Michigan State University Interim President Teresa Woodruff delivered her first State of the University Address Wednesday morning. Woodruff – who was appointed following the board-driven resignation of former president Samuel L. Stanley Jr. and has not publicly declared any intention to permanently seek the position – focused her speech on how the university is moving forward, past the global pandemic and administratively tumultuous fall semester.
She framed her speech with a Leo Tolstoy parable: “When is the best time to do things? Who are the right people to listen to? What is the right thing to do?”
Woodruff said for MSU, “the right time is now, the right people are those you are with, and the right thing is to do good.”
She focused on expansions and improvements to MSU’s Title IX office and RVSM policy, the stability of the university's finances, continued commitments to sustainability and MSU’s statewide expansion into what she calls “Michigan’s State University.”
Woodruff mentioned MSU’s recent completion of 95 actions from a 2019 agreement between MSU the U.S. Department of Education, improved definitions of misconduct in the university’s Relationship Violence and Sexual Misconduct policy, and audits of MSU’s Title IX office and the board's dealings with the sexual misconduct.
She also said the ongoing search for a vice president for civil rights and Title IX education and compliance is “one of (her) top priorities.”
While acknowledging the faculty and staff in attendance, Woodruff highlighted recent improvements of quality of life and MSU employee benefits.
On top of those changes, Woodruff said she is committed to doing more. With persistent inflation in mind, she said compensation of staff is her top priority. She is working with the board and state leaders to increase MSU’s appropriation of tax dollars going forward, with the intention of using that money to increase salaries and benefits.
Woodruff said a review presented to her by MSU’s Chief Financial Officer suggests that the university is pushing past the financial challenges brought on by the pandemic, and that MSU’s enrollment, credit rating and revenue are on the rise.
She did mention a $159 million downturn in MSU’s investments, saying “the market giveth and the market taketh away.”
On sustainability, Woodruff pointed out expansions of MSU’s solar carport and intentions to reduce overall emissions. While the university has expanded its solar arrays in recent years, the percentage of solar energy used on campus is well below the board’s goals and has decreased since 2017.
Woodruff also spent much of the address emphasizing the vast size of MSU, calling attention to MSU’s partnerships and expeditions in Marquette, Flint, Detroit and the MSU Extension, which serves all 83 Michigan counties.
She addressed her travels to MSU’s many expansions throughout the state.
"Trips like these remind me why we refer to MSU as Michigan's State University," Woodruff said. "Nobody does more to serve Michigan's people and communities than Michigan State University.”
She further emphasized MSU’s scale, noting the recent expansion of offerings in MSU’s Honors College which now includes 4,350 undergraduate students.
The address was attended by many members of the university’s administration, prominent members of the faculty, board chair Rema Vassar, East Lansing Mayor Ron Bacon, as well as many MSU donors and alumni.
Students were notably absent. As she searched the crowd for student government members, Woodruff said “I'm going to think they're in school and classes – that’s a good thing.”