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Michigan State University President Reflects on 2021, Looks Ahead to 2022

Liam Boylan-Pett

Michigan State University President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D. discusses topics he covered in his December 2021, Spartan Community Letter.

“It's an exciting time of the year,” says President Stanley. “These commencement days are my favorite days. It's just such a joyous occasion as these students reach the finish line and celebrate with their families and friends. I never tire of it. It's always exciting.”

As an eventful 2021 draws to a close, Stanley reflects with pride on student success initiatives and three strategic plans published this year.

“Student success is one of the pillars of our strategic plan. And for the seventh year in a row, we raised our graduation rates and that's difficult to do. My hat's off to the people who work on student success and to the students and their resilience. Even in these tough times, we're seeing a continuation of this wonderful trend. And to get the graduation rate up to over 82 percent is a huge change from years ago. It speaks to the idea that what we want to do is have every student who comes to Michigan State University leave with a Michigan State University degree. And how you make that possible and the work it takes to do that is significant, but that's our goal and we're putting it on us, not on students, but on us. If we accept you to Michigan State University, we feel it's our role to help you graduate and see you through that degree.

“Commencement represents the culmination of that. I'm also just really proud that we had as close to a normal semester as we could. It's been a challenging semester. There have been a couple of incidents that everyone knows about that have been tragic and troubling. Yet, at the same time, we brought 16,000 students back to living on campus. We conducted our classes in person as we said we would do with, of course, a mix of hybrid and online. And to successfully accomplish that, again, speaks to me to the resiliency of students and the innovation and skill of our faculty and staff to make it all work.

“And three new strategic plans address relationship violence and sexual misconduct, diversity, equity, and inclusion, and a university strategic vision that will guide us as we build excellence and impact in key areas in the years ahead. Each plan focuses on creating an environment where students, faculty, and staff can do their best work and achieve their greatest potential as MSU serves its mission here and around the world. To push them through during this time of the pandemic and have them come out as such forward thinking documents that incorporate what we've known before, what we learned during the pandemic, and what our approach to the future will be is rewarding.”

Stanley says he’s proud of MSU’s 19th Marshall Scholar Andrew McDonald, who exemplifies the brightest and best at MSU.

“Michigan State University attracts extraordinary students. I look at our Honors College and the credentials that those students have. And then, when they come to MSU, they have all these opportunities to really expand their portfolios and to really do more and accomplish more. Not only do they come here bright, but they have a chance to really spread their wings and fly here. That makes them competitive for these kinds of awards.”

The opening of renovated teaching and learning spaces in Wonders Hall last week with computer and other laboratories for College of Engineering students capped a year of exciting facility openings that will support student learning and success for many years. Student success hinges in part on having the right facilities for students to do their best work.

“Couldn't have said it better. We're developing state-of-the-art facilities for our students, faculty, and staff. And that's incredibly important. It's a competitive environment out there. Students have choices and their families have choices about where they want to attend college. And when you have an outstanding faculty to teach and you couple that with facilities that are inspirational, it makes a difference.

“The Billman Pavilion, The Eli Broad College of Business Minskoff Pavilion, the Wonders Hall renovation and our amazing STEM Teaching and Learning Facility are places where education is going to take place in new and exciting ways where students are going to learn and have opportunities for hands on experiences. I met a number of first year engineering students, a very diverse group by the way, and their excitement about being in that space and what it meant to them was contagious.”

MSU ranked number 21 on the Princeton Review’s 2022 list of top green colleges in the United States. MSU is green in more ways than one.

“You're absolutely right, and I’m so proud of that. It's a point of pride not just for us, but for our students. I think they take great pride in this. This is something they care about. They're a generation that takes these issues very seriously. They want to be impactful, and they want to be associated with an institution that cares and makes a difference. To be in the top 25 Princeton ranking is great. To be one of the top ranked Big Ten schools in this list is very important for us as well. And we're going to continue. The strategic plan contains a section on stewardship and sustainability. We’ve made a commitment to continue to do this and to work to becoming carbon neutral. There are challenges ahead to do that, but we have the ingenuity and Spartans Will to excel in this area.”

MSU's academic quality is underpinned by the excellence of our faculty members, 11 of whom earned recognition for their influential scholarship among their peers. These distinguished faculty members are ranked among the world's most cited researchers over the past decade. It's hard to have student success without our world class faculty, right?

“The two go hand in hand. Great students help attract great faculty because they have graduate and undergraduate students who help work in their labs and help demonstrate the creativity and enthusiasm that's so important. And, of course, students come because of outstanding faculty for their ability to teach and to do innovative research with the global impact.

“I'm very proud of those faculty. That is a wide world out there in terms of who you're competing against. So, to have 11 faculty who are in the top rankings in the world I think is spectacular. We'll continue to try to recruit exceptional faculty and create an environment at MSU where all faculty have the chance to be nurtured to reach those kinds of goals.”

Campus safety is another commitment to our university community. And Vice President for Public Safety and Chief of Police Marlon Lynch recently announced two new initiatives supporting that priority: The Police and Public Safety Advisory Committee and the SafeMSU app.

“My thanks go out to Chief Lynch in his role as vice president for public safety and chief of police. He really is taking the charge that we gave him when he arrived very seriously, which is to really make sure that we're doing everything we can to keep MSU as safe a campus as possible. The advisory committee delivers on the promise we made with the task forces that we had earlier this summer who were working on policing to create a new advisory committee for the police. It's part of our goal of having more community engaged policing as we look at the campus. That's very important. And I’ve already downloaded the new app.”

President Stanley acknowledges MSU Culinary Services’ national grand prize for the allergen free dining hall in Owen's Hall, Thrive, and he shares his concerns for the rapidly emerging Omicron variant of COVID-19.

“Like everyone else, I continue to read and follow with interest and concern what we see with the outbreak at Cornell University; it’s worrisome. It seemed to involve mostly vaccinated students. There is some evidence that's come out of South Africa that still needs to be confirmed that this variant may be less likely to cause severe disease. But that remains to be seen.

“I continue to advocate for boosters for individuals. The data seems to suggest, again still early, that people who have been boosted against COVID-19 tend to be more resistant to developing infection or symptoms with Omicron. And that's really important. We may be at a stage with this variant where it's more difficult to prevent infection, but what we want to do is prevent hospitalizations and deaths. The more people who are vaccinated, the easier it will be to accomplish this.

“I haven't seen data on mask wearing, and I don't know what Cornell’s policies were. But we will certainly continue our mask wearing for we know that does help prevent against transmission of Delta. We know it helps against transmission of influenza, which is the other problem that people may be experiencing as well. So, getting vaccinated against flu, getting your booster against COVID-19, and carefully continuing to wear masks indoors is the advice I'd have for people over this holiday. And if there are going to be gatherings where you don't think you can anticipate wearing a mask, having people tested ahead of time may be helpful in trying to prevent infection.”

Stanley is excited about MSU’s upcoming participation in the December 30 Peach Bowl.

“We had a football season that was wonderful in terms of what was accomplished and particularly rewarding because it was unexpected. The pundits before the season had us picked as last in the Big Ten East. We well exceeded those expectations. Coach Tucker and his team didn't listen to what the pundits said and had an amazing season. We're very fortunate we were able to make sure that we retained Mel Tucker as the coach.

“He's done a great job with recruiting. He's done an amazing job with the X's and O's, but he’s also been a prolific fundraiser. And that's helped bring new resources to a program that is the heart of what we do in Athletics because the revenue from football really provides the revenue to support other sports. Men's basketball and football are the two sports that provide the revenue that allows us to participate and be competitive in all our sports.”

MSU will provide a $1,500 bonus to most faculty and staff in January and has given the Spartan community the week off between Christmas and New Year’s.

“I'm glad we're able to do this bonus. And it's so well earned by everybody at the university. And we wanted to make it something that all faculty and staff were able to participate in because everybody has been affected by the pandemic, and everybody has had their work changed and had to do more during this time. There's no one who's escaped the impact of this.

“And I appreciate those who sacrificed some of their finances during these challenges. I appreciate those who were furloughed and have now come back. And we're glad to see you back again. But all this was so impactful to so many. So, our ability with some of the money we have in reserves to say how much we appreciate this is something that we're very proud of. Thank you so much for everything you do. We couldn't have done this the way we did without your total commitment to MSU and your willingness to really go above and beyond what would normally be expected to help keep this university running and to serve our students, who are so important to all of us.”

President Stanley wishes the entire Spartan community a safe and healthy holiday season.

“These are some of the most difficult times we've had in terms of our safety from illness and from the pandemic. So, I encourage everyone to do the things that will keep you and your family safe. There's nothing more important than that as we move forward. The theme next semester will be to continue what we've accomplished this semester. We'll be following Omicron very carefully. So, I urge people to stay tuned over the holidays in case we have announcements to make if there are changes we might need to make. But right now, I hope people rest and relax during these holidays. Use those three days to be with your family and celebrate everything we've accomplished and the fact that we continue to move MSU forward.”

MSU Today airs Sunday mornings at 9:00 on WKAR News/Talk and streams at WKAR.org. Find, rate, and subscribe to “MSU Today with Russ White” on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and wherever you get your shows.