Institutions such as ours periodically need to take a step back to refresh their outlook, examine their immediate objectives, and at the same time look to the horizon—and even attempt to peer beyond it to anticipate the longer-term impacts of current trends.
We’re well into the process of renewing Boldness by Design, the strategic framework I introduced in 2005. This work of reexamination and renewal comes after a period marked by difficult budgetary circumstances for which we adopted a short-term program called “Shaping the Future” in order to anticipate issues and guide our planning. Thanks to our proactive approach, effective cost containment, and focus on programmatic success, today we maintain a comparative median position in financial metrics among our Big Ten peers despite the recession’s more severe impact in Michigan.
Today, fiscal challenges remain. Economic growth is sluggish, and we anticipate some reduction in federal research funding levels in the near term. We’re not out of the woods, but we now face these challenges in good trim.
Throughout this period, I’ve maintained my resolve to not allow budget challenges to define Michigan State or compromise our vision. Difficult times come and go, but MSU needs to retain the capacity to seize opportunities and spring back stronger than before.
Introduced during our sesquicentennial year and after my inauguration as president, Boldness by Design was inspired by MSU’s heritage and historical impact as the nation’s pioneer land-grant university. The aim was to focus our energy and resources on making us a model for the 21st century land-grant institution. It identified five strategic imperatives—areas in which we must excel and innovate to fulfill our commitment to transformation. And we have delivered significant accomplishments in each of these areas.
• Enhance the student experience: One primary accomplishment is our neighborhood system, which builds comprehensive support right into the residence halls where our students live, helping support student health, wellbeing, and academic success.
• Enrich community, economic, and family life: We have significantly enhanced our technology-transfer and commercialization infrastructure and have created a front door for businesses to connect with the university to engage in research or tap into faculty expertise.
• Expand international reach: We are a top public institution for both study abroad and international enrollment, and our faculty and students conduct research or study on every continent.
• Increase research opportunities: We’ve landed “big science” projects such as the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams, while at the same time significantly increasing undergraduate participation in research projects.
• Strengthen stewardship: We have upgraded our physical infrastructure strategically to support critical academic and programmatic goals and have created a more effective infrastructure for cultivating and connecting with alumni and donors.
We set 2012, the year of the Morrill Act sesquicentennial, as the point to bring Boldness by Design to a close. Our renewed framework will use a seven-year increment, taking us to 2020. As we move forward, we aren’t looking to redo Boldness but rather to build upon the robust foundation it helped create. We’ll recognize what we have achieved and identify and pursue the big ideas that will set us apart—all the while carefully assessing and responding to the forces shaping higher education, including financial and enrollment trends and the impacts of technology on learning.
This new Bolder by Design framework also includes a sixth imperative that was in some sense always embedded in the original five, but has received broad support on campus to be given particular attention in this framework: advancing our culture of high performance. As we work to support this imperative, we’ll explore and pursue what it takes to be a model high-performance institution that creates a sort of innovative magic and has a high-impact, high-value experiential touch. We will do this through the work we do to push the frontiers of knowledge; in the work we do with communities to make a positive impact on their prosperity and quality of life; and in the way in which people experience Michigan State University, whether electronically or in person.
You will see Bolder by Design unfold and evolve over the coming months, with elements addressing both short- and long-term goals. This work is fueled by the passion, innovative spirit, and support we have from within the university and from our alumni and partners across the globe. We need to focus and capture that energy to enhance an institution that was always destined to be special among an already notable set of higher education institutions.
I encourage you to engage with us—subscribe to our news services, daily pride points, or mobile apps for starters—and proudly share information about us with others. We’ve redesigned our news page into a visually engaging hub for videos, photos, and news stories that’s called MSUToday. And now we’re proud to present a global look at our research engagement via this year’s online President’s Report, which we’ve dubbed SPARTANS WILL.360. Find them both at msu.edu.
Lou Anna K. Simon, Ph.D.
President, Michigan State University