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MSU Interim President Teresa Woodruff discusses priorities, Board of Trustees and Title IX

headshot of Teresa Woodruff sitting in front of a grey background. She's smiling and wearing a white coat with a gold leaf broach.
Courtesy
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Michigan State University
Teresa Woodruff became MSU's Interim President on November 5, 2022.

Former Michigan State University Provost Teresa Woodruff is settling into her new role as the school’s interim president.

She stepped into the position following the resignation earlier this fall of President Samuel Stanley Jr.

Stanley had clashed with the Board of Trustees following the controversy surrounding the dismissal of the dean of the Broad College of Business this semester.

Woodruff joined WKAR's Sophia Saliby to talk about how she plans to lead MSU going forward.

Interview Highlights

On her priorities as the leader of MSU

We've really been focused on three C's that I've been describing as communication, culture and community, and really bringing us together over this last, just over three weeks or so, as you mentioned, helps us, I think, bring together what I began to call "stagility:" stability with agility. The ability to move forward, while maintaining kind of the stability that we need for the institution.

On how the university is handling reports related to relationship violence and sexual misconduct

I think that MSU does get more RVSM-related reports than other schools that were surveyed between that interval of 2014 and 2020. And last year, we did handle about 1,700 reports. We also launched more formal investigations and held more students accountable through expulsions for sexual misconduct during the same period. So, those facts speak already to how we're changing our culture, as well as our policies and priorities to support those who are reporting sexual assault. And those mandatory reporting policies are critical to that confidence that our campus has and as part of our RVSM strategic plan.

On how she plans to work with the Board of Trustees

I think everyone on the board really believes deeply in and cares about the university. And so, my goal is to bring us all together again in community with communication. And I know, they want to enable the continuity that we all believe in. So, my prime objective is to help the individuals understand the institution to provide the kind of guidance that allows them to see the viewpoints that builds good governance and to help us all move forward.

Interview Transcript

Sophia Saliby: Former Michigan State University Provost Teresa Woodruff is settling into her new role as the school’s interim president.

She stepped into the position following the resignation earlier this fall of President Samuel Stanley Jr.

Stanley had clashed with the Board of Trustees following the controversy surrounding the dismissal of the dean of the Broad College of Business this semester.

Teresa Woodruff joins me now to talk about how she plans to lead MSU going forward. Thank you for being here.

Teresa Woodruff: Well, thank you very much for having me.

Saliby: It's been about a month since you stepped in to serve as interim president, what has been your focus during that time?

Woodruff: Well, we've really been focused on three C's that I've been describing as communication, culture and community, and really bringing us together over this last, just over three weeks or so, as you mentioned, helps us, I think, bring together what I began to call "stagility:" stability with agility.

I think, bring together what I've began to call "stagility:" stability with agility. They'd be the ability to move forward, while maintaining kind of the stability that we need for the institution.

The ability to move forward, while maintaining kind of the stability that we need for the institution. So, we're going to use communication, culture and community as our guiding principles, really continuing to build on the trusting relationships that we have to affirm our transparency and to really work to advance our strategic plan, which is a plan of the university.

It is our collective goal, set of goals to build on a shared vision and to really improve student faculty and staff success, to eliminate our graduation gaps, to improve our diversity, equity and inclusion, and to ensure that we're fostering a community of safety, of inclusion and of care.

So, all of these really represent what the university has already been mapped out as its plan. And so, my goal is to continue to move us forward in those directions.

Saliby: Did former President Stanley give you any advice when you began leaving the university?

Woodruff: He did. He was very generous, and he really taught me a great deal about leadership and dignity. And he's been on speed dial for me.

And so, I appreciate his leadership and the foundation that he laid, and it is on that strong foundation that we continue to build the upward spirals of excellence that I hope become the beacon for all as we build out this great institution.

Saliby: In his resignation, Stanley had called out the Board of Trustees' micromanagement of university operations. This mainly stemmed from the dismissal of Business College Dean Sanjay Gupta, which you also oversaw.

Trustee Pat O'Keefe resigned this week, citing that incident as one of his reasons for leaving. How do you plan to work with the Board going forward with this tension?

Woodruff: Well, I think everyone on the board really believes deeply in and cares about the university. And so, my goal is to bring us all together again in community with communication. And I know, they want to enable the continuity that we all believe in.

So, my prime objective is to help the individuals understand the institution to provide the kind of guidance that allows them to see the viewpoints that builds good governance and to help us all move forward.

I'm really anticipating the board welcoming our new member Dennis Denno, who is replacing outgoing Trustee Melanie Foster, and he and of course, Trustee Renee Knake Jefferson, who finished out her first partial term that was governor appointed, where she and Dennis were elected to a full eight-year term.

I look forward to working with the entire board as well as the new appointee by Governor Whitmer as we again move the entire board and the university forward.

And so, I look forward to working with the entire board as well as the new appointee by Governor Whitmer as we again move the entire board and the university forward.

Saliby: I'm Sophia Saliby, and you're listening to WKAR I'm speaking with MSU Interim President Teresa Woodruff.

The removal of Dean Gupta was unpopular among some faculty in the business college, how do you plan to gain their confidence in your leadership, given you were a part of that personnel decision?

Woodruff: I think we have a broad community that is trusting and respectful of the policies and the way in which MSU has developed. It's the way in which we work with each other. And so, I think that as we move forward, we're working on a safe, respectful and welcoming community.

And that involves all of us as leaders, every one of us as faculty, staff and students. And that's been a foundation upon which we can gain confidence because we know we're working in an environment in which we can have that kind of confidence.

And so, I see good things for all of us moving ahead and working with every faculty member from every college, every student from every college, every leader across this great university.

Saliby: A recent USA Today article found MSU saw more sexual misconduct reports in a period from 2014-2020 than any other school the outlet surveyed.

That might mean students are more comfortable here reporting misconduct, but how will you work to prevent these types of incidents from happening in the first place when you talk about campus safety and being comfortable on campus?

Woodruff: Right, so I think everything we do going forward, including building trust, needs to begin with that ensuring of a safe, welcoming and inclusive campus environment. So, we have to feel safe with each other in order to learn and teach and really work to the best of all of our potential.

We're all working together to respond, and actually, of course, to prevent the relationship violence and sexual misconduct that we see not just here but really across the nation.

So, we're all working together to respond, and actually, of course, to prevent the relationship violence and sexual misconduct that we see not just here but really across the nation.

And so, I wrote about this in an op-ed. And really, I think that MSU does get more RVSM-related reports than other schools that were surveyed between that interval of 2014 and 2020. And last year, we did handle about 1,700 reports. We also launched more formal investigations and held more students accountable through expulsions for sexual misconduct during the same period.

So, those facts speak already to how we're changing our culture, as well as our policies and priorities to support those who are reporting sexual assault. And those mandatory reporting policies are critical to that confidence that our campus has and as part of our RVSM strategic plan.

And one of the parts of that USA Today article said that we are a model for how to address sexual misconduct. We have 42 individuals who are part of our Title IX cases and survival advocacy, including investigators and therapists.

And so, while we are a model, we are happy about that, but we are not satisfied. Because of course, we need to continue to develop those kinds and strengthen the policies and work on that kind of culture that we all want to have to be able to develop a campus climate that we believe in.

And so, this includes some of the reviews that we've done internal to the campus as well as external. And we have a Know More @ MSU campus survey that we've done because we don't want to just say we know. We want to ask, and that's something that we are developing, we will learn from, and we'll be able to release in the next year.

And we have an Our Commitment webpage that really outlines all the ways in which we are working in this domain. And it's something that I've paid attention to from day one and will continue to pay attention to and work on very directly as we continue to be proactive in this area.

Saliby: As we conclude this conversation, I feel like I need to ask, do you plan to apply to become Stanley's permanent replacement?

I put a little yellow sticky of something that will be my mantra for that particular semester. And at the beginning of this semester, my mantra was "this is my favorite day."

Woodruff: Well, you know, I'm working one day at a time. And I bring my whole self to everything that I do in each day.

And every year at the beginning of each academic year, I put a little yellow sticky of something that will be my mantra for that particular semester. And at the beginning of this semester, my mantra was "this is my favorite day."

And so in this role and in every role role that I've had the honor of serving at Michigan State, this is my favorite day.

And I work each day to ensure that the goals and the objectives of this institution are met to the best of my ability, and I'm happy to serve in this present role.

Saliby: Teresa Woodruff is Michigan State University's interim president. Thank you for joining me.

Woodruff: Thank you very much.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

Sophia Saliby is the local producer and host of All Things Considered, airing 4pm-7pm weekdays on 90.5 FM WKAR.
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