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“Faculty and staff are absolutely critical to everything we do at MSU”

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Scott Wasserman
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Michigan State University's new strategic plan articulates a shared vision for the university through the end of the decade. MSU’s Strategic Plan 2030 Empowering Excellence, Advancing Equity and Expanding Impact received the unanimous endorsement of the MSU Board of Trustees.

MSU's Strategic Plan 2030 identifies goals within six key themes: student success, staff and faculty success, discovery, creativity, and innovation for excellence and global impact, sustainable health, stewardship and sustainability, and diversity, equity, and inclusion.

On this edition of MSU Today, we'll be focusing on the staff and faculty success pillar of the plan with its executive sponsors: Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Teresa Woodruff, Executive Vice President for Administration and Chief Information Officer Melissa Woo, and Executive Vice President for Health Sciences Dr. Norman J. Beauchamp.

Michigan State University President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D. says MSU's staff and faculty are key assets of the university whose work determines the success of the university. And it's important to find ways to make MSU a place where people want to come to work and achieve their potential.

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

“Faculty and staff are absolutely critical to everything we do at MSU,” Stanley says. “And if you look at what the assets are that we value at the university, we have an amazing physical plant and amazing facilities. We have incredible students. They're remarkable, but our outstanding faculty and staff are our core assets, and their work really determines the success of the university.

“What we want to do in this part of the plan is really talk about how we help faculty and staff succeed in their important work. How can we enable them? They have the talent and the capabilities, but how do we do what we can to remove barriers and help them fully succeed in what they're trying to do? How do we find avenues for advancement for faculty and staff? How do we help them achieve? How do we help them reach the next goal? For assistant professors, how do you reach full professor or associate professor first with tenure? For staff, how do you get promoted? How do you move up the ladder? How do you take on more responsibilities?

“Finding ways to help individuals do this is key to our success at MSU. Finding ways to help them accomplish their research by providing the right support for them is key at MSU. What we'll talk about in this session is some of the things we're thinking about in this area and some of the steps we need to take to make MSU a place where people want to come to work to fulfill their dreams and reach their full potential.”

Provost Woodruff echoes President Stanley's sentiments that the plan is all about putting MSU people first.

“The entire strategic plan is about the people of this institution,” says Woodruff. “There's no part of it that doesn't touch on what we are as individuals within this great institution. Faculty and staff represent the institution, and what we want to do in the strategic plan is really to provide opportunities for every individual to reach their full potential. And in as much as we support the individuals, the institution will rise.

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Teresa Woodruff

“In many ways, the strategic plan contemplates a series of steps that one can imagine are somewhat like leavening that they begin to help each part to contribute then to the overall elevation of the institution. And as long as we put people at the center of everything we do, including our strategic thinking, the better MSU will be in the end. Every part of this plan really is about the people.”

Woo says the plan is about creating an environment where people can thrive.

“We can't get things done without great people who understand that we have an environment where they're going to thrive, and we need to create conditions where they believe they can do truly meaningful work,” Woo says. “We can't achieve our goals without people. We can buy all this what I call stuff that we can, but ultimately we have to have people who are truly talented and really want to be here to achieve great things and go where we need to go.”

“To be successful, it has to be about the people and the mission,” adds Beauchamp. “We need an environment that supports and empowers the goals of people who choose to make MSU the place where they work, learn, and practice.”

Woo adds that inclusivity is key to the plan.

“We are working very hard to create an inclusive environment, one that is truly inclusive of diverse voices,” Woo continues. “We are really starting to excel in this area, particularly with the onboarding of our first chief diversity officer as well as an awareness of the need for inclusivity and diversity. We can see this in the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Strategic Plan. We can see it in all of the efforts across the entire university. It's all of us together working towards creating this inclusive environment. I think this is where we excel, and we are getting even better.”

Beauchamp adds that accountability is also key to the plan.

“We excel in having a community that cares,” Beauchamp says. “In those difficult moments, what I've been struck by is how the MSU community comes together to be intentional in solving those challenges. We're also excelling in having a culture of accountability. It's something that we have to do better, and the strategic plan gets at that, but we have to be accountable to all of those who come to us in search of help or goal attainment.”

“We think of spirals of excellence in the specific areas of work,” Woodruff continues. “As we think about people, one of the things I have said and believe is Michigan State has a very high excellence to humility ratio. The humility of this place is just extraordinary. So, one of the things that we collectively have tried to do is really spotlight the excellence of individuals - faculty, academic staff, and staff. And we know of this excellence because of our rankings. We're a member of the great AAU, the Association for American Universities, because of our great people across this institution. The AAU is widely regarded as the most important metric for research intensive institutions across North America.

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Melissa Woo

“And there are a number of other rankings that represent this kind of spiral of excellence. So, what we want to do is really spotlight that excellence through the strategic plan, developing a portfolio for honorifics, both for individuals as well as for the institution. And we can hopefully then enable every one of the individuals within the organization to be able to not only achieve that which is good for them, but also to be able to let the world know what they're doing.

“In the context of the strategic plan as well, each one of our offices is working to enable a new generation of work that continues to help to elevate each one of our folks. I think of the Office of Faculty and Academic Staff Development. We've started a new dean school to orient both our new and interim deans to some of the core aspects of what we're doing to build community, not just the administrative work or the disciplinary depths, but really thinking about effective team building, equitable budgeting, and evaluating faculty and staff in ways that help them to succeed.

“These are really specific areas that we've been honing in on, creating and sustaining a respectful work environment series that we've been developing and that's across our offices of Human Resources and the Office for Institutional Equity and the RVSM team. So, again, we’re trying to think very holistically about how we build competencies to enable the institution made up of excellent people to be able to thrive, and then we can both spotlight them and a great institution. All of those are opportunities for focused engagement that within a learning community and a research community can build the best MSU we can be.”

“Another thing that we do is we collaborate well because of that humility to excellence ratio that Teresa provided,” says Beauchamp. “The barriers to collaboration here are incredibly low, and an aphorism I like is from Helen Keller who said ‘Alone I can do so little. Together, we can do so much.’ And when we think about staff and faculty success, it’s about helping it not feel like this solo journey but that there's a community that is willing and enthusiastic to partner. The low barriers to collaboration are defining for MSU.”

What key goals does the strategic plan identify for staff and faculty success?

“The plan identifies key goals and metrics, but I think my colleagues will agree that part of what the strategic plan is it's a living document,” Woodruff says. “It is an ethos for how we all lean into developing that environment in which excellence and opportunity naturally thrive. If we create that environment holistically, we will attract and keep talent to continue to create the conditions where faculty and staff can do their best work, both individually, autonomously, and collectively.

“One of the things we want to do is to actively seek recognition for the excellence and innovation that this culture cultivates and fosters. And if we do that, we think we can increase faculty and staff external awards year on year perhaps by 10 or 15 or even more percent. And these are research awards, career grants, NSF grants, foundation awards, the Kellogg Foundation, and honorifics. We really have a great deal of faculty who should be recipients of prestigious academic awards, national academy membership, etc.

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Norman J. Beauchamp Jr, M.D.

“So, our goal really is to support everyone towards creating that kind of workplace that advances every individual, every voice, and with a few metrics of some number of increase every year. Again, I think that that a by-product of the excellence we create will be the recognition that is won.”

“Among the key goals of the strategic plan for staff and faculty success includes supporting their career development, and perhaps most importantly, their wellbeing,” says Woo. “We really want to support the wellbeing of our staff, faculty, academic staff, and postdoctoral associates so we can focus on creating a best-in-class workplace culture.”

“As we help the excellence at MSU be recognized, and I really like this initiative, that in turn brings more resources and opportunities.” says Beauchamp. “And as we look at the scope and scale of the need and the urgency in our nation, our ability to draw attention to the excellence that exists here in ways that are magnetic for more resources to come is a critical part of this effort.”

With faculty representing so many different disciplines and the wide variety of roles for support staff, what does it take to make MSU a workplace of choice?

“It means we empower everyone to be engaged in a community that's inclusive and equitable,” continues Beauchamp. “It is cultivating, caring, and accountable leadership, and it's a culture that's transparent, open, trusting, and safe. And it's really listening so that we understand the goals of the individuals and ensuring that there are ways for everyone to contribute and to really recognize and embrace their goals and be responsive to the challenges that are faced at an individual and a unit level.”

“What it'll take to make MSU a workplace of choice is to provide an environment where people feel they can do meaningful work without limitation,” Woo says. “That can include providing a flexible work environment, whether it is to identify those roles that can work from other sites or perhaps at different times of the day than we are used to. We need to look to see what roles can work more flexibly so they can do meaningful work on the timeframe that they are able to provide that work. It means providing support for caregivers. It means making sure that we're inclusive of diverse voices and continue to advance our DEI efforts.

“It's also taking the lessons that we've learned from the pandemic. We have learned different ways to work in many cases much more efficiently and effectively, and that will help create this workplace of choice where people feel they can do their best work.”

“Melissa and Norm have said it so well,” continues Woodruff. “I echo everything they said, and I also really think about the ways in which our university policies and procedures and practices can enable that good work. And we must continue to engage in participatory engagement in each of those parts of what we think are ossified in some stone somewhere that tells us exactly what to do. We are an organization that values listening and allowing people to be part of the discussion while developing an environment in which learning can take place.

“All of our work is designed to develop the right kind of scholarship in conjunction with the learning that happens for 50,000 students at this institution. We must provide educators with access to the professional development necessary for them to feel comfortable and confident in this space to create evidence-based learning experiences through all modes of instruction. There are different ways in which a budding clinician will learn their practice versus someone who is in a performance space or someone who is in the scientific discipline or someone who is in computer science.

“Really understanding the plurality of the way we teach, of the way we learn, and the way the staff enables all of this to take place is something that I think really creates a context for improving campus culture while remaining firm in the goals and ambition of a learning community.”

This pillar seems like an area where faculty and staff would have a lot to contribute. How might you plan to engage staff and faculty in contributing to a dialogue as this area develops?

“What we've done in the Office of the Provost is to really engage faculty, academic staff, and students many committees so that their voices are part of our dialogue,” Woodruff says. “We have summits with our leadership, with the deans, and with the assistant associate provost. And we've really done an environmental or landscape analysis to really understand how people see the strategic plan playing out in their lives. We’re really trying to gather as much ongoing input as we had input to the strategic plan.

“It really was an extraordinary thing for this president to say we are going to move ahead with the development of a strategic plan that invites all voices during a time of transition and the COVID context that we had not seen before at a time when the organization was changing its top-level management in real time. So that extraordinary level of leadership led to an exceptional level of engagement in thinking about our aspirations.

“We have to keep those principles in mind as we move into this next stage of implementation and encourage everyone to continue to contribute in a living way to that ultimate set of goals that will be adjusted, just as our teaching is never the same. What we learn is always developing because of the way we do our research. We have to think about the strategic plan in that same way. We've invited dialogue in diversity, equity, and inclusion and are thinking about advancing social justice and connecting all the pillars through promoting inclusion to each of the problem sets that the Provost’s Office is engaged in.

“We are really thinking about intentionally shifting our culture, not thinking about this as something that is passive; there is an intentionality there. And I think that in as much as we continue to have feedback and campus-wide engagement, we have a high impact document that is foundational. We, I think, will be able to continue to develop strategies going forward that will be the all souls approach that everyone in this institution is part of the success of this institution. And that's how I think we'll continue to have the best outcomes because all of us have been involved.”

“As the three of us are the executive sponsors of this theme, we will be collaborating with each other, and of course, among all of our key audiences and stakeholders that we serve, as we move through the implementation of this initiative,” says Woo. “We will be working together to make sure that we've identified strategies for implementation and prioritize the different initiatives as we move forward. And we'll be consistently communicating our progress to the campus community and make sure that we incorporate feedback from the campus community as well.”

“We’re making sure that we recognize that there are barriers to voices, and so we’re creating multiple ways that people can have input, whether that's town halls or surveys,” Beauchamp says. “We incorporated something called rounding for outcomes where you go to where people work and find out what are the barriers to what they're trying to accomplish and how can we help. Part of what we are building in and will incorporate into this is multiple avenues to receive the guidance. This isn't top down. It's really the voices of the people who are accomplishing the mission.”

“My hope is that through this process that I hope is transparent, we gather further momentum,” Woodruff says. “We are not stuck in a moment. We are part of a trajectory and that trajectory can be up or down. It can be fast or slow. And I feel that we're really on an upward march that has pace, and that's because people are involving themselves in every aspect of this. And to echo Norm, this is not top down. This is all of us. And that represents the best input towards what I think will be an extraordinary output, and I can't wait for 2030 to look back and see what we've accomplished.” “We probably, Russ, should add the use of the term shared governance because that is essentially what this is,” adds Beauchamp. “The strategic plan can serve us in the way that will proceed as really a structure and process for partnership, accountability, and ownership. It helps make these decisions be connected to the individuals who are so central to operationalizing the decisions. We’re really committed to that. I'm proud of all the efforts to roll up sleeves together that I've seen over the last three years from the president and the provost. It's just been fun to be a part of and to see, that as shared governance is engaged, the enthusiasm from the faculty, students, and staff when their voices are heard.”

“This is MSU's time,” concludes Woo. “There is no better time to be moving forward and to be really putting in the effort and engagement in implementation of the strategic plan and truly focusing on the success of our staff and faculty. Let's do it!”

On this addition of MSU Today, we've been talking about the staff and faculty success pillar of MSU's Strategic Plan 2030, Empowering Excellence, Advancing Equity and Expanding Impact with the executive sponsors of the pillar: Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Teresa Woodruff, Executive Vice President for Administration and Chief Information Officer Melissa Woo, and Executive Vice President for Health Sciences Dr. Norman Beauchamp.

Read and learn more about MSU Strategic Plan 2030 at strategicplan.msu.edu.

MSU Today airs Sunday mornings at 9:00 on WKAR News/Talk and Sunday evenings at 8:00 on 760 WJR. Find, rate, and subscribe to “MSU Today with Russ White” on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and wherever you get your shows.