81% is 8% higher than expected for students with similar test scores and economic backgrounds.

And Washington Monthly “2020 College Guide” ranks MSU No. 11 in the Midwest in “Bang for the Buck.” Schools are ranked according to how well they serve non-wealthy students.

MSU meets the financial aid need for more than 70% who apply. Nearly three-quarters who need financial aid receive it and the average merit grant is just shy of $10,000.

These are things we can be very proud of.

Nisbet Building

I want to conclude my President’s Report today by acknowledging the Nisbet Family — I know this current situation is not easy for them.

But when it was brought to my attention recently that one of our campus buildings was named for an individual who had possible connections to the Ku Klux Klan, I knew we needed to take action.

I brought this concern to the University-Wide Naming Committee and asked for a recommendation. 

They concluded there was credible evidence former Trustee Stephen Nisbet was a member of the KKK and they recommended removing his name from the Nisbet Building. I concurred, and we announced our intentions.

I recognize the unfortunate impact on the family, but our decision is not about Mr. Nisbet’s family or even his contributions to educational, public or corporate life in Michigan. Instead, it is about acknowledging that the KKK has been engaged in extreme racism and horrific violence toward Black Americans from the end of the Civil War until today, and we cannot condone a link to the KKK on our campus in the form of this building’s name.

The specific action will be addressed in our agenda today.

That concludes my remarks