Mission and Values
Our mission is to advance knowledge and transform lives by providing outstanding undergraduate, graduate and professional education; conducting research of the highest caliber; and advancing outreach, engagement and economic activities.
(Shortened version of MSU mission statement; full statement, approved in April 2008 by the Board of Trustees, available at trustees.msu.edu/about/mission.html.)
As an institution of higher learning, Michigan State University is committed to the highest ethical and academic standards. As a public institution we are committed to transparent decision making and accountable governance. As a community, we commit to live these values.
We will pursue innovation through partnership within MSU and with the communities we serve.
We will eliminate barriers to access and success, challenge discrimination and bias, and address past and present inequalities.
We will hold ourselves to the highest standards of teaching, research and engagement, to serve the common good and improve the world we live in.
We will hold ourselves accountable to the highest levels of honesty, trustworthiness and dependability.
We will create and sustain a culture of safety where we can learn, work, teach, live and visit in a community that values the dignity of all people.
Founded in 1855 as the Agricultural College of the State of Michigan, Michigan State University was the nation’s first agricultural college. It was the vanguard for a national movement to make useful advanced education available to a broad public. The Morrill Act of 1862 codified the idea of combining “liberal and practical” education for the “industrial classes” and over time provided a means of support for at least one college in every state to teach agriculture, mechanical arts and military tactics. Funding came in the form of grants of land from the federal government, giving rise to a shorthand name for both the act and the colleges it supported: land grant.
Land-grant universities include some of the largest and most research-productive institutions of higher learning in the world. They have educated millions of students and produced leaders in every field. They have driven research breakthroughs that have saved lives and changed the way we live them. They have connected with and served communities in their states and far beyond.
Michigan State is recognized as the model from which this transformation of U.S. higher education arose. The college’s first president, Joseph Williams, dubbed it “an experiment” that was “established on no precedent, it is alike a pioneer in the march of men and the march of the mind.” This spirit—of a community brought together with a sense determination, passion and purpose—has animated MSU from the beginning.
Michigan State has often recounted its origin story and celebrated the great good arising from the democratization of higher education, the advancement of knowledge and extension and outreach activities.
Today, we recognize we have not collectively acknowledged the connection between land-grant universities and the systematic seizure and dispossession of land from Native Americans as well as the role the federal government’s support for agriculture played in relentless westward expansion. The land Michigan State’s main campus occupies was ceded by Indigenous people in the 1819 Treaty of Saginaw. These lands are the ancestral, traditional and contemporary lands of the Anishinaabeg – Three Fires Confederacy of Ojibwe, Odawa and Potawatomi peoples. Land granted to benefit Michigan State in association with the Morrill Act was situated in both the Upper and Lower Peninsulas of Michigan, ceded in the 1819 treaty and two treaties in 1836. But because Michigan State operates in every county in Michigan, with programs, facilities and land across the state, we occupy or use land ceded in every treaty negotiated in Michigan between the late 1700s and early 1840s (learn more at project.geo.msu.edu/geogmich/images/indianreservation.jpg). Treaties like these were negotiated under duress and were often the result of coercion and violence.
The impact on Indigenous peoples created by MSU’s founding was not only indirect. A map representing MSU’s first year shows a Native encampment by the Red Cedar River near Old College Field. This camp appears to have been used seasonally, providing a base for hunting, fishing and processing maple sap. Loss of land, diminished access to natural resources and forcible relocation adversely affected Indigenous people’s well-being and cultures in significant ways that still reverberate today. Reflecting upon Michigan State’s past and the relevance of its land-grant mission today allows us to make intentional choices about how we express our identity in the future. As the founding land-grant, we have a particular responsibility not only to raise awareness of the history of Michigan State and land-grant universities, but also to elevate the visibility of Indigenous people and cultures and take steps to forge authentic connection and collaboration with Native American and Indigenous communities affected by land-grant policies.
Michigan State’s early leaders responded to rapid changes in the mid-19th century and society’s needs by creating a new approach to education. Today’s issues are no less pressing: unprecedented technological advances reshaping work and nearly every other aspect of life; widening economic and social inequities; global health crises and climate/environmental emergencies. Such urgent concerns require the talents and gifts of all, making it vital for institutions to take bold steps toward diversity, equity and inclusion. They also require leadership from institutions of global reach, significant scope and scale, and preeminence in areas of global grand challenges to address the pressing issues of our time and be leaders in creating opportunities for tomorrow.