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President Stanley’s September 30, 2021 Letter to the MSU Community

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Derrick L. Turner
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Samuel L. Stanley, Jr., MSU President

Well, it's always a pleasure to catch up with Michigan State University President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D., and particularly today on a beautiful fall day where we're sitting in the backyard at Cowles House to catch up on some things and have President Stanley elaborate on some of the topics in his September 30th, 2021, letter to the community.

Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D.:

Russ, it's always great to be with you. As you say, it's a beautiful day right now in East Lansing, so wonderful we could spend it with everybody outside. That's great.

Russ White:

Homecoming week, sir, just a great time really once a year at a minimum for Spartans to reflect on how important this place was to them and continues to be, right?

Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D.:

Yeah, Homecoming's a great description for it, isn't it? It's a chance for people to come to their Spartan home. I missed the last two. Rained out my first year and then the pandemic struck the second. So it's wonderful for me to be able to experience this for the first time. And I'm looking forward to the parade and all the wonderful things that are going to happen. Of course, our Homecoming champion, Barbara Ross-Lee, the famous member of the Spartan community who was the first Black woman to be a dean of a medical school. So, it's a great distinction to bring her back and it ties in so much for the sense of community and respect we have at MSU.

Russ White:

And one of the things that makes MSU great is the many academic programs. There are a lot of rankings that come up. How important are those ranking to you? They're indicative I'm sure, but never tell the whole story, right?

Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D.:

I think you summarized it really well. They do matter. I would never say they don't matter because there are people who pay attention to them, and they are kind of an external benchmark of how you're doing compared to peers. On the other hand, it's very complex. You can go up and down for reasons that may not have completely to do with mission. So, I don't take them quite so serious, but I do think they matter. And they certainly matter to some students and parents I think who are very interested as well.

So, it's a great achievement, I think. I look at our supply chain program and what they've done year after year to rank at the top is spectacular. I look at some of our other programs. Packaging continues to do very well. Our work in music continues to be a strong department. All across the board really we have strength, but it's nice when these programs get called out. And the Times is a stringent ranking and so to be number 35 among universities in the U.S. is a big deal.

Russ White:

A couple of ways to highlight our collaborative ethos at MSU is the partnership with Henry Ford Health System. As that evolves, what should we know right now about that?

Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D.:

It continues to evolve towards closer collaboration. And we're finding many different ways to partner. They're such a powerful health system. Their reach is wide, their numbers are large, and they deliver quality care and quality research. So they have a research endeavor in human health that approximates ours.

So together, coming together, we're finding so many different ways we can work together to improve health. And that improves right at the delivery of health to work on understanding disparities better, to work on more remote things such as diet and nutrition which are critical to human health, but which we don't always think about when we're thinking about healthcare.

Russ White:

And MSU has many partners in the automotive industry. We're working with Ford on some composite materials that are lighter and sustainably-based, Dr. Larry Drzal and his team. Our mobility future was highlighted too by our University Research Corridor collaboration with Wayne State and Michigan but talk a little bit about mobility and where it's going and how MSU research is fitting into our mobility future.

Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D.:

So, Michigan of course has always been the home of mobility and in the United States and really must lead the way. And so I think we're looking for ways to continue that leadership. And I think we have a number of allies in trying to do that. So, as you said, we have about 50 researchers at MSU who are studying mobility. We've done work to turn this campus into a course where one can study autonomous vehicles and learn more about how to make them safe, efficient, and effective.

And I think these are things that really help keep us in the lead. So, I met with the Business Leaders for Michigan a couple weeks ago and this was top on their list was ways we could collaborate. I heard Bill Ford talk about what he sees as the future of Ford and mobility obviously is very much a part of that.

Russ White:

And President Stanley, what about that beautiful STEM Teaching and Learning Facility you helped open a couple of weeks ago? Talk about the building, but also what's going to go on inside of it.

Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D.:

It's a showcase for teaching STEM in the United States. And it makes total sense with our outstanding Natural Sciences group, our Engineering group, and our College of Education. We're well-positioned to lead in this area. And that building, that's a flagship building. And again, I think one of the participants in the dedication said, ‘This is the best teaching science facility in the world.’ And I'm not going to argue with them. I think it's amazing. And the way it was built from the old power plant and incorporates some of the historical components of that, it looks towards the future and makes it all the more exciting for our students.

So, this is a place where our students are going to be able to come together. They're going to be able to learn science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and do it with hands on experience that can't be replicated in other places. So, I couldn't be more excited about it. And of course it's an amazing building, but the people we're going to put in it are pretty amazing as well.

Russ White:

I think it was Senator Stabenow who so aptly described the building that way, sir. And if you add an A for arts to STEM and make STEAM, we're opening the Billman Music Pavilion, another really wonderful facility. And again, our generous donors play such a big role in that too.

Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D.:

That's so exciting and those listening carefully to this broadcast may be able to hear a little from the Billman because I think they're practicing right next door to us right now. And it's wonderful. It's one of the benefits of being in Cowles House is we get to hear them. But donors really made this happen. There was a significant contribution from the university as well, but really donors brought this program to completion. And if you haven't seen it, you have to tour the Billman Pavilion. It added about 40 percent of space to the music building, but that space is transformational space with the kind of studios, soundproofing and so on to really allow us to teach music to a great group of students in the best way possible.

I'm so excited about it. Jim forger has done an incredible job of shepherding this and leading the fundraising for it as dean. And I know this is something he's very proud of and the faculty are very proud of. And all the students are going to benefit greatly and the community is going to benefit greatly because music is a great gift essentially to the community as a whole. We're very fortunate to have such an outstanding music program. And it's one of the ways in which people recognize MSU and the contributions we make not only directly on this campus, but to the community as well.

Russ White:

And President Stanley, you recently appointed a new athletic director for Spartan Athletics, Alan Haller is new to the position, but certainly not new to MSU. He’s a Spartan through and through. Talk a little bit about Alan and what made you choose him to be the next AD?

Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D.:

Well, first I've got to give a shout out to Bill Beekman who did such an outstanding job as athletic director and who really set a foundation for great work. I decided as everyone may know to bring Bill back into the senior administration in a role as Vice President for Strategic Initiatives. He's going to help us in the implementation and supervision of our strategic plan, as well as doing special projects for me about the university.

As far as Alan goes, this is someone who we use the phrase bleeds green. There's no question that he does. He's participated in service to MSU as a student, as an athlete, as a police officer and now as athletic director after his time in sports under Bill. He's doing great work already. I think he's bringing a lot of energy, but also a real commitment as Bill had as well to make sure we don't just focus on some sports. We're making sure that all the sports are going to compete and are funded in a way that will allow them to be successful and that's really important.

I see that as a major issue for him. I see him as understanding what's going to be necessary to continue to have a football program that's doing the kind of things we've been doing the past few weeks. We want to continue that. A basketball program doing the same. We also want our track and field athletes to be competing at that level. We want our field hockey athletes to be competing at that level. We want our volleyball players competing at that level.

There are so many different sports we want to see participating and succeeding, and we don't have the revenue as you know. We didn't have the revenue to do every sport, but we want the sports we have to do well.

Russ White:

And earlier this week, President Stanley, you also sent a letter to the campus community highlighting some of the financial issues with the university right now as we're sort of proceeding through the semester. What's the financial update for MSU?

Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D.:

So I think we had some things happen that we've been waiting for and we're glad they occurred. So, we did receive a budget from the state now that has an increase about 1 percent to our base in it, which is good. It's always good to get an increase. We would've liked more. We always do, but it's always good to get an increase. And then it has about another $12 million or about 11 or so percent for increase for us as well. That's one-time dollars, and it's related to federal maintenance money, but we weren't guaranteed that was going to come, but it has come now out with this legislation. So we're very excited about that as well.

So that improves our balance. We have a slight increase related to tuition that we got as well. So we did a little better on tuition revenue than we thought we would, although it's not huge, but it's helpful for us too going forward. And then of course we've been using that HEERF money to continue to defray expenses we had from COVID. And we had a great year in the markets as many universities did around the country.

While that grows endowment, most endowment funds are restricted. There is a payout that comes and the payout will be slightly larger because the percentage it'll be coming from, the percentage will stay the same, but the dollars will be slightly up. So that gives us some income essentially to use as one-time dollars to do something we've wanted to do, and that's restore the extra 5 percent match that we had as part of our benefit package. And we made the very difficult decision as faculty and academic staff and executive management that we would take reduction of the two-to-one match and just have a one-to-one up to 5 percent for this past year.

And we had planned to continue it for a second year, but now we're going to cut that six months short and restart it again in January. And I'm so pleased we can do this. And I really appreciate the patience of academic faculty and staff who have been so willing to make these kinds of sacrifices. And executive management who've been willing to make these sacrifices during this time. And we're going to continue to monitor our financial situation carefully and where we can do other things. We'll look to do other things, but that's where we stand at this point.

Russ White:

Well, President Stanley, as always, thank you for elaborating on the topics in your September 30th community letter. Just any final thoughts as we close for Spartans?

Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D.:

Everybody stay safe during this fall. People have been doing such a great job masking and getting the vaccine. People have been complying with the vaccine mandate. We really are approaching 93 or 94 percent of the campus vaccinated. That's a pathway towards safety. That's a pathway towards keeping people safe. And I'm so pleased with how people have been abiding to the mask mandate. I've seen a little slippage sometime in our athletic events so I'm going to be talking more about that in the future because I think that's really important. When we're inside, we need to be masked. Those are the MSU rules.

And I know everybody wants to come back and see sports and watch sports inside. I certainly do. We've got to do it in a safe way and that's really important for all of us. And so we'll continue to monitor that, but I'm so excited that people are back. And our cases of COVID are down on campus. And the number of students in isolation and quarantine has fallen. We're down about 40 percent from where we were two weeks ago so I think we're moving in the right direction.

Russ White:

That's Michigan State University President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D. Keep up with him at president.msu.edu and follow on Instagram. His handle there msupresstanley. and I'm Russ White from the beautiful backyards at Cowles House for MSU Today.

MSU Today airs every Sunday morning at 9:00 on 105.1 FM and AM 870 and streams at WKAR.org. Find, rate, and subscribe to MSU Today on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and wherever you get your shows.