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Wayne State University

Aim Higher

Aug 28 / President

Welcome to a new academic year

The calendar doesn’t yet say so, but it feels like fall has arrived. I’m sure that’s because I’m on a college campus again, and you can feel the anticipation of a new semester. I met some of our new students and their families and friends on move-in day, and it was nice to welcome people to campus after receiving such a warm welcome myself over the past month.

As I’ve been busy getting to know the campus and the city, I have become increasingly impressed with the campus and even more optimistic about the future of the city. One thing I’ve concluded in my short time here is that despite what some say, Detroit is not on the verge of collapse. It’s on the verge of transformation. Students here have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to witness or participate in the reinvention of the American city. Where else can you do that?

Last week, I met new faculty at an orientation reception. We were outside of the Jacob House, and it was a beautiful evening. The highlight, of course, was speaking to our new professors, who were full of energy and enthusiasm, and couldn’t wait to begin. We entrust our faculty with our most important responsibilities – the education of our students and the creation of knowledge. They are the heart of what we do. After speaking with these talented and interesting people, I’m even more confident in our future, and I believe our newest faculty members are going to exceed our expectations of excellence.

Just yesterday, we celebrated the official start of the academic year and the arrival of our newest class of Warriors at our annual convocation. I’ve been told that ever since former President Irvin Reid started the convocation ceremony fifteen years ago, there have been sunny skies every time. I think I’ll take yesterday’s rain as an auspicious sign of a new beginning. Convocation is a great way to start the semester, and it was a pleasure to see so many students and their friends and families about to start a new chapter in their lives. Our collective advice to our new students could be summarized in two words – work hard. I could probably add two more familiar words of Wayne State wisdom – aim higher. Those students started classes today, and I hope they are already doing both. Let’s help them realize their potential, and their dreams. This is, after all, what we are here for.

Another great signal that fall has truly arrived, despite the calendar, is the start of the football season. The Warriors’ first home game is September 14 at 6:00 p.m. I’m looking forward to attending, and hope to see many of you there.

In the meantime, enjoy this special time on the campus, and the privilege of serving such an important cause.


–M. Roy Wilson, President


Aug 15 / President

Opportunity beckons

Let me begin by telling you how honored and excited I feel to be leading this remarkable institution. This is both a solemn trust and an enormous responsibility, and I will do all I can to honor the university’s tradition of excellence and opportunity while guiding it toward new levels of greatness. I’ll use this blog space from time to time to share some of my reflections along the way as well as updates on campus developments and plans for the future.

The academic year won’t begin for a few weeks — even though this week’s weather feels like September — but I’ve been busy, having many conversations with campus leaders, reading my way through a small mountain of briefing materials, and exploring the campus and the Midtown community. If you haven’t explored Midtown lately, with its many cultural and entertainment venues — not to mention some great places to eat — I highly recommend it. I may be president of a university, but lately, between studying and exploring the campus, I feel more like a college student. There is much to learn, and so much to be excited about.

I’ve been enjoying hearing from faculty, staff, alumni, and community members about Wayne State’s history, challenges, and opportunities. Thank you to everyone who’s offered input — you’ve given me much to think about. Your passion for this university shines through in your comments.

Meanwhile, there’s a sense of anticipation as we get ready for the return of students to campus, including a brand-new class of Warriors — students and faculty. I have August 27th — the date of our Convocation ceremony to kick off the academic year — circled in red on my calendar. If you’re free that day, please join us.

In closing, I want to thank you all for making me feel welcome here. There is much to be done, but the opportunities for this great university are limitless, and I’m eager to begin this journey that promises to be like no other.


–M. Roy Wilson, President

Jun 11 / President

New leadership for Wayne State

Wayne State was hopping last week as the campus welcomed the election of the University’s 12th President, M. Roy Wilson, M.D., M.S.  I believe the chair of our board, Governor Debbie Dingell, said it best when she referred to Dr. Wilson as “the right leader at the right time for Wayne State.”  I agree, and not just because Dr. Wilson will allow me to try retirement a third time.

The search committee and the Board did excellent work, and a number of top-notch candidates were interested in becoming President. But Dr. Wilson’s background and experience make him the right fit for WSU — and vice versa.  

We adjusted our carefully-orchestrated plan to introduce Dr. Wilson after word leaked to the press last Saturday. And when we announced a special Board meeting, the guessing was pretty much over. But, if anything, this seemed to heighten the interest to meet the new President, and many from the campus and community had the chance to meet Dr. Wilson and hear his initial thoughts about Wayne State and the opportunities ahead.

His trip included an open campus reception on Thursday, and I was pleased to see so many people attend to welcome Dr. Wilson and wish him well. At the reception, he told a story that I found fascinating. It seems that he had entertained the idea of being a university president several years back, but only, he related to a friend, “if it could be at a university like Wayne State.” Sometimes things work out.

I’ve only spent a little time with Roy, but it doesn’t take long to see that he is a remarkably intelligent, insightful, and passionate person.  He mentioned to me that he believes his presidency at WSU will be the capstone to an already impressive career.  I know the feeling.

Being the president of WSU is a great job, and I considered the job of helping to pick my successor as a major responsibility.  I couldn’t be more pleased with the result.

I was scheduled to retire on June 30, but I’ve agreed to stay on until Dr. Wilson takes over on August 1. Phyllis Vroom, our deputy president, also has agreed to stay on until August 1. After that, I promise I’m going to remain retired.  

Last week was historical for the University, but the week before was important as well.  At the Mackinac Policy Conference, the University Research Corridor (URC) — the consortium of Wayne State University, Michigan State University, and the University of Michigan — released a report that shows our three universities play a critical role in entrepreneurship. The survey results are stunning: URC alumni started or acquired businesses at double the national average among college graduates since 1996. No, not all entrepreneurs are garage tinkerers with high school diplomas. Most are university graduates, and many graduate from major research universities like Wayne State.

Last week ended with more good news. On June 6, the Wayne State University Department of Athletics, in conjunction with the Ernie Harwell Estate and the Ernie Harwell Foundation, announced the establishment of the Harwell Field Project. This project will build a baseball stadium in recognition of Ernie and Lula “Lulu” Harwell.  It will provide grandstands, a press box, a team clubhouse, and a foyer to recognize the achievements and contributions of the Harwells. And, of course, this project will benefit our Warrior baseball team, as well as the surrounding community and thousands of kids who love baseball. 

It’s fun to report good news, and I’m confident the best is yet to come.

Jun 29 / President

I’m back and staying

First, thank you for your good wishes during my illness. I concluded my treatments a few weeks ago, and will know more about my prognosis soon.  I’m beginning to feel my energy returning—enough so to resume this blog. And enough to assure you that I intend to stay on as President through my contract, despite rumors about stepping down in October. To paraphrase Mark Twain, rumors of my early departure are greatly exaggerated.

This was a full week for Wayne State. Wednesday, the Board of Governors approved our Fiscal Year 2013 budget, which included a tuition increase of 3.88 percent for resident graduates and undergraduates. Tuition increases are always difficult, because we know they affect our students and their families. The Board approves them only when there is no choice. Unlike last year’s severe cut, our state appropriation increased by 65/100 of one percent. But that is neither a big increase, nor a permanent one. And not enough to cover the rising costs or needs of a major research university. Other actions by the state, however, give us some hope that they recognize the importance of investing in higher education, and perhaps will provide the type of support in the future that will help us hold tuition costs down.

For example, Governor Snyder held a press conference Monday on our campus, during which he signed the Capital Outlay Bill that will distribute more than $300 million in capital investment among Michigan community colleges and universities. The bill provides $30 million for our new Multidisciplinary Biomedical Research Building (MBRB), and we plan to break ground this fall. Along with the Governor, a number of dignitaries from Lansing and other Michigan universities and community colleges attended the conference. They were flanked by students from our medical school. The campus looked ship-shape. The med students looked sharp in their white coats. It was a proud moment for Wayne State—and a signal of the state’s recognition of the importance of what we do.

In my remarks, I mentioned that the MBRB will be a source not only for education and discovery, but also for economic growth. It will add both temporary and permanent jobs. It will draw talent and investment. It will result in earnings of approximately $40 million, 98 percent of which will be in metropolitan Detroit.

I wrote about higher education’s contribution to economic growth in a recent Huffington Post blog entry, which described my recent trip to the Mackinac Policy Conference. We all understand that universities educate the talent and leadership that we will count on in the future. And some of us—not enough—understand that universities, especially research universities, are a key source of knowledge and discovery. But very few of us understand that universities have a big economic impact. We hire people. We buy things. We attract talent. We commercialize new technology. We create businesses. We do a great deal that people either don’t know about or don’t appreciate enough. If universities were businesses, we’d be doing our best to attract more of them to our state.

It’s hard to believe in this heat, but in a couple of months we’ll be welcoming the fall class to our campus. I look forward to this time of renewal, but, in the meantime, I hope all of you enjoy the summer.

Feb 2 / President

Success both on-campus and off

It’s hard to believe it’s February already. January was a very full month and flew by rather quickly, and with little snow and cold.

In addition to starting the new semester, there were a number of other highlights. Michigan Speaker of the House Jase Bolger toured TechTown early in the month. During his visit, I described our capital outlay request designated for a Multi-purpose Biomedical Research Building (MBRB), which would be located in TechTown. The MBRB would become not only a center for breakthrough research, but also a magnet for business, high-tech professionals, and faculty. Speaker Bolger was supportive of the MBRB, as was Governor Snyder, with whom I met soon after.

January is also Auto Show month. Once you’ve been in the automotive business, you never quite leave it, so I indulged myself and paid the show two visits. (If you’re interested in a new car or truck, I highly recommend a Ford.) Wayne State did have a presence at the show, however. Wayne State engineering students, all members of the WSU Formula Society of Automotive Engineers team, showed off their formula race car—and the College of Engineering, a source of pride for all of us.

WSU’s tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King was a big success, thanks in large measure to our Government and Community Affairs team. Donna Brazile, a national political celebrity and our keynote speaker, did an excellent job, but the crowd was just as captivated by the musical and poetic talent of the children who performed at the event.

As you may have heard through the media or at my January Town Hall meeting, we have had a number of discussions, both internally and externally, regarding recommendations for enhancing our admissions guidelines. The recommendations were developed by a Wayne State committee assembled last year to analyze and suggest ways to improve student success, as measured primarily by retention and graduation rates. The recommendations were unanimously approved by WSU’s Board of Governors at the February 1 meeting.

These changes are designed to help our students be more successful, while ensuring Wayne State continues to be a university of both diversity and opportunity.


Jan 3 / President

Moving ahead in 2012

Happy New Year, and welcome back.

New Year’s is a time where we traditionally pause for a moment. Where we think about where we’ve been and where we are going. 2011 was a full year. We faced significant challenges, and took on difficult assignments. We saw great breakthroughs. We learned from failures, celebrated victories, and even played in the NCAA Division II National Football Championship.

If I had to sum up 2011, I would say it was a year of gathering momentum. We have begun to move ahead on many fronts — from the research labs to the playing fields. We have a better sense of who we are, why we’re here and where we are going. Wayne State remains true to its history of being a University of both opportunity and excellence. We remain true to our mission of creating and sharing knowledge for the sake of our students, our community and the world. We are focusing our efforts in areas that will help us move forward – areas like student success, focused research, faculty success, improved processes and systems, and a culture of service.

I am optimistic about 2012. I hope to see you all for the first Town Hall of the year, which will take place on January 19. And I look forward to working with all of you to build on our momentum, and keep Wayne State moving ahead.

Dec 6 / President

An interesting week at Wayne State

I thought the car business was interesting and rewarding.  But last week was fascinating, and another reminder of the wide breadth of people, activities and talent at Wayne State.

On Tuesday morning I attended our latest Arthur L. Johnson Urban Perspectives lecture. The featured speakers were a duo of Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee, and our own chief, Tony Holt. The mutual respect they have for one another was evident when they spoke, but it shows even more in the results of their collaborative approach to public safety in and around Wayne State and Midtown.

Wednesday we met with the President’s Community Advisory Group to discuss admissions recommendations that are being developed to help improve student success—measured through retention and graduation rates. The meeting was attended by other community members who are passionate that WSU remain a university of “opportunity” for all students. We have every intention of remaining so. But for the sake of our students, we must be equally committed to academic excellence and student success.

Thursday was World AIDS Day.  School of Medicine student Philip Kucab organized World AIDS Day Detroit, which began with a keynote address by Jeanne White-Ginder, the mother of Ryan White, a young man who died of AIDS after a blood transfusion and for whom the federal program is named. Philip is a shining example of students who use their energy and creativity beyond the classroom to make a difference in people’s lives.

That night I attended a special reception honoring our newest Ph.D. and Ed.D. graduates. There were 19 in attendance, and I asked each to tell a bit about themselves and their field of study. They were from all over the world, and each had an interesting story. A common thread was gratitude for the support of their families, their mentors, and Wayne State in helping them achieve this important milestone.

Saturday we welcomed more than 500 “Distinguished Scholars” to campus for a half day of activities. These high school seniors are among the best in their class academically, and all have been awarded scholarships.  I look forward to seeing them on campus when they are freshmen.

The week closed with another playoff victory for our football team. That makes three straight for our “Road Warriors,” and a crowd of students and staff gathered in the Student Center to watch the game and to cheer them on. There is a real buzz on campus about the Warriors, and it continues to be an exciting season.  We can all be proud of Coach Winters and our players, who give us excellence on the field – and in the classrooms and in the community.




Nov 10 / President

Veterans and violins

On Wednesday, I read WS-YOU, the University’s new weekly newsletter. I’ve learned a lot each time I’ve perused it, and especially have enjoyed “getting to know” some of our employees I have not met. For instance, I had no idea that Penny Wells at the Oakland Center plays with the Violin Divas amateur ensemble. I’m sure she’s good – anyone who’s a “diva” has to be good.

I also read that the Student Veterans Organization is holding a cold-weather clothing drive to support veterans in need. I can think of no group more worthy of our support than the men and women who have represented our nation in the armed services. Tomorrow is Veteran’s Day, and we all would do well to thank a veteran for his or her service and bravery.

I intend to support the clothing drive. This weekend, after I watch our football team take on the University of Findlay in our last game of the regular season, I will be cleaning out my closet.  I have a few coats that I fear (I know!) will never fit me again, and I will be happy and proud to give these to veterans who are thinner than I. Donations can be dropped off until Nov. 18 in room 687 of the Student Center.

There are endless opportunities on campus for community service. You can volunteer. Mentor a student. Or do something as easy as provide warmth to someone in need. Don’t miss a chance to change someone’s life for the better.

Oct 19 / President

We’re all ambassadors for WSU

It has been a busy fall.  It seems as though we were just welcoming our new students and faculty to campus, and already we are well into October.

And what an interesting fall it has been.  In addition to new students and faculty, we have welcomed many distinguished visitors to campus.  Harry Belafonte shared his thoughts with us as part of the Damon J. Keith Lecture Series. At the FOCIS event, we heard from TIAA-CREF president and CEO Roger Ferguson and former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich. Last week, former Vice President Al Gore spoke at a symposium on the Great Lakes. I particularly enjoy this aspect of university life—the convening of smart people to talk about ideas and figure out how to address the challenges of today’s world.

Of course, these events are a small subset of the total activity of a university campus. September and October have been filled with the important business of teaching and research, and the comings and goings of people and events—from Homecoming to Alumni Golden Jubilee celebrations.

One of the things I find most interesting is meeting with faculty. Last Monday I hosted several members of the faculty for dinner and conversation.  The faculty were most of those we have featured in our “Professors who do” poster campaign that you may have seen around campus. This was the second such dinner this semester. Our agenda was simple—get to know each other and share ideas.

Not all of the faculty members had met each other, so this gave them a chance to get acquainted. It gave me a chance to meet some very talented people and listen to their thoughts about Wayne State. One idea in particular struck me, and we are going to act on it. It was the idea that professors can be our best ambassadors. And if they choose to represent Wayne State (and I hope they all do), they should be given the appropriate support to help them.

I agree, and will be sending a note to all faculty members soon explaining how they can participate. We understand that our faculty members already do a great deal for Wayne State, and not all will wish to participate. But we want to make it as easy as possible for those who do.

We plan to provide similar communications soon for students, alumni, and administrators who also want to spread the word about Wayne State.

This hidden asset will be coming more and more into the sunlight—and, ultimately, the limelight.



Sep 8 / President

Fall refresher

Last week I attended Convocation, where we welcomed our first-time students to Wayne State. It was a glorious day. The campus looked beautiful, and the weather cooperated. But the best part was seeing our new students and their families. Wayne State is new to them. And they bring a fresh infusion of eagerness and enthusiasm that I hope we all can enjoy.

This is one of the wonderful things about working on a university campus. Every fall we have a new start. Of course, it’s not completely new for those of us who are here already. And, in some ways, we don’t need a new start. We are building on 143 years of success, so we’ve done many things right for a long time. Those we want to continue. But we can still use this new energy to recharge our own enthusiasm. And find opportunities to make things better.

The week before Convocation I had lunch with our new faculty. We welcomed about 130 new faculty to our campus—many tenured or tenure-track. They are bright, accomplished, and eager to make a difference. I found their energy infectious. So much so that I intend to sit in on a few classes this semester. I just hope I don’t get called on.

I hope you feel the energy of the new fall semester. There are many interesting and entertaining events coming up in September and October. Take advantage of them. Get to know the campus all over again. Remember what it was like to be on a college campus for the first time—like it is to these students. And remember how fortunate we are to be part of this great institution.