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From the Provost’s Desk

April 2022

Dear Colleagues:

After a lengthy Michigan winter, many of us look toward spring as a time of much-anticipated renewal. The daffodils behind the Main Library are now in bloom, the forsythia are bursting forth in Beal Garden, and the magnolia buds are unfurling around Beaumont Tower. This academic semester has also been a time of renewal. From the return of education abroad programs to the restoration of our in-person University Undergraduate Research and Arts Forum, distinguished faculty recognition events and Spring Commencement and graduation ceremonies, we have eagerly welcomed back cherished practices and events. This academic renewal has been a collective effort and for that, I thank you.

This is the first edition of a formal newsletter from the Office of the Provost in support of academic excellence and transformative impact. It is about you and your excellence. I intend for the information to foster greater awareness of strategic activities taking place across the broad scope of the Office; to increase knowledge of resources in place to support the personal and professional development of our community; and, to serve as a space wherein I foreground and provide exposition on those matters that elevate the intellectual impact of our community. I anticipate sending an issue of Academic Excellence, Transformative Impact near the beginning and close of fall and spring semesters each academic year. 

This inaugural issue features two stories that fit into the above definition. One story explores the new Center for Teaching and Learning Innovation and its work to advance teaching and learning methodology, technology, and innovation at MSU. The second story focuses on the portfolio of responsibilities overseen by the Office of Faculty and Academic Staff Development, which supports the professional development of all members of our faculty and academic staff. Each issue will also include an MSUToday story featuring an award-winning faculty member – in this issue, William Schmidt, who recently received the 2022 Distinguished Contributions to Research in Education Award presented by the American Educational Research Association. 

Each newsletter will open with a “From the Provost’s Desk” message like this, to highlight recent activities that inform and impact our collective work. In this issue I have chosen to focus on the culture we are creating at MSU, then share an update on academic strategic planning implementation efforts, information about our first-ever Admitted Student Day, and my philosophy on academic freedom. 

Since my arrival as provost in August of 2020, many of you have heard me talk about the model of a provostial partnership guiding the collaborative work across the colleges, units, and offices that report to the Office of the Provost. This model has provided structure and function while also shaping the ethos of the Office. In this provostial partnership we have demonstrated how our many multidirectional strengths extend and intertwine to create a greater collective strength. 

One helpful way to think about these multidirectional strengths that emerge from an ecumenical view on leadership is to invoke the metaphor of a lattice. We often suggest to our students that their upward trajectory through college or in leadership is much like climbing a career ladder, implying that success is achieved in individual steps that lead them toward upward mobility. Goals are set as unique rungs on that ladder, with individual effort pulling oneself ever upward, hand-over-hand, trying never to miss a step over time. Exhausting and unsustainable, even as a metaphor! I prefer the metaphor of a leadership lattice.

Here is my thinking. Fundamentally, very few trajectories in life are linear. Connections are built in many different directions as areas of interest evolve with time and training. Moreover, there are many different colleagues and experiences that come into one’s life, and the lattice metaphor encourages us to imagine holding onto those many hands we encounter, in multiple directions. I firmly believe that the more we reach out in multiple directions and establish connections with colleagues, the stronger and more resilient we will be.  

This lattice model of engagement and leadership development creates culture – we are all connected – and consequently creates the scaffold of a strong institution. And perhaps it illustrates the kind of provostial partnership I envision - multidirectional, collaborative, and more powerful because of mutual engagement.

One of the most prominent activities underway in the Office of the Provost is the implementation of the academic strategic plan. Associate Provost Dave Weatherspoon and his team are doing an outstanding job of keeping the campus community fully engaged. On April 14, the Office of the Provost hosted an Academic Strategic Plan Proposal Summit, which featured 55 compelling presentations in support of the academic goals of the university’s overarching Strategic Plan 2030 – Empowering Excellence, Advancing Equity, and Expanding Impact

I was encouraged and inspired by all the work that Summit participants – and everyone else who has engaged in academic strategic planning implementation efforts – have done to get us to this point. The process and progress are historic, as is the democratic and broadly inclusive way in which everyone across campus has been engaged in ideation and process. Please continue to check out progress through the Academic Strategic Planning Implementation website. And continue to add your voice as the implementation process continues, and to lend a hand in our shared lift. 

Our Office of Admissions recently hosted a first-ever Admitted Student Day, on Saturday, April 16. We welcomed around 2,700 admitted students, along with their families and supporters, to a day of on-campus activities. The event featured 105 Open House Sessions in colleges and other academic units, a Student Life Fair featuring 85 student organizations in the concourse of the Breslin Center, a Pep Rally in the Breslin Center, and then the Green and White Spring Football Game in Spartan Stadium. 

The mobilization and coordination of efforts from across campus to make this event happen was impressive and included many of you, in roles that were visible as well as behind the scenes. These efforts included not only employees who work in a unit that reports to the Office of the Provost, but employees from Student Life and Engagement, Residential and Hospitality Services, MSU Police and Public Safety, Building Maintenance and Custodial Services, and Landscape and Grounds Services, to name just a few. The success of this event truly demonstrated everyone reaching out to one another across campus – and to our next generation of young Spartan scholars. It foregrounded that each one of us, regardless of role, plays a crucial part in contributing to and enabling student success and academic excellence. Beyond a student who may have decided to be a Spartan this fall, you positively influenced family members and younger siblings who now have a positive imprint of MSU shaping their college aspirations. Thank you all for representing our MSU so well!

I came to Michigan State as provost because I wanted to be a leader in transition times, and I believed I could assist you, the president, and the deans academically – while also supporting a systemic change of the culture. And, perhaps aspirationally, I wanted to create a way of thinking and work that is durable in our context, and that establishes generational positive outcomes on learning, teaching, research, and outreach in our creative community, and in simply being human beings working together. 

I see notable change in everyday interactions, including greater thoughtfulness in how disagreements are discussed, with more respect of different opinions, empathy for those with less power, including students and staff, and self-advocacy for voice in decision making. I see it in the cross-campus collaborations in designing leadership trainings for supervisors and academic administrators (including our new Dean’s School) and the national recognition for this work by the National Academies of Science, Medicine, Engineering Action Collaborative on Preventing Sexual Harassment, of which Michigan State is a founding member. I see it in the new linkages between the Office of Institutional Equity and the Office of the Provost, which are putting in place interim measures as soon as we have notice of concerning or problematic behavior. And I see it in the larger policy changes, like recent updates to our policy on Discipline and Dismissal of Tenured Faculty for Cause. 

These changes do not happen by fiat, but rather by intention, attention, and discourse.

One of the greatest strengths of a university and of a higher education community is in the rigorous debate of ideas and the coming together of those with diverse backgrounds (political, religious, educational training/level, racial, gender, geographical) and diversity of ideas.  Because of our commitment to debate and diversity, universities are plural and messy – and that is where the energy in the system originates. Any time debate occurs around ideas, we cultivate the possibility of transformation. When we limit speech, debate, or anything in the theater of ideas or the way we work, we lose the opportunity to build toward a more just shared future. This is fundamentally what makes higher education different from any other enterprise. It is what makes the work that we do – the labor of the mind – categorically different than the labor of the marketplace. Coming together does not always result in consensus, but does provide new pathways forward. 

At every step in our work together, we have anchored our thinking in the bedrock of academic freedom. “Michigan State University endorses academic freedom and responsibility as essential to the attainment of the university's goal of the unfettered search for knowledge and its free exposition.” Indeed, these principles are formalized in the Faculty Rights and Responsibilities policy in the Faculty Handbook and have been in place since 1984 as implementation of this fundamental concept in higher education. This attribute of faculty and university pursuit was reaffirmed in my 2021 Provost Statement on Faculty Tenure and Promotion.  

With academic freedom comes the responsibility to carry out assigned teaching, research, and outreach duties with the highest ethical standards. Some of our commitments to culture change and accountability were substantially reinforced by the February 11, 2022, Board of Trustees’ unanimous approval of the faculty-led and revised Discipline and Dismissal of Tenured Faculty for Cause policy. This newly revised policy and the associated process training have as their bedrock academic freedom and due process – tenets we defend, cherish, and that are uplifted in this work. Additionally, it is evident in the work we are doing on conflict of interest. Paraphrasing from my charge to the committee examining our policies and procedures regarding conflict of interest:

…conflicts of interest, although rare, evince the need for the institution to reconsider how MSU protects academic freedom.
… I believe that academic freedom and the institution are best protected through clear policies and transparency
regarding faculty activities and are essential elements of the faculty-University professional relationship.

Finally, and perhaps one of the most important reasons for academic freedom, is that new knowledge can be orthogonal to present thinking and societal or personal norms. It challenges all of us to continually think and grow. I often say, “we are educatable even as we educate.” Indeed, these seven words are worthy of deep contemplation. Am I holding to a long-standing set of unexamined habits or mindset when faced with ideas discordant to my own inclination, experience, or learning? MSU, we must be educatable even as we educate, and we must be open to the theater of ideas and turn each over without opprobrium for the person, but with openness to new intellectual possibilities.

In Closing

Spring is passing, as is this semester. The next academic cycle is weeks away. Renew, refresh, and restore. I look forward to your feedback, guidance, and partnership as together we create the MSU of our shared future. 

My best,


Teresa K. Woodruff, Ph.D. (she/her/hers)
Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs
MSU Foundation Professor