Leadership Retreat


On March 9, 2020, the Michigan State University Strategic Planning Committee and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Steering Committee convened a joint, daylong retreat to create a common context for their parallel planning processes. A total of 106 faculty, staff, administrators, students, and trustees participated. The retreat was not designed to produce conclusions or identify strategic planning priorities; rather, it was designed to identify issues that will be taken into consideration as plans are developed and to gather observations and information that will inform the processes that follow. 

Following introductory remarks from President Samuel L. Stanley, Jr. and a contextual overview by Interim Provost Teresa Sullivan, the retreat was moderated by independent facilitators. During the daylong retreat participants spent time in both private reflection and group table discussions. The morning session featured discussion around key trends and challenges that Michigan State University will face as plans are developed for the coming decade and beyond. An afternoon session focused on identifying key Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) that will serve as a foundation for planning efforts.

Brief summaries of the trends discussed can be easily navigated below.

An itinerary for the day, methodology, trend summaries and results of the SWOT analysis can be found in the full summary report.

Read the full summary report

Context for Planning: MSU Trends

Summaries are based on high-level review of notes provided by note-takers at tables, and as such are interpretative and not a full or accurate record of the discussions that took place. Notes were supplied in diverse formats including emailed MS Word documents, handwritten notes, and pages from easel boards.

  • Disparities in Health
    • Introductory comments including definition of health disparities/inequities 
    • Student success: Students who come from communities that have disparities are more likely to go into fields that would help remedy those disparities, but have lower levels of success. Need for more pipeline programs, e.g. Dow STEM and Charles Drew. Help students prepare earlier. Adapt admissions policies as possible. Provide greater academic support. 
    • Healthcare access at MSU: An uninsured student only gets three free visits. Veteran students can’t always go to Olin but must instead go to Ann Arbor and there is no transportation. Active parents better support students because they know how to work the levers. 
  • Relationship Violence and Sexual Misconduct (RVSM)
    • Concerns: RVSM, DEI and Incivility are all boiling pot issues. Greater vulnerabilities found in LGBTQ+ and disabled populations. Campus climate survey revealed incivility may be more widespread than anything else — academic freedom should come with responsibilities. However, fatigue and resistance to working on these issues.  
    • Addressing concerns: Need integrated and universal structure of support and services for students, faculty and staff including policies and procedures. HR onboarding could help. Need to foster collective responsibility.  
  • Climate for Students –Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI)
    • Review of recent diversity enrollment trends  
    • Systemic change: Recurring DEI issues for students have persisted over the past decade and will persist into the future. Solutions will require systemic and structural change including: explicit mission/vision; clear and consistently enforced policy; resource allocations; enrollment approaches; curriculum; student, faculty and staff awareness building and training. 
    • Culture shift: Culture shift is equally important with structural change. Institutional culture has not evolved with external context. Faculty and staff are inconsistent in modeling inclusive and respectful practice (e.g., use of preferred pronouns, response to racial incidents). Students not afforded space for or encouraged to voice dissenting perspectives. 
    • Online growth and context demands additional training and policy. 
  • Climate for Faculty
    • Faculty trust: Trust is a social contract between faculty and university. Need for transparency and appropriate information. Opportunities for all faculty to feel they can participate. Promote a culture of understanding where people can learn from mistakes. 
    • Faculty status: Need for consistency in how all faculty are treated. Experiences of faculty of color may be different than majority. Need to bridge chasm between fixed-term and tenure-system faculty. Fixed-term faculty do not have same privileges and treated as “second class.”  
    • DEI awareness: Involve staff and faculty in addressing. Provide coaching from CAPS, etc., for handling difficult topics like implicit bias.  
  • Climate - Recruiting Under-represented Faculty
    • Review of MSU history – past focus in 70s-80s. Less visible emphasis in more recent past. U-M took lead on issue. 
    • Retention challengeEfforts to increase hiring countered by lower retention. General belief that campus and community aren’t as diverse and attractive to hires—hard to have life in East Lansing. Some disagreement. Some faculty feel that issue is more about being treated as special category.  
    • Addressing challenges: MSU can better promote contributions in urban research, history of firsts. Make work of diverse faculty, departments, research a bigger part of the MSU story. Hiring should continue to evolve. Not just straight from grad school but recruiting from elsewhere. Cohort hiring.  
  • Climate for Staff
    • Review of staff composition data; need for comprehensive agreement on data definitions 
    • ADP support: Need for more support regarding ADP (Anti-Discrimination Policy) training and investigation. ADP complaints represent the most common category of staff complaints, primarily on race issues. Lack of clarity about RVSM v. ADP policies and enforcement; sense that RVSM is better supported. Concerns about reporting and impacts (e.g., moved employees) and questions about mandatory reporting. 
    • Culture of accountability:  Are leaders and supervisors being held to standards and regularly evaluated? All should model accountability to create confidence and trust among staff. Current culture may not allow for issues to be safely brought forward. Intentional dialogue is very important. Early (pre-complaint) attention to concerning behaviors can be encouraged including training. 
  • Invisible/ Visible Needs in Physical Spaces
    • Review of numbers of individuals indicating disability and current capacity  
    • Innovation: How university can use technology/online to serve. Ways to reconsider space use and be intentional. Importance of wellness support for students with disabilities as well as all students. MSU research in field is developing. 
    • Opportunity: Build on strong foundation and experience to be a national leader among universities in this field. We are innovative, we need to examine the results; tell the world - identify needs in the community. Be a magnet for students with disabilities. 
  • Community Engagement
    • Review of current strategy and approach at MSU. 80% of current students participating in an engagement activity.  
    • Definition and metrics: Need to make community engagement integrated across our strategic plan. Reflect all the ways we bring in research and teaching to community. Define what we mean by community engagement broadly and holistically, not simply a check box activity. But also identify metrics that show impact and account for work (e.g., in tenure and promotion). 
    • Funding: Articulate importance and impact of engagement to state, as with public health and natural resource management, to secure more funding. Understand resource commitments and account for them in budget. Strengthen case for support as integral to MSU. Not a separate activity. 
  • Extension
    • Review of current scope – focus on ag, food, health and nutrition and 4-H (400k students) statewide. Portion of 100 faculty members. 
    • Evolving scope: Newer domains of solar, health, communications, big data, soil health. Urban engagement in Flint and Detroit developing. Need for asset-based community development instead of looking at deficits.  Challenges of rural economic development considering demographics. 
    • MSU identity: Extension is mission and big part of what we are known for. MSU can continue to define practice and lead in bold new ways. 4-H network can be included in DEI approach. Affirmation of MSU purpose.   
  • Budget/ Finance
    • Review of current MSU financial and budget model (Incremental) and basics of Responsibility Center Management (RCM) model 
    • Consideration factors: General agreement that current budget model not effective and adaptive. Goal of greater transparency in a new model. “Budget model is not strategy” and model should be aligned to priorities, mission, vision, goals. RCM is one approach. Hybrid model will likely be most effective and allow for adaptation. 
    • Needs: Transparency and clarity for deans, etc. to align to institutional budget. New development should consider metrics, activity-based models, outcome-based models, performance-based models – be nimble and adaptive.  
  • Enrollment Management
    • Big questions: To what extent is class composition a function of mission/vision/values? Should we become bigger and what are infrastructure limitations? Is bigger desirable? Maybe get smaller in East Lansing. Need to think about virtual and mobile options. Need to align with budget model. 
  • Student Debt/Financial Aid
    • Review of student debt characteristics 
    • Budget balancing: Student debt load and ability to repay varies, e.g. medical school v. engineering. Reliance on financial aid is significant, will continue to grow. Challenges for low income students. Legislature limits out-of-state enrollment, but must be balanced approach. Could include more out-of-state and international students to help with financial aid gap. 
    • Competition: How will MSU remain competitive. Tuition and fees high compared to other Big Ten. Competition from online options – these options will be more accepted. Campus experience has been MSU strength; not all programs can or should be taught online (e.g., music, lab science).   
  • Undergraduate Education
    • Review of current state 
    • Student success: Old model was admission and sorting. Focus has shifted to persistence, completion. Part of land grant mission and our core responsibility. Adding a point to graduation rate each year since 2015. 
    • Approach: Focus on academic standing + institutional navigation + sense of belonging. Identity-based initiatives for LatinXAfrican-American, upcoming focus on Veterans and LGBT. Peer coaching and students as part of developing solutions. 
  • Graduate Education
    • Needs: Research is essential to land grant mission; cannot retain research faculty without graduate students. Within the Big10, MSU has one of the largest graduate student populations but considerably less funding for graduate students and less staff than average in the graduate school1 (see footnote). Need to invest in graduate student development - mentorship, shorter time to degree, support for DEI, professional development, alignment to industry. 
    • Considerations: Address organizational structure of graduate school. Engage colleges in addressing needs. Consolidate and think through approach for online education at graduate level. 

    Note: 1 Factual correction received for Topic 2, Table 2: Graduate Education by Thomas Jeitschko, Dean of the Graduate School at MSU. 

  • Research Trajectory
    • Review of mission goal to be Top 100 Research University and competitive research standing. 
    • Challenges: MSU research has grown (2012: ~500M – 2019: ~750M) but required lots of resources. MSU lacks characteristics of top universities: student selectivity, academic hospital start-up packages for faculty. Spread too thin? 
    • Future: More focused strategy should be considered. How does MSU become more competitive for NIH, DOE, etc. – and will this funding continue.  Must always balance teaching, research and community. Need more start-up money. Public health + clinical is a growth opportunity. Must have academic hospital partner. 
  • Student Mental Health
    • Current state: Prioritizes suicide threats and crises. Use of off-campus services to meet excess need. Growing volume of expressed need greater than CAPS resources.   
    • Future commitment: Must be a university priority to address mental health of all students. Should look at it as holistic health, physical health and mental health. Current approach of crisis intervention does not fully meet our responsibility. Clarify MSU’s mission about mental health. Must have a stable budget and the right structure. Overall effort promotion of resources, prevention, treatment. Relates to campus climate as well. 
  • Legal Landscape for Higher Education
    • Review of current and emerging issues in compliance and policy. 
    • Federal government: 7-8 years of intensive effort. Significant antitrust suits and actions by DOJ relating to admissions market (early decision, no poaching, etc.). NACAC compelled to revise its code of ethics. Also enforcement actions relating to China and intellectual property. Investigations including of faculty members at various institutions. Unsettled Title IX rules, will depend on political and election factors.  
    • Other potential legal and compliance concerns: Accessibility, healthcare, web accessibility, concussions/NCAA. MSU will need to be proactively prepared.  
  • 4th Industrial Revolution Economy/ Digital Revolution
    • Introductory comments regarding definition and implications of 4th industrial revolution economy  
    • Implications: Speed of change, quickly outdated technology and models. Traditional university processes take too long. Artificial Intelligence and potential role in university functioning and teaching. Not if, but how fast. Relationship to values and practices of university, including land grant identity. Need to focus on serving student needs, including DEI. 
    • Market forces: Demands of employment market driving education. Dual market- accreditation of discipline and then by employers. Subscription service education as needs continually evolving. Break down silos to provide relevant education. Employability. 
  • Health Sciences: Connecting Strengths Across Campus
    • MSU mission/land grant: Well-being of all fits land grant mission and supports communities – accessibility, affordability for all. Leverage statewide network to identify community health challenges. Focus on innovation e.g., mobile unit/bus that brings care to community. 
    • Undergraduate education: Health, well-being and resiliency – prepare students for healthy living (“dust off Healthy U initiative”). General education should include health wellness education.  
    • New school/college: Create school/college of Community Health or Population Health or Community Well Being. Bring together expertise and resources of a number of entities (CUM, Social Work, CHM, COM). Offer dual degrees through new entity.  
  • Residential Education
    • Review of current state, including current numbers. Unique to MSU residential colleges. 
    • Future trendsWhat will residential education look like moving forward considering student demographics, changing preferences, online and hybrid education. Some institutions are heavily investing in this area. Residential experience is costly, not accessible to all. What should be MSU strategy in face of changing and uncertain context. Should we be a residential institution? 
    • Education centrality: Important to focus on educational dimensions, beyond living facilities. Strong educational programs linked to residence halls at MSU; is this a model we will continue to invest in? Residential programs (e.g., living/learning, focused on disciplines, global challenges) can be vital aspects of education. But not universally accessible. How might we be inclusive including taking dorm programs out of dorms and available for all. 
  • Research - Intellectual Capital
    • Review of current state. Corporate partnerships, esp. with startups – very attractive to faculty. Universities as innovation producers as companies outsource. Younger faculty especially engaged – already think about translation. 
    • OpportunitiesEncourage focus on social enterprise and non-profit aligned to mission. Useful invention – e.g., digital agriculture and extension support. International engagement. Engage alumni for venture capital. Evaluate faculty on IP and community engagement. 
    • Challenges: Can distract faculty from university role. Conflict of interest. Compliance management, e.g., outside work for pay, use of MSU facilities. University not nimble.  
  • International Engagement
    • Review of history, scale and current state of international engagement. Focus on international students. 
    • Implications: Int’l engagement and students essential to Top 100 status. Global context changing rapidly and MSU must see challenges as opportunities. Study Abroad program excellent and well established, will need to adapt, e.g. novel coronavirus, affordability. Partnerships in Africa important. 
    • Future: Diversify international student population – more sending countries. Strategically increase partnerships around the globe – maintain trust and brand. Ensure international students are fully supported at MSU.  
  • Educational Delivery/ Emerging Technologies
    • Strategy: Very important to MSU future. We need to determine overall strategy. Opportunities to grow and address enrollment factors. Leverage current distributed efforts through central capacity. Must maintain brand and quality online — be MSU.  
    • Student support: Online still means student wellness and support. How to address health, wellness, safety, e.g. cyberbullying. All student needs exist online, plus additional needs of online environment.  
  • Arts Initiative
    • Arts strategy planning: Two years ago, extensive planning process and recommendations, consultant led.  Included benchmarking with universities, including UM. Goal is to integrate arts broadly into MSU campus lifeenhance learning and research across the universityenhance the experience in a more holistic way. Determination that Arts at MSU is siloed and distributed, needs greater integration and collaboration. 
    • Future state: Integrate into comprehensive curriculum — art and sciences strengthen each other. Faculty senate and others may need to think more creatively about curriculum based on intersections. Administrative levels must consider resourcing, provide incentives and rewards. Need for “sales pitch” — ways to depict value. Must overcome complicated structure.