Satish Udpa: Helping MSU heal while growing its contribution to a better society

Apr 22, 2019

“I like to split things that we are doing into two buckets,” says Acting Michigan State University President Satish Udpa. “In the first bucket, we are looking at things that we can do to heal the campus. We want to right the ship and we want to make sure that the amount of negativity that we saw on this campus comes down. So, things like apologizing to the survivors, that was one of the first things we did. 


“The second thing that we've done is to meet with some of the survivors to get a sense of the pain and anguish that they are suffering. I also met with some parents, again with the goal of trying to figure out what it is that they are going through, because for empathy you need to be able to meet with these people and get a sense of what's going on.

“We persuaded the trustees to look at the possibility of restoring the fund that allowed some of the survivors to get resources to heal themselves, to be able to get psychological support services and a whole bunch of things that they need in order to become whole. We are going to make that fund available now. They are coming up with a version two of that fund, and so I'm hoping that we'll have that in place before too long.”

While MSU heals and supports survivors, good things continue to happen.

“There's a mountain of good that we have built over the last 160-plus years, and we want to keep on building that mountain. We are doing things to make sure that this university keeps doing well, not just for the next five years, not just for the next 10 years, but for the next 1600 years, if you will, because institutions like Michigan State University are here for the long haul. They're here because the public needs them. Society needs them, and we have a big role to play not just now, but in the centuries to come. So, we have to make the kinds of investments that are necessary to keep the university healthy, to keep the university relevant, and that's critically important if we want to move forward.”

Udpa provides updates on FRIB, campus mobility initiatives, and student success.

President Udpa says alumni he meets with “agree with the strategy that we have employed: heal the university; make sure that in doing so we don't lose sight of the fact that we are here for the long haul; help the university survive, thrive, and do well. That's critically important. It's so refreshing to meet the alumni. When you go out there and you see how successful our alumni have been, maybe we're doing something here. Maybe there's some secret sauce here that allows our alumni to do so well.”

Upda touts the success of MSU’s recently completed Empower Extraordinary capital campaign, which raised funds to add 112 new endowed faculty positions at the university. And he describes MSU’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, which was on display at the recent Innovation Celebration.

“Private support is essential, because without that private support we won't be able to do all the things that we are doing. Investments are critical. Given the fact that the investment from the state is diminishing, we want to make sure that our competitive edge does not go away, and that comes only when we have this private support.

“Well, 160 years ago a bunch of wise men got together and said, ‘We've got to create a university that's not only open to people with or without means. It should have research as one of its basic traits.’ But that research means nothing if we don't translate the fruits of our research activities into society. We've got to translate that work to benefit society. What we saw at the Innovation Celebration was just that. We saw evidence of our faculty and students doing just that. It goes back to our land grant roots.”

Udpa adds that he is “so grateful to this country for giving me an opportunity to do well.” And about today’s students he adds “Despite rumors to the contrary, despite what you read in the newspapers and hear in the media, our students are getting smarter and smarter. They are better equipped, largely because, I think, the environment has changed. When kids who are two years old, three years old, have access to an iPad and they're able to access educational materials, believe me, that's only going to do one thing. It's going to make our kids smarter. We're seeing that in the university. The kinds of problems our students are able to attend to are becoming more and more challenging. I'll tell you, the world is improving. Despite rumors to the contrary, this world is getting better in so many ways.”

When a new MSU president is named, Udpa will continue to serve MSU.

“I'm going to go back to my role as executive vice president for administration. I'm looking forward to serving this university, because it has helped me in so many ways over the years. There's nothing that I love more - except my wife and children, of course - than this university. I'm going to do everything to help the new president do well, because that's a priority for me.

“One of the goals that I'm sure every president has is to make sure that the value of the degree that we confer on students every year improves with time. I want to assure all the alumni that the degrees they earned would only improve both in value and other intangible ways. That requires, as I said, making sure that our students succeed and that we invest resources in areas where we can make a contribution to society.”

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