April 16, 2021: President's remarks to the MSU Board of Trustees

I want to thank all those who spoke today and appreciate the difficulty that it may have presented to some. So, thank you so much for your courage in coming forward.

I’ll start my remarks today with our graduation season and an update on the COVID-19 outbreak. Then I want to turn to our planning for fall semester and university updates.

It’s been a busy, challenging year and it’s hard to believe in just two weeks we will celebrate the graduation of MSU’s undergraduate and graduate degree-earners. This year, more than 8,400 Spartans will carry their degrees, knowledge and drive into the world.

We are so pleased that we are able to offer in-person graduation for the Class of 2021. We will do it by offering more than 50 smaller in-person ceremonies held outside, rain or shine, for undergraduates, graduate-professional students and a limited number of family members.

We will require masks as we do in our campus compact, and our seating will enable social distancing.

COVID-19 Update
We were pleased to receive vaccine to distribute to students over the past week, including our international students. By the end of today we expect to have vaccinated more than 2,800 students at the Pavilion, with 3,500 new appointments available next week.

I had a chance to speak with several students on Tuesday at the vaccination site, and they were as happy about the opportunity as we were to offer it.

I want to thank the Ingham County Health Department, which very quickly supplied us with Pfizer vaccines to substitute for Johnson & Johnson doses. This allowed us to honor all appointments students made despite pausing the J&J vaccine following public health officials’ guidance.

We hope to receive more vaccine from our health department partners so we can continue this important work. While MSU is one source of distribution, we have encouraged students to register with as many vaccine providers as possible.

Our student vaccine numbers to date are welcome news. When combined with the fact that more than 80% of our undergraduate and graduate students say they intend to get a COVID-19 vaccine, we are moving closer to a more typical fall semester and I look forward to seeing more students on campus.

Beyond health concerns, the pandemic has also had a severe financial impact on many families and students who have been unable to work.

Last Friday, the Office of Financial Aid completed awarding $15 million to help 14,118 students with grants earmarked from the federal government’s Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund II program.

Fall Semester
As I said before, I’m excited about fall semester as we look forward to a more typical campus experience, including student activities and athletics.

We’re planning nearly all courses to be held in person, but will continue online offerings for some large lectures. Students say they like the online flexibility, particularly with asynchronous courses, which also can help accommodate things like internships and work schedules.

First-year students will be back with us living on campus, with as many others as we can safely accommodate.

We’re pleased with the demand we’ve seen. It’s clear students value — and miss — campus living. Dining will be open with available seating, as allowed by public health department rules.

And it will be great to see the return of more in-person activities. Plans for Fall Welcome events are in the works, and many campus events could offer both in-person and remote access components. More than 800 student organizations have registered for the year so far, and those activities will continue to enrich the MSU experience.

MSU Athletics is planning for fall events with spectators to the degree allowed by state requirements and guidelines in place at the time. And the Wharton Center and Broad Art Museum also are planning performances or events.

We expect testing and other precautions to continue at some level, and all of us will need to adhere to these policies and engage in the actions and behaviors that have kept us safe and healthy.

And as mentioned before, I encourage students, faculty and staff to get vaccinated as soon as you can. This is the key to a safe and successful fall.

Something new next academic year will be a two-day fall break we’re piloting on Monday and Tuesday, Oct. 25 and 26. Students asked for a fall break and I’m pleased it’s now part of next fall’s general academic calendar.

University Updates
I want to note several important university updates.

As we move the university forward in this and other strategic ways, I’m looking forward, contingent on the board’s approval today, to working with Lisa Frace as senior vice president and chief financial officer.

She’s a transformative leader in higher education and finance with 15-plus years at tier-one research universities. She brings experience improving administrative functions, and she’s a champion for professional development with a focus on diverse viewpoints and voices.

Lisa will manage our financial progress, develop a long-range financial plan and help ensure institutional resources are used effectively and align with our strategic efforts.

As you know, Pride Month is celebrated at MSU in April, and I had a chance to greet students on Sunday at the annual Lavender Reception hosted by the Resource Center for graduates and members of MSU’s LGBTQA+ community.

And this afternoon, I’ll welcome attendees at a conversation with 2020 National Book Award winner Charles Yu as part of APIDA Heritage Month on MSU’s campus. 

Important Collaborations
I’d like to share a few updates on key partnerships. MSU has some new, important collaborations I want to briefly mention.

First, we learned recently how much MSU’s Grand Rapids Medical Mile facilities — the Secchia Center, the MSU Grand Rapids Research Center, and the Doug Meijer Medical Innovation Building and Perrigo’s North American headquarters, the latter of two both of which are under construction — will contribute to that region’s economy.

A new study estimated the annual direct economic activity related to the four buildings at $203 million with an annual economic impact of $339 million overall, with support for 2,017 jobs and yearly earnings increases of $142 million.

The report also noted the catalytic effect MSU’s Research Center has on that region’s scientific ecosystem, complementing other organizations and attracting top researchers and funding opportunities.

Research spinoffs also are anticipated to generate new businesses by taking advantage of scientific innovation. 

This is a powerful quantification of MSU’s partnership with the Grand Rapids medical and business communities, which started with the expansion of our College of Human Medicine in the new Secchia Center in 2010, just 11 years ago.

We have some student-focused collaborations I want to mention, also. I recently joined approximately 40 U.S. college and university leaders on the Task Force on Higher Education and Opportunity to support innovative approaches to issues in higher education.

The task force was formed to address post-COVID-19 challenges facing higher education across the country.

MSU’s initial contribution to the effort is the My Spartan Story program, which will allow students to document their co-curricular activities to give a fuller representation of their experience at MSU.

Many MSU students transfer here from other colleges, and Lansing Community College sends more students to us than any other.

We continue to work toward improving the experience for those students through a new agreement with LCC.

As part of our joint Envision Green program, MSU will provide two dedicated academic advisers to LCC a day each week and pursue other ways to improve the transfer process.

Rankings and Awards
I have several new rankings and recognitions to report.

U.S. News and World Report ranked five graduate programs first in the nation, with several others appearing in the top 20. For the 27th consecutive year, MSU’s College of Education ranked No. 1 for elementary and secondary education. The College also ranked No. 1 in curriculum and instruction and in rehabilitation counseling, and for the first time, added a No. 1 ranking for educational administration.

The Eli Broad College of Business’ supply chain management graduate program also maintained its top ranking.

And speaking of rankings, MSU’s College of Communications Arts and Sciences’ game design and development program was ranked first in the nation by the Princeton Review.

Another winner in the media space is WKAR, which was named Michigan Public Television Station of the Year by the Michigan Association of Broadcasters. It also won several other radio and television awards, including nine Best in Category awards.

This year marks the ninth time in 10 years WKAR has been named Public Television Station of the Year. 

Meanwhile, our student-run radio and media organization, Impact89 FM, won the 2021 College Radio Station of the Year award. This is Impact 89FM's seventeenth time winning the award.

There are many important recognitions for Spartan students, as well.

The Goldwater Scholarship is one of the most prestigious and nationally competitive undergraduate scholarships available to students in science, mathematics or engineering. Two Spartans are 2021 Goldwater Scholars.

Congratulations to Charles Hultquist, an Honors College junior majoring in physics and advanced mathematics in the College of Natural Science; and Andrew McDonald, an Honors College junior majoring in computer science in the College of Engineering; also, in statistics and advanced mathematics in the College of Natural Science. 

For the seventh consecutive year, MSU was named a top producer of both Fulbright Scholars and Fulbright Students in the U.S. These programs support academic exchanges with over 150 countries.

MSU is one of only 17 institutions to receive both recognitions this year. Eleven MSU students and 10 scholars received Fulbright awards.

As we announced this week that an MSU student has been named a Truman Scholar. Gregory Marchal is an Honors College junior majoring in economics in the College of Social Science.

The Truman Scholarship recognizes college juniors with exceptional leadership potential who are committed to affecting change through public service. So, my congratulations to all of our scholarship award winners.

And with that, I’ll conclude my remarks.