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Spring Semester Welcome

Dear Faculty and Academic Staff:


As we anticipate the start of spring semester, we once again find ourselves in a liminal space, occupying a transitional – and hopefully brief – time of remote learning as we navigate the ongoing pandemic and its impact on our daily lives. Ensuring the safety and well-being of all Spartans continues to be our top priority. Both my December 31 email to educators regarding the remote start to spring semester and President Stanley’s email to the university community have already provided initial information and guidance on logistics. And on January 1, Joe Salem, Dean of Libraries and Interim Associate Provost for Teaching and Learning Innovation, sent a follow-up message that shared additional Remote Start Teaching and Learning Resources.


Our lives have been disrupted by the Omicron variant across a broad range of areas, and not just in higher education. At MSU, we continue to monitor the dynamic nature of the pandemic, and to implement measures to avoid significant illness and minimize disruptions. Starting the semester with most classes meeting remotely better ensures our ability to continue the academic work of each member of our community. Indeed, a remote start involves less disruption than the potentially greater and longer-lasting disruptions – for both instructors and students – that could result from positive testing and the associated isolation periods. As we learned last year and this past fall, the academic work of the university can indeed progress during trying times.


As my December 31 email noted, areas where in-person learning or academic work are necessary are still allowable, with discretion. Please continue to work with your deans, directors, and chairs to make appropriate accommodations and communicate with your students accordingly, now and as the semester progresses. Residential housing has opened as planned, so students will be on campus as well as in the East Lansing area. Recreational options and the performing arts, including at the Wharton Center, will be available to students and the community, in conjunction with the new policy requiring proof of vaccination or recent negative COVID-19 test for athletic, music, art, and theatre events happening on campus. In light of our remote start to the semester, de-densifying campus, and staffing concerns, the Main Library and the Gast Business Library will have modified hours for the month of January.


In this first note of the academic spring, I would like to share some updates from 2021 and goals for the coming semester. It is my hope that reviewing these recent achievements reminds us of our values, capabilities, and aspirations as we commence our individual and collective work this semester. In the note I begin with policy updates and move toward institutional transformation. Values, capabilities, and aspirations join grace and empathy on our list of ways of thinking, working, and transitioning through time and tasks. I look forward to your feedback and engagement at this time and in this space. 

Faculty-Authored Works


In fall of 2020, the University Committee on Faculty Affairs (UCFA) was asked to take up the issue of how to address real or perceived conflicts of interest on faculty-authored works assigned to students for class (readings, video, etc.). The UCFA formed a sub-committee that reviewed this issue by benchmarking with our peer institutions. Their benchmarking, assessment, and analysis resulted in a proposed policy on Faculty-Authored Works Assigned to Students and Perceived Conflicts of Interest, that was transmitted to the Office of the Provost. I reviewed the proposed policy and believe it captures the issues and lays out appropriate ways in which to mitigate real or perceived conflicts of interest. It bears mention that I believe in and actively defend the principal elements of academic freedom, a foundation of which provides the right of faculty members to determine course content, including assigning their own published works for reading to students in their classes. That said, this policy discusses both real and perceived conflicts of interests. For real conflicts of interest, instructors are expected to forego any royalties or payments they derive from the sales of textbooks or other course materials to their own students and are encouraged to donate to a charity or fund that would benefit students. They are also expected to inform their chairperson of these instances. We circulated the proposed policy to the deans for their feedback, which was incorporated into the policy. The UCFA approved the final consolidated policy in December 2021. It will now go through additional channels in academic governance for final review, with anticipated implementation during fall semester 2022.


Discipline and Dismissal of Tenured Faculty for Cause


One of the most significant academic governance achievements of fall semester was moving the work of the Discipline Process and Sanction Review Task Force forward to the point where it is poised to be considered by the MSU Board of Trustees. Shared governance is vital for our shared future, and the progress made by this task force is a terrific example of our shared commitment to improving the working and learning environments of our students, academic staff, and faculty.


The task force emerged from the goals of our Relationship Violence and Sexual Misconduct Strategic Plan, and was charged by me in spring of 2021. Their charge was to review discipline processes and actions, with the goal of creating clarity and consistency. One of the goals was to address egregious misconduct rising to the level of dismissal, so it would be done fairly and with due process, and with appropriate timeliness. Addressing egregious misconduct clearly and consistently – and fairly, with due process, and in a timely manner – in turn strengthens the university, its climate, and our entire community.


The task force was comprised of representatives from across campus. They met over six months and submitted recommendations which include:


  1. Transparency and Communications Guidelines for Employee Misconduct Cases
  2. Revised Discipline and Dismissal of Tenured Faculty for Cause Policy
  3. Training for academic administrators and academic governance standing hearing panel members to increase knowledge and create consistency
  4. Standing Hearing Panel


Once their work was complete, the task force’s recommendations went to academic governance for discussion, debate, and support. On November 16, 2021 the University Committee on Faculty Affairs passed the recommendations unanimously, and on November 17 the University Committee on Faculty Tenure passed them unanimously. At a special meeting on December 14, Faculty Senate also passed the recommendations unanimously. As a consequence of this work, I will present the task force recommendations to the Board of Trustees at their February 11, 2022 meeting for a vote to change the Discipline and Dismissal of Tenured Faculty for Cause policy.


Please join me in thanking the Discipline Process and Sanction Review Task Force for discharging their work, to leaders and members of Faculty Senate, leaders in the Office for Faculty and Academic Staff Affairs, and our academic community who participated in bringing this policy change to our Board of Trustees for consideration. 


Religious Observance 


MSU has a longstanding Religious Observance policy to support students and faculty as they observe the holidays set aside by their chosen religious faith. As MSU has become increasingly multicultural, the incidence of conflicts between mandatory academic requirements and religious observances has increased. As part of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Plan, a working group of individuals drafted a new recommended Religious Observance Policy, in response to concerns raised by faculty, staff, and students, as well as in response to recommendations from listening sessions held by the DEI Steering Committee with student groups, alumni groups, and faculty.


The working group consulted with stakeholders across campus, including the directors of the Muslim Studies Program, the Asian Studies Center, and the Serling Institute for Jewish Studies and Modern Israel; department chairs; and members of the Department of Religious Studies. The working group also examined over a dozen such policies at different universities, noting areas that would strengthen MSU’s policy. This policy recommendation was also provided to the Council of Deans for their consideration. Several changes have been put forward for consideration, which have been incorporated into a document that is now being reviewed through various standing university committees. Dr. Jabbar R. Bennett, Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer, is the executive sponsor for our DEI Strategic plan and he and I expect this policy will be brought forward to the Faculty Senate early this semester for deliberation.

Promotion and Tenure Work


I met with the University Committee on Faculty Tenure (UCFT) and discussed with them the Spring 2021 University Philosophy and Guiding Policies on Faculty Tenure and Promotion and the implementation work that is happening in colleges and units. I am pleased that the document has been well-received and is providing our community with a new way of thinking about the tenure and promotion processes, which is about the individual and the institution. I look forward to working with UCFT, deans, and colleges as the aspirations of our community are lived out in practice.


Hiring Plans


I am pleased to share that Norman Beauchamp Jr., MD, MHS, Executive Vice President for Health Sciences, and I recently reviewed 76 extraordinary submissions from all of the college deans for a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)/Social Justice call for proposals, leading to a series of 13 new faculty lines in support of the university strategic plan implementation in the areas of faculty and academic staff excellence; student success; discovery, creativity, and innovation for excellence and global impact; and diversity, equity, and inclusion. These four areas represent shared and emerging values in our university culture that is leaning toward change.


We are naming this the 1855 Professorship Initiative, to encourage the reimagining of our founding land-grant mission – and as stated in our history and land-grant identity statement, to signal to scholars, internal and external constituents, and donors the importance of this initiative. As we consider these individual hires, we recognize that they constitute distinct areas of scholarship in the following five domains:

  1. Social and Environmental Justice (College of Social Science, College of Arts and Letters, Lyman Briggs College, Residential College in the Arts and Humanities)
  2. Minority Politics, Urban Journalism, Law and Democracy (College of Social Science, College of Communication Arts and Sciences, College of Law)
  3. Diversity and Data Science (College of Education, College of Engineering, College of Natural Science)
  4. Cultural Leadership and Practice (College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, College of Social Science)
  5. One Health (College of Human Medicine, College of Veterinary Medicine, College of Nursing, College of Social Science, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources)

My thanks to our Office of the Provost and college leaders for how responsive they have been in developing an open process to help catalyze positive change and transform MSU.

Binary Grade Reporting Option


During Fall 2020, I endorsed a recommendation by the University Committee on Undergraduate Education (UCUE) to expand our grade recording options to include a COVID-related Satisfactory/Not Satisfactory marking. We returned to our traditional grading modality in the Fall of 2021. Near the end of the semester, inquiries from students about offering S/NS were made. I have asked UCUE to take up the matter of our existing grade modalities, including Credit/No Credit, to determine the best way to encourage student success, irrespective of modality. This work will happen in the month of January to ensure educators, advisors, and students are all aware of the ways in which their progress and success will be evaluated and recorded.


Student Mental Health


To better support our students’ mental health needs, through a partnership with Uwill, Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) will strengthen its capacity to offer more counseling services to students at no cost to them. Following an initial consultation through CAPS, students for whom short-term, solution-oriented counseling services are appropriate, and who are receptive to virtual counseling, may be referred to Uwill's network of licensed, tele-mental health counselors when CAPS' counselors have limited additional capacity. These services will complement the many other services already offered by CAPS and the other Student Health and Wellness departments. The initial partnership will provide at least 2,000 additional counseling sessions per year, with an opportunity to grow capacity into the future. Work is in progress to establish the partnership, with a goal of a mid-spring semester implementation.

Our work to improve policies and academic practices is grounded in our values, and in our commitment to improve the working and learning environments for all at MSU. This work, and the initiatives featured below, also connect with and support many of the goals associated with the university’s strategic plan, Empowering Excellence, Advancing Equity, and Expanding Impact, and with academic strategic plan implementationTo continue this work of strategic planning-informed institutional transformation, I have been “thinking aloud” with Joseph Hamm, an associate professor in MSU's School of Criminal Justice, on institutional courage and how to build institutional trust. Dr. Hamm’s work focuses on how people can begin to believe again in governance organizations. Amanda Isabel Osuna, a Ph.D. student in the MSU TRUSST Lab, has already developed and deployed a student survey that will inform a series of wider efforts to learn more about what the members of our community think it means to develop institutional trust and courage. This work will include listening sessions across the campus, so stay tuned for how you can be involved. I believe we are experiencing a paradigm shift for MSU, from past ways to future aspirations, and how we act to deliberately foster the culture we seek is part of what an institution – in its best sense – does. I hope you join me as we go on this walk through our expectations for ourselves and for each other on our way to be the best “institution” we can become.


One of our emerging signature efforts is the development of an Ethics Institute at MSU. Deans from most colleges, guided by our deans of Law, Arts and Letters, and Business, are taking the lead on this work and invite the full MSU community to participate. This work began with an Ethics Symposium in October, which brought together over 200 faculty and staff from many units to discuss ethical issues faced by MSU and the world. A subsequent survey to assist with assembling an inventory of the ways in which we all currently engaged in ethics-related work was sent and is still open for your contributions. I look forward to continuing conversations and partnerships as we work to realize the vision for this project – one that will no doubt have far-reaching impact across the entire university.


These emerging efforts align with the ethos and commitments embodied in MSU’s recently launched Support More initiative. This new initiative focuses on providing guidance for how to respond to disclosures of relationship violence, sexual assault, sexual harassment, and stalking in a manner that is helpful to survivors, as well as promoting the availability of related campus resources and services. It is promising to witness this degree of collective commitment to and investment in cultural change emerging across campus, including the many significant changes MSU has made to foster a safer campus for all.

In a conversation with our student government leaders last semester, I noted that we were all carrying heavy buckets during the pandemic and expressed how deeply I wished I could remove some of that weight. I know many of us continue to be heavy-ladened with cares at work and at home. While the pandemic continues to encircle many of the parameters of our daily work, the Office of the Provost will continue to create and support environments to enable your success. So while I cannot change our circumstances entirely, the outstanding members of your Office of the Provost team and I put our hands next to yours and join in the lift.

Thank you for your ongoing commitment to student success and academic excellence, and for your compassion for students and one another as we navigate our way through this liminal time, our time, together.


My best,


Teresa K. Woodruff, Ph.D. (she/her/hers)

Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs

MSU Foundation Professor