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President's Message



  • Author:
    Lou Anna K. Simon, Ph.D.
  • Published:
    Fall 2012

As someone who applies the same diligence to collecting as he does to running a business or engaging in philanthropy, Eli Broad understands that good art doesn’t have to match your furniture. We can apply that wisdom to architecture as well.

We are looking forward to dedicating the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum November 9 in an outdoor public event and hosting a public open house November 10 for those wishing to tour the museum. As the building has risen along Grand River Avenue, many have commented on the bold design by London-based architect Dame Zaha Hadid—which clearly doesn’t match anything on that corner of the campus. Rather, the building makes a striking architectural statement, and with the assets held within its angular steel and glass structure, I believe the Broad Art Museum at MSU will enhance the region’s cultural base with a rich mixture of art and programming.

Like art itself, the Broad Art Museum could prove transformational on many levels, and we’re working with the community to identify ways to use the museum to best advantage. Great communities, after all, need great cultural assets.

Mr. Broad, an alumnus and the museum’s lead benefactor, achieved his success in the building and insurance industries and has since turned his attention not only toward collecting art and supporting cultural assets around the country but also to the far more daunting task of reforming public education. He calls that his most unreasonable challenge, taking a cue from his recently published autobiography, The Art of Being Unreasonable: Lessons in Unconventional Thinking.

He attributes his own bootstrapped success to his willingness to defy convention and take the outwardly simple approach of asking “why not” rather than “why.” In that, he directly channels the inspirational rhetoric of the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy and, before him, the writings of George Bernard Shaw, who also wrote: “The e reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

You can see that philosophy at work in Dame Hadid’s unconventional architectural designs as well. Even building the Broad Art Museum created new challenges. But the innovative result is what I’m sure will prove to be an iconic design as the years pass.

We talk a lot about innovation today as if it’s a sort of pixie dust you can sprinkle on convention and reap the rewards of the novel. But it’s not easy, and in many ways, it flies in the face of the conventional. It’s a manifestation of the pursuit of the unreasonable, of asking why not instead of why.

We know we need to do that here at Michigan State, too. For the past year, I’ve been talking to our leaders, faculty, and others in the organization about what it will take to build the kind of university we need to be today and in the future—serving the world we live in today and the one we and future generations will inhabit tomorrow—with the resources we have at hand today. I look at it as an updating of the Boldness by Design strategic framework I launched in our sesquicentennial year in 2005.

We, too, need to set unreasonable goals at Michigan State, unfettered by what convention and our own inner voices might tell us can’t be done. We need to see past the barriers before us to the destination: the land-grant mission for a new day. We will formalize these conversations this year into a more explicit road map.

Updating Boldness by Design isn’t just about our campus community talking about innovation or reform. In few other spheres of life do you find alumni constituting such a critical stakeholder group. Our next initiative is meant to help us move forward in spite of the barriers we face, and we need to be clear that there are daunting challenges. Perhaps the biggest is the drop in state support. Whereas the state might have paid 75 percent of the cost of your college attendance, it is our students and their families who are paying something close to that proportion today. That is a huge shift in the burden of the cost of higher education in the space of one generation, a policy decision that has been imposed steadily by lawmakers over time.

That’s where you come in. I urge you to consider how you might help maintain the quality of Michigan State’s world-class education and access to that education for students of limited means today. There are many ways to contribute—let your Alumni Association help you find ways that fit your style and your means.

As if he isn’t busy enough, Eli Broad this year is occupying a perch on the social networking site Twitter. Earlier this year, he tweeted that before he concludes a business negotiation, he asks: “Is this the best you can do?” We’re asking ourselves that on campus, and today I’m asking that of you as a Spartan.

Is that unreasonable?

Sincerely,

Lou Anna K. Simon, Ph.D.
President, Michigan State University