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Teresa Woodruff begins provost role, announces diversity and intellectual health agendas

August 4, 2020
<p> The Hannah Administration Building on Aug. 23, 2019, in East Lansing.  </p>

The Hannah Administration Building on Aug. 23, 2019, in East Lansing.

Photo by Sylvia Jarrus | The State News

Over the weekend, former dean of The Graduate School at Northwestern University Teresa Woodruff formally began her new role as Michigan State University's provost and executive vice president of academic affairs. She is succeeding interim provosts Teresa Sullivan and Thomas Jeitschko, following the resignation of June Youatt last September.

Woodruff will also serve as a tenured Professor with MSU Foundation within the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology and the Department of Biomedical Engineering.

"In the midst of this difficult and important work, many of you have sent me words of welcome and your insights about the university and surrounding communities," Woodruff wrote in an email to the community. "I have much to learn from each of you, so keep sending me your thoughts about MSU and ways we can further enhance this great institution. And thanks for making my summer start a good one!"

Her selection for the role was announced on April 27, after an open search that began in October. She was one of three finalists, who were publically interviewed via zoom in early April.

She sent an introductory email to the MSU community Monday morning with a roadmap of her plans for the role.

"Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have made physical modifications to the ways we teach, conduct research, pursue scholarship, and interact, but MSU’s land-grant mission and purpose are strong and persistent. During my transition to this new role, I have found that you, the MSU community, are similarly strong and persistent," Woodruff said. "The coming academic year will be like no other in some ways. But I am confident it will be just like others in how we uphold Michigan State University’s commitment to student success and academic excellence."

Taking in the role in the midst of COVID-19, she addressed the provost's office's work to enable the best intellectual health of students, research community, and the creative arts community.

"At its most basic level, intellectual health is the foundation of student success and academic excellence, the twin pillars of our academic mission. I believe that structure informs function and my role as provost is to make sure the academic infrastructure of MSU supports student success and world-changing scholarship," Woodruff said in the email.

She said she plans to work with deans to recognize student and faculty success through a new Provost’s Office Honorifics Program to elevates the stature of the intellectual work to national and global prominence, as well as other initiatives of intellectual health to enable the success of a community of learners, teachers, scholars, inventors and leaders. 

Woodruff also highlighted social movements that have developed over the summer following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black Americans at the hands of police. She says she is fully committed to developing MSU to uphold the mission and values of the Black Lives Matter movement.

"The Office of the Provost is fully engaged in efforts to identify and eradicate policies, practices, and behaviors that create barriers to success for students of color," Woodruff wrote in the email. "Some of these agenda items include a review of the admissions process, general education reform, curricular analysis, and the expansion of the first-year seminars program."

She also noted that students benefit from leaders and faculty who are diverse and will be reviewing the processes associated with faculty recruitment, retention, promotion, and tenure and will be consulting deans and faculty leadership across campus.

Following her selection and approval at the May 15 Board of Trustees meeting, the appointment received backlash from the Michigan State Black Faculty, Staff and Administrators Association, or BFSAA, who wrote a letter to President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. opposing her appointment.

The Coalition of Racial/Ethnic Minorities, or COREM, and BFSAA both provided feedback to the search committee during the interview process discussing their concern about her lack of experience in dealing with issues regarding diversity, equity and inclusion, according to BFSAA President Eunice Foster.

Although she received unanimous support form the Board of Trustees, concern was raised during the meeting based on her tenure as dean of The Graduate School at Northwestern University. In March, a letter written to the university's president, provost and interim provost included a call for her removal. At a forum discussing the letter, students accused Woodruff of engaging in harmful policymaking, according to The Daily Northwestern.

Despite these concerns, during the press conference following the meeting, Stanley said he had previously been made aware of the allegations made against Woodruff concerning diversity, equity and inclusion. He also spoke to the additional actions he has taken to encourage a more diverse, equitable campus, following multiple racist incidents at MSU throughout the last academic year.

"(Woodruff) recognizes that Michigan State University — with some of the history and some of the incidents we've talked about — this is an issue that's really important to people," Stanley said at the press conference. "So I think she's really committed to working with the DEI strategic planning committee, working with the (Chief Diversity Officer) and working with me to push this forward at Michigan State."

At Northwestern, Woodruff also served as the director of the Center for Reproductive Science, the vice chair for research in the department of obstetrics and gynecology through the Feinberg School of Medicine.

Her main research focus is in fertility preservation for young men and women who might face fertility-threatening conditions.

She received her B.S. from Olivet Nazarene University in zoology and chemistry. Then receiving her Ph.D. from Northwestern University in molecular biology and cell biology. After receiving her Ph.D., she served as a postdoctoral fellow at Genentech Inc. in the department of cell research development.

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