Feb. 12, 2021: President’s remarks to the MSU Board of Trustees

First of all, let me acknowledge the speakers and thank them so much for their participation in this meeting. And for many of them, I know it takes courage to come forward and you are committed to your causes. So thank you for sharing your information with us.

I want to begin my report by noting this date, Feb. 12, in Michigan history is the day in 1855 — 166 years ago — Michigan’s governor signed the bill establishing the Agricultural College of the State of Michigan. We opened our doors to students in the spring of 1857, graduated our first class in 1861 and, that year, underwent the first of our five name changes as we grew.

Michigan State University has come a very long way since it was established. I said when I came to MSU that I’m very excited by the university’s upward trajectory and that we can do even more, and I’m committed to working with all of you to continue that momentum as we grow our impact in education, innovation and outreach.

We also have a long way to go in other ways as well, ways that speak to who we are and how we model our values as an institution and a community. We have work to do to fulfill our commitments and to ensure everyone here can achieve their fullest potential for success in a place that is safe, respectful, welcoming and supportive.

That starts with honest assessments of the university and even our history. It includes acknowledging the university’s presence on ancestral lands of indigenous peoples, who were here long before our founding and are part of our communities today. We have a continuing obligation to consider this historical context and our relationships with all underrepresented communities.

Diversity, equity and inclusion
Our research presentation today will be from Ruth Nicole Brown, who chairs our new Department of African American and African Studies. 

This is very appropriate, as February is Black History Month in the U.S. This month we celebrate the contributions of Black Spartans and those helping MSU more fully live its values of diversity, equity and inclusion.

I hope you will attend our  31st annual Excellence in Diversity Recognition and Awards program, which will be virtual this year and will be available for viewing online on Feb. 24.

I also should note our Office of Research and Innovation is honoring Women in Research Month with film screenings and a panel discussion featuring women in research and leadership at MSU, including our provost, Dr. Teresa Woodruff.

Despite the challenges associated with working during the pandemic, there is significant progress in our university DEI and strategic planning processes, and all are moving forward in an inclusive and transparent way. We can look forward to hearing more from their leaders in the coming weeks and months. 

The Task Force on Racial Equity recently submitted its recommendations for near-term actions in the vital areas of campus climate, faculty and staff diversity and policing, and their recommendations, my responses and our webcast conversations are available for view online.

Ishbia commitment
I’m pleased to talk about an extraordinary contribution announced last week, a $32 million commitment from alumnus Mat Ishbia to MSU Athletics. This was the largest single MSU cash commitment from an individual.

Mat is a 2003 graduate of the Eli Broad College of Business and a former member of the Spartan men's basketball team.

The largest portion of the gift will expand football training facilities, to be named in honor of Tom Izzo — a great jumpstart for Coach Tucker’s program. Mat’s gift also honors Coach Izzo with a named basketball court and naming of one of the Breslin Center entrances for Mat’s parents, Jeffrey and Joanne Ishbia. 

Another part of the commitment will support the Spartan For Life Fund, which is focused on career development and life-long career opportunities for all of our student-athletes.

I want to thank Mat again, congratulate Coach Izzo and thank Athletic Director Bill Beekman and his team, and VP for Advancement Marti Heil and her team, for all of their hard work in achieving this goal. And a very special thanks to trustee emeritus Brian Mosallam for shepherding this important gift to Michigan State University.

New partnerships
There are two other significant announcements we made recently.

We signed a 30-year agreement with Henry Ford Health System. This will foster innovative research, best-in-class cancer care and is designed to address the needs of underserved communities — both urban and rural.

We hope it will align our basic and translational research and create an integrated network of scientists, scholars and health care practitioners. And we want to address health disparities, offering healing and hope, and increase MSU’s impact in southeast Michigan and beyond. This is in addition to our existing relationships with other hospital systems around the state.

We also announced a new partnership with Apple for a Developer Academy in Detroit, its first in North America. This will support Detroit’s growing tech entrepreneur community and will be open to all Michigan residents through a competitive application process.

The Apple Developer Academy program lasts one year, and students will learn coding, design, entrepreneurship and other professional skills. It’s going to involve multiple MSU colleges, and we look forward to this partnership with Apple.

Police chief/VP for public safety
Last week I announced the selection of a new police chief and vice president for public safety after a national search, and that is Marlon Lynch. Marlon will start April 1, pending Board approval today. He has nearly 25 years of experience and has led some of the largest academic police departments in the country, the University of Chicago and NYU.

His expertise also fits Michigan State University’s desire for equity in our law enforcement. And, of course, most importantly, perhaps, he’s a Spartan, with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.

I want to share some recent program ranking updates with you. Our graduate online education program maintained its No. 4 position in U.S. News and World Report. Our curriculum/instruction and educational administration/supervision programs ranked No. 2. The College of Education online master’s programs for veterans was also No. 2.

And our criminal justice program rose five places to No. 5 nationally and was No. 3 for veterans programs. And finally, our online graduate program in business ranked No. 21, the fifth consecutive year the College of Business has been in the top 25.

Congratulations to all the faculty and staff engaged in this for your excellence.

FRIB grant
MSU’s commitment to science and discovery continues. As we continue to anticipate the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams starting scientific user operations in 2022 — on budget and ahead of schedule — MSU researchers are already working to maximize its more immediate benefits to society.

A new $13 million Department of Energy Office of Science grant will help us prepare to harvest rare isotopes that will be byproducts of FRIB’s primary research mission. Those bonus isotopes will benefit a variety of other fields, including medicine, materials science and environmental studies. Such isotopes are in demand, for example, for medical diagnostic PET scans, and could help researchers develop novel cancer treatments and diagnostics.

Arts & COVID
In the field of art, College of Arts and Letters faculty members were awarded a $3 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to explore how people apply creativity to cope with stresses in this pandemic period.

Scholars from Michigan State will create a community space to share collective stories of trauma, anger and joy, illuminating how art can promote healing and justice. Works they gather will be featured in online and physical exhibits in Lansing and elsewhere.

Arts and other creative pursuits are essential to our quality of life, especially in the isolating times we’re going through. I want to remind everyone that the Broad Art Museum is open, and I greatly enjoyed its transportation-themed exhibit, “InterStates of Mind.” It traces the development and social impact of the automotive industry and interstate highway system through works of art.

COVID update
We continue to monitor COVID-19 on our campus and support the state’s vaccination program. Our partnership with the Ingham County Health Department for a high-capacity inoculation center in our Pavilion is winning notice nationally and locally, and we’re pleased to say Gov. Whitmer toured it earlier this week.

I will have an upcoming webcast for employees discussing vaccines, and we’ll talk about what I view as a necessity for vaccination going forward.

Lunar new year
In closing, I want to note that in 1873, MSU enrolled its first international student. In 1956, the nation’s first dean of international programs was appointed here.

And last fall, we enrolled more than 4,500 international students from 140 countries. Many of them, together with Asian American-identifying students, staff and faculty, celebrate the lunar new year — which happens this year to begin on today’s date, Feb. 12, as well.

 With that full circle, I will conclude my remarks and thank you.