Dec. 17, 2021: President's remarks to the MSU Board of Trustees


I want to begin with a very large thank-you to everyone across the campus and beyond for their work and dedication to Michigan State.

In my remarks today, I’ll look back at 2021 and offer some reflections on what we accomplished together. And I’ll conclude with a look into the new year, where we anticipate many more exciting things.

We started the year welcoming two new trustees, Pat O’Keefe and Dr. Rema Vassar, and I want to say I’ve appreciated your support and insights through the year — and that of the entire board.

I’ve also appreciated trustees’ engagement in strategic planning and the trustees’ participation in events such as commencements, receptions and recognition opportunities. And it’s always great to see our trustees in communities across the state. 

Supporting a safe community
As you recall, we started 2021 with safety uppermost in mind and increasing optimism for COVID-19 based on vaccines.

We had opened the Pavilion as a vaccination distribution site and by the time it closed in June, we helped dispense more than 96,500 doses to protect our community.

Vaccines, indoor masking and other measures allowed us to safely welcome back almost 50,000 students in the fall to experience the campus living and learning they value.

The pandemic brought significant uncertainty and tremendous financial impact, leading to difficult decisions including compensation reductions, furloughs and layoffs.

Consultation with shared governance was a key component of our efforts, and we implemented their recommendation that any salary cut be progressive and that we omit our least paid faculty and academic staff from salary reduction plan.

We also appreciated the recommendation for no salary increases in the last academic year. Our shared goal was always to keep our academic and research programs intact, and keep MSU accessible to our students. And we did just that, including increasing financial aid to our students and families by nearly $50 million over the pandemic.

This effort required sacrifices from every employee, and I appreciate the many who came to campus every day to do essential work to keep our campus clean, safe and operational.

From the beginning, we have said that we will restore the compensation reductions as soon as possible, and we are doing just that.

We reinstated the full retirement benefit match six months earlier than we expected and restored salaries two months ahead of schedule, impacting 10 months for faculty and academic staff rather than a year. We also added 2% raises for faculty and academic staff effective Jan. 1, and we are exploring an additional increase within the calendar year, if feasible.

And to recognize the extraordinary efforts and dedication of each and every one of our employees, I was pleased this week to announce $1,500 bonuses in January for regular and temporary faculty, academic and support staff, research and post-doctoral fellows and graduate teaching and research assistants.

The one-time bonuses will come from university financial reserves, but as I noted in my announcement, the longer-term financial effects of the pandemic on enrollment and tuition revenue, as well as increased costs associated with COVID-19 will linger and need to be addressed for the next several years.

As a further mark of our recognition of how hard we all have worked, I was pleased we could add for the first time in MSU history a three-day holiday break extension for employees at the end of this month. And at the urging of ASMSU, we piloted a two-day student fall break to support students’ well-being, and have now added it to the academic calendar.

And recognizing how the stress of caring for others impacts the well-being of many employees, we are working to develop a university-wide caregiver program to offer support.

Seeds of change
2021 was marked by accomplishment in many other areas vital to the future of our students and the university.

I’m grateful to my presidential advisors and the working group that created a comprehensive strategic plan addressing relationship violence and sexual misconduct.  

We have now completed 126 requirements that stemmed from federal investigations, as reported on our dashboard. And we have grown our on-campus services, such as the Sexual Assault Healthcare Program, which is staffed 24/7 by specially trained nurses.

This program is a part of the Center for Survivors, which once consisted of two individuals and now has 36 employees and many other volunteers who are working every day to help survivors in a trauma-informed way.

I’m also proud of the work of the steering committee for the strategic plan focused on diversity, equity and inclusion. This plan, utilizing the infrastructure created by the efforts of our newly appointed Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer Jabbar Bennett, will allow us all to tackle longstanding DEI issues on our campus, including the need for a multicultural center.

We set many ambitious goals in the university strategic plan to achieve our mission and take Michigan State to 2030 and beyond. In the strategic plan we will focus on priorities in student success, innovation, sustainable health, resource stewardship and DEI.

Implementation of the strategic plan has begun, with significant efforts underway across campus.

Supporting student success
We took a significant step this year toward the strategic plan’s graduation rate goal of 86%, with an impressive 0.8% increase to just over 82%. It’s the seventh straight year of annual increase and a huge testament to the work of our faculty and academic staff, as well as our student support programs.

I want to add another proud student success achievement we’re recognizing today, and that is the 38 graduating seniors earning 4.0 GPAs at MSU.

I want to salute them and also congratulate the more than 2,600 fall graduates we’ll honor at commencement ceremonies today and tomorrow, together with some summer graduates who will also attend.

In addition, we were extremely proud to announce this week that Honors College senior Andrew McDonald is MSU’s 19th Marshall Scholar. He will pursue graduate studies in the UK, and is a standout example of MSU’s educational excellence.

To help raise student support services to a new level, we’re consolidating the divisions of Student Affairs and Services and Residential and Hospitality Services into the Division of Student Life and Engagement under Senior Vice President Vennie Gore. I’m looking forward to watching synergies and new opportunities develop there in the coming year.

Turning to rankings
We saw the breadth of the quality of MSU’s academic programs highlighted again this year by U.S. News & World Report, which ranked five graduate programs first in the nation, with several others appearing in the top 20.

That now gives MSU nine U.S. News top programs.

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 for the first time, added a No. 1 ranking for educational administration.

And for the fifth consecutive year, the Eli Broad College of Business graduate supply chain program also took top ranking. U.S. News this year also ranked the undergraduate supply chain program No. 1, for the 11th straight year.

I was also pleased to see Michigan State’s work toward sustainability scholarship and practices place it recently at No. 21 in the Princeton Review’s ranking of top green colleges. We can also be proud the same source ranked our popular undergraduate entrepreneurship program No. 17 in the country. 

Such instructional quality is based in the deep scholarship and research conducted by our faculty members. This excellence placed MSU in the top 6% of institutions in the 2022 Times Higher Education World University Rankings. Those rankings are based on the caliber of our  teaching, research, citations, knowledge transfer and international outlook — all of which make critical connections between knowledge discovery and our educational mission.

Research and innovation
This year we reached back into MSU’s legacy of discovery to open the newest chapter in the William Beal seed experiment, one of the world’s long-running experiments. Researchers retrieved 140-year-old cached seeds and successfully germinated several, gaining national attention for our leadership in plant science.

We further demonstrated the practical application of MSU science, as well as our commitment to sustainability, by affixing transparent solar glass panels to help power our Biomedical and Physical Sciences Building.

While research advances can’t always be calculated, I wanted to share some measures of the impact of MSU research and innovation. The MSU Innovation Center this year tallied 120 new inventions disclosed, 37 patents issued, nearly $21 million in corporate support for research projects and three startup companies, all of which make our region and the state of Michigan more competitive.

Leveraging partnerships for impact
Much of Michigan State’s considerable impact comes from leveraging our external relationships, and we unveiled several exciting new partnerships in the last year.

The Envision Green program with Lansing Community College offers MSU academic counseling services there and opened channels for other cooperation. I also met with my counterparts at other community colleges to discuss ways to support their students’ transitions to MSU.

We moved decisively to advance a new standard of health care in Detroit and statewide by formalizing a 30-year partnership with the Henry Ford Health System. We are aligning our basic and translational research and creating an integrated network of scientists, scholars and practitioners. This includes particular focus on cancer research and care, and on embedding DEI in the health sciences ecosystem to address health care disparities.

And in partnership with Apple and the support of the Gilbert Family Foundation and Rocket Companies, we helped open North America’s first Apple Developer Academy in Detroit. I toured it this fall with the lieutenant governor, met our first cohort of students and came away greatly impressed with the opportunities it offers to diverse communities for technology careers.

Much of our research and education happens beyond our East Lansing campus, and our presence in Flint and Grand Rapids is substantial. Earlier this fall, trustees joined me for a tour of the Doug Meijer Medical Innovation Building in Grand Rapids, which is a great example of how public/private partnerships leverage our assets to expand our impact in communities across Michigan.

The economic impact of our associated Grand Rapids Medical Mile facilities, including the Meijer building, Secchia Center and research center, is estimated to exceed $200 million annually.

Facilities advancing mission
On campus, we officially opened new facilities that will add to our capability to support student and faculty success.

These included preparing students for technology careers with the innovative STEM building and the new Wonders Hall teaching and learning spaces we opened just last week. And the new Billman Music Pavilion offers an exceptional facility to nurture artistic creativity and expression.

Athletics showcase excellence
What is surely music to the ears of many, we’re ending the year in athletics on a high note. Spartan Football is No. 10 in the country with a 10-2 record and a matchup coming in the Peach Bowl on Dec. 30 against Pittsburgh. 

We had a great year in many sports, including for both our women’s and men’s cross country teams. Due to COVID pushing most fall 2020 sports into spring, the cross country teams participated in NCAA championships twice this year.

You met U.S. amateur golf champion and Spartan James Piot when he visited us earlier this year. Women’s basketball coach Suzy Merchant achieved her 300th win at MSU and the women’s soccer team had a great season with their new coach.

And for the fourth consecutive year, MSU established an all-time high four-year Federal Graduation Rate — now 80% — for our student-athletes.

We gratefully received our largest single cash commitment ever this year from Broad College of Business alumnus and former basketball team member Mat Ishbia. His $32 million commitment will help us expand our football training facilities and student-athlete career development services.

And today the board will be asked to consider resolutions advancing a new fitness center and recreational fields, part of our increased efforts to support student health and wellness. 

Looking toward 2022
All these examples provide just a glimpse of the year’s accomplishments, and I look forward to next year and many more of them.

Those include continuing conversations based on integrating ethics more thoroughly into MSU’s curriculum, research and culture, following a well-attended ethics symposium in October.

And we look forward to the formal opening of the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams next spring. MSU was awarded the project in 2008 from the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science.

FRIB will create hundreds of jobs and accommodate hundreds of visiting scientists every year while enabling discoveries and applications in key areas such as nuclear astrophysics, medicine and homeland security.

We will welcome new and returning students to spring  semester once again with safety uppermost in mind and our COVID-19 protocols in place.

With a campus vaccination rate above 91% and additional people working toward full vaccination, we hope to have a great platform to continue safely living, learning and working together.

This week we expanded COVID-19 testing services for the campus and greater communities at Spartan Stadium. 

And we will continue to monitor public health, executive orders and guidance from the CDC and health authorities.

With the omicron variant now in Michigan and almost certainly on campus, I continue to urge everyone who can to get a booster, and to also get an annual flu shot and to mask indoors, to protect themselves, their families and others and significantly ease the burden on Michigan’s over-stressed hospitals. 

As I think about our future here at MSU, I’m looking forward to increased excellence and impact and fully implementing the work of MSU’s 2030 strategic plan.

I look forward to demonstrating our leadership and our successes in addressing some of the world’s most challenging problems through our extraordinary research and our applied solutions.  

I want to again thank everyone who helped position Michigan State for such a promising year ahead.

And I’ll conclude with wishing everyone a happy holiday season and a bright, fulfilling new year. Thank you.