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Dean's Corner

January 7, 2019

New Year's Greeting from the Dean

Each new year presents an opportunity to reflect and take stock - of where we have been and where we are going. Here, I would like to reflect on and take stock of something so important to Lyman Briggs College: the strength of our community.

It has been one year since the public testimony began from the survivors of Larry Nassar’s abuse. It is hard to grasp the enormity of what unfolded, and its impact on our campus. The past year was one filled with grief and shock. Yet, there emerged a renewed resolve and commitment to be better. As we enter 2019, this resolve has not dimmed. Across the university, we have paused to take a hard look at ourselves. We realize that changes need to be made. What are the values we want to uphold? What are the actions we will take to ensure those values are upheld? When I became part of the Spartan family in June, I joined that discussion. I can attest that, for the overwhelming majority of leaders on campus, there is no backing down from the hard truths we must face and the need to build a safe and caring campus.

It has also been just over a month since Dr. Joy Rankin publicly shared an account of her experience in Lyman Briggs. Dr. Rankin joined LBC in 2016 as a faculty member and started an extended leave of absence one year later. In November 2018, she revealed she would not return to MSU and why. She recounted her story as an engaged new professor who found herself experiencing interactions with a colleague that felt wrong, who reached out to those in her community for support, and who found a disappointing university process in response.

The process initiated in 2016 in response to her concerns was that of the MSU Office of Institutional Equity (OIE), which is responsible for investigating violations of campus policies on Anti-Discrimination and on Relationship Violence and Sexual Misconduct. As is common for similar units at most universities, the scope of OIE is limited to rendering judgments on whether or not a policy violation occurred. Having reviewed the case documents closely, I believe, on the one hand, that the processes in place at the time were duly followed and that the judgment of "no violation of policy" was reasonable based on the evidence that was collected. On the other hand, I also believe that Dr. Rankin’s experiences shine a light on some challenges we need to face.

Dr. Rankin's account of her experiences deeply affected our college. I am grateful she shared her story. I am also deeply saddened by it. This is not the impact we want to have on people's lives. This is not the community we want to be. We can do better. We realize changes need to be made, and that we need to make them together in a way that reflects our core values. I want to share some of the changes we've already made, and others we are committing to do in the next few months.

First, we must have clear processes in place to ensure that any member of our community who does not feel safe trusts that they can reach out to others—especially to college leaders—and be supported. This is why we have separated the roles of "Faculty Excellence Advocate" (FEA) and the Associate Dean of Research and Faculty Development. We have re-envisioned the FEA as an independent position reporting to the Provost with an expanded scope, capable of advocating for faculty, staff, or advisors. Further, to better support our students, I have elevated the role of Student Success Director into an Assistant Dean position, moving student success matters to their rightful place at the core of the Dean’s Office. I realize there is much more work to be done here, and this spring I will engage the college committee for Inclusion and Diversity in these efforts.

Second, the actions of college leadership must be more open, collaborative, and accountable. This is why I have been sharing more information with the college than has previously been the norm and why I have instituted a more distributed academic leadership structure that includes more faculty perspectives in decision-making. Including more voices will better allow us to develop and follow equitable processes.

When the newly formed Dean’s Leadership Team gathered this past week for the first time, we asked two core questions: What are the values we want to uphold? What are the actions we will take to ensure those values are upheld? Together, we created this list of commitments:  
  • We value transparency. We will be open and clear about our goals, values, practices, responsibilities, and decision-making processes. 
  • We value inclusion. We will engage and respect diverse perspectives throughout our work. 
  • We value equity and believe everyone in our community deserves to thrive. We will foster open discussion in the spring about how to enact this commitment in our community. 
  • We value excellence. We will set high expectations for performance and behavior and will support efforts to achieve excellence.  
  • We value each other and working as a team. We will respect one another’s approach, act with integrity with each other, collaborate, act professionally, and act in good faith and assume the same of others. 

Third, our academic mission—bridging disciplines—can only be achieved by embracing diversity and inclusion. Today, in our classrooms, you can see our statement of inclusion: 

Lyman Briggs College is dedicated to promoting inclusion and fostering diversity in all its forms.  We will treat all community members with respect, civility, and empathy. We embrace learning environments that celebrate different beliefs, practices, and lives. We believe that inclusive learning is stronger learning and diverse workplaces are stronger workplaces. Thank you for contributing to this mission. You belong here.  

What we must now do is ask: what are the actions we will take to enact these commitments? Over the coming semester, we will engage in establishing shared community norms and expectations of behavior. And we will determine how to integrate these into formal processes (such as annual evaluations) and into the college culture more generally. 

Even in the face of these challenges, I am optimistic. Briggs continues to be a college like no other, and I am proud to be the LBC Dean. The path forward isn't an easy one, to be sure. But we have the humility to acknowledge we need to change, a commitment to one other and to our students, and the will to reach our destination together.  
I hope you will reach out to me with your thoughts and feedback. The strength of LBC comes from our community and from our relationships with one another. I welcome hearing from you, at  
Best wishes for a happy, healthy, and successful 2019! 

Michele H. Jackson 
Professor and Dean
Lyman Briggs College