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MSU President Lou Anna Simon looks ahead

Michigan State University's Hannah Administration Building. Photo: Courtesy University Relations, MSU
Michigan State University's Hannah Administration Building. Photo: Courtesy University Relations, MSU

The year to come will bring some challenges, as well as some important developments, at Michigan State University.

WKAR's Scott Pohl recently spoke with MSU president Lou Anna Simon about what's in store in 2012, beginning with the scheduled April opening of the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum.

Designed by world-renowned architect Zaha Hadid, Simon says the museum has the art and architecture communities excited

LOU ANNA SIMON: People around here just think we're sort of opening a weird building, and the contrast is really extraordinary. And so, hopefully as people sort of get over the weird building part of this, which it is, they'll see the impact it can have on the community, and that this isn't just an opening. This is a museum that's going to have internationally recognized exhibits throughout its history.

SCOTT POHL: Every time the subject of the financing of the Broad Museum comes up, it seems that we're $5-million away from reaching the goal. Can you shed some light on the current status of things?

SIMON: We're now $4-million (away from the goal), so we've made a little progress! I think when you look at a project like an art museum, and the history of funding for art museums, you always get a rush to close at the end of the project, because people aren't sure that you can actually get it done. This was pretty much anticipated. It also happens in projects where you have a major name donor because people sort of assume that all of it's paid for.

We're going back to some people who haven't given us money; we're going back to ask people to consider extending their pledges; and, we've got some seven-figure donors that we think will come on board before April.

POHL: The Facility for Rare Isotope Beams: what developments might we anticipate for 2012 for F-RIB on campus?

SIMON: Obviously, we have to worry about federal funding, and we have an aggressive effort underway to assure that the budget for the Office of Science fits the envelope, because we believe it's in the best interests of Michigan, and the number of people who would be employed by the project, to keep it on schedule. If it gets off schedule, it's still workable, it's just it doesn't give us the job impact we need so desperately in Michigan right now. And, we're really pleased that we have a bipartisan group, a statewide group, of people who want to push for this project.

POHL: When we spoke a year ago, the people of Michigan had just elected a new governor (who) hadn't yet taken office. We were anticipating state funding cuts to higher education. You were thinking that the way Michigan State budgets on a two-year cycle would be helpful in the planning process. Can you, a year later now, give me an update on how you feel about the relationship between MSU and those in Lansing who are involved in funding higher education?

SIMON: The budget reduction that occurred was 15%. We had planned for 13%, so we were very much in the parameters of our planning. It put a bit more pressure on the campus to find that last 2%. From all indications, while people don't like to go through budget reductions, the way we did it did give people time to plan. We still have a bit of a tail. In this year, we're bridging with non-recurring funds so that we didn't have some abrupt changes in units to where the retirements were going to happen at the end of this year instead of last year, and that's the real advantage of the multi-year planning.

POHL: A year ago, the supposition coupled with the hope was the state funding cuts would be painful, but at least in some sense bottoming out in that if nothing else there would be a level of stability, no further cuts. Do you think it's playing out that way?

SIMON: Governor Snyder has done what he said he would do, which is to try to look at the structural budget deficits of the state, and do what actually we've been doing for a long time, is put recurring money behind recurring things and non-recurring money behind non-recurring things, and deal with things like retirement, post-retirement health care liability. So, I think they're working hard to get the state on a sound fiscal position. How much money will be left over when they try to deal with unfunded mandates is still uncertain to me, even though the trajectory is positive.

Scott Pohl has maintained an on-call schedule reporting for WKAR following his retirement after 36 years on the air at the station.
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