MSU Provost: Endowed chairs and professors reflect the “quality of the institution”

Nov 11, 2016

“When you look at our endowed chairs and professors, you’ll see they really represent some of the finest scholars, researchers and scientists, not just in the country, but really internationally,” says MSU Provost June Pierce Youatt.  “The endowment piece of this is very important to these individuals.  It’s the well-deserved title and recognition, but the endowment and unrestricted funds to pursue work becomes very important for these innovative people.”

Debra Furr-Holden is a C.S. Mott Endowed Professor of Public Health in MSU’s College of Human Medicine in Flint.

The C. S. Mott Foundation, which is very invested in Flint, literally located a block from our building, got together with the community and MSU and they did a comprehensive needs assessment,” says Furr-Holden.  “Really looking at what are some of the greatest challenges Flint faces and how a university/foundation community partnership could come together to address some of those challenges. So the endowment is important because it is the investment from the Mott Foundation to secure the positions to actually bring public health researchers and public health faculty here, frontline, to deal with some of the challenges.”

Victor Dirita is Rudolph Hugh Endowed Chair in Microbial Pathogenesis and doubles as chairman of MSU’s Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics.  He says private funding from donors “is absolutely essential.”

He compares competing for the best faculty to being the general manager of a baseball team.  “We get the best talent by growing it in our own farm system, and we try to attract free agents.

“And the only way to get the free agents on campus is to have endowed professorships.”

A $1 million gift to Michigan State University’s Eli Broad College of Business from MSU alumni Al and Nancy Gambrel has created the Gambrel Family Endowed Professorship in Management.

“For Nancy and me it was all about helping our students to have the opportunity to learn from, and to be inspired by, our faculty – the best of the best,” said Gambrel at the October 28 MSU Investiture ceremony.

Gambrel said he thinks often of professor Larry Foster and his Organizational Development and Behavior class at MSU. It was in Foster’s class that Gambrel, who earned a bachelor’s degree in business in 1976, first took an interest in pursuing a career in human resources.

“I’d love for this professor to do for these students what professor Larry Foster did for me,” Gambrel said.

“Having an endowment sends a clear signal to the professor and to the researcher that there’s an investment. There’s an at stakeness,” adds Furr-Holden.  “If you want to know where people’s values are, you look to see where they spend their resources. When people endow positions the way the Mott Foundation endowed these positions at Michigan State, it's a clear indication that your work matters.  And who doesn’t want to be someplace where you know that you matter and where the work you do is a key part of the value system of the institution?”

“We’ve emphasized chairs and professorships throughout the Empower Extraordinary campaign because this is the quality of the institution.  This is the ultimate investment,” adds Provost Youatt.  “This is the way in which we assure that quality continues here.”

“The endowment also creates a sustainability for positions,” adds Furr-Holden.  “Mostly we are a soft money world. When you are a researcher, you are paid primarily from grants, which are soft money.  And the tides change and turn and you; people go into funding troughs.

“But with the endowment there is sustainability and a basic infrastructure of support that will allow the faculty to have a certain sense of security and stability in their research programs.  And that creates opportunities to attract the nation's best and brightest students, post docs, fellows and to recruit other faculty.”

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