Dean's Update

February 4, 2022 - Aron Sousa, MD


The last few days have seen a new wave of bomb threats against historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Domestic terrorist bombings have a long history on the left and the right, including here at MSU. More particular to this wave of threats against HBCUs, and any racist bombing threat or attempt, my mind has turned to the 1963 racist bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, resulting in the injury of dozens and the murder of four girls: Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Carol Denise McNair.

That bombing struck a chord in the country leading to calls for action, progress, insight, justice. But it was not until 1977 that anyone was tried for the murders. Reading the history will bring to mind the national response, or lack thereof, to the murders of Emmett Till and of George Floyd. As always, our history has history.

Each week during Black History Month, I try to write something relevant in the dean’s update, or rather I hope to encourage people to look up and learn something relevant to Black History Month. HBCUs have a long and cherished place in our communities, and these institutions have been leaders in creating opportunity and expertise for Americans, especially African Americans.

The initial HBCU system was created from a land-grant model with the Morrill Act of 1890, although that history is complex. The second Morrill Act (the first was 1862) required states to create a separate land-grant college for Blacks if the existing land-grant college used race as an admission requirement. HBCUs are mostly in the states of the Confederacy. On one hand, this legislation created new opportunity, and on the other hand, it foreshadowed the injustices enacted through Plessy v. Ferguson. (You can also learn about Hispanic-Serving Institutions  and Tribal Colleges and Universities, both designated in the Higher Education Act of 1965).

In modern times, HBCUs are great educational institutions in their own right, helping people from all states access the benefits of a higher education, leading discovery, and engaging in impressive community outreach. I asked one of our own, a national leader in medical education, to give me a sense of her experience at as an undergraduate at an HBCU.

“I was fortunate to attend Lincoln University, Pa., as an undergraduate, first generation, college student. The faculty and administrators helped me develop a sense of purpose and focus in an environment where I was supported and challenged. I needed nurturance to believe I could be successful after attending segregated – separate and unequal – public schools in the South. I met lifelong mentors who connected me to both Washington University and Michigan State University. Without that start at Lincoln, I am not sure what pathway I would have followed.”

- Wanda Lipscomb, PhD, HBCU Graduate

HBCUs account for less than 5% of US colleges and universities, but 60% of African Americans who become health care professionals go to an HBCU. About 40% of African Americans who earn STEM related advanced degrees go to an HBCU at some point in their training. (National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education)

One of the strongest institutional educators of African Americans entering medical school is Xavier University of Louisiana. Our college has had wonderfully successful students from Xavier, and our college signed an enhanced opportunity program thanks to the great work of Dr. Liz Lyons and the team in the Office of Admissions. Xavier ULA is one of the colleges dealing with bomb threats this week. I cannot imagine trying to deal with this new injustice and the hateful message behind it. My thoughts are with President Verret, his students, faculty, and staff.

As you all know, the university has completed its new strategic plan and a diversity, equity, and inclusion plan. This week, the college started its own strategic planning process. The college needs a plan that addresses the university’s strategic and DEI plans, as well as reflecting new and changing partnerships across the state. While it would be great to initiate a college strategic plan once the dean search is complete, we have to get our work done on a timeline that meets the college’s accreditation timeline. And, the college’s LCME accreditation site visit is scheduled for next March. Realistically, we have to start the strategic planning process now in order to get our work done and documented for our accreditation work.

It would be nice to be asking people to do accreditation work at a different time than we are asking people to serve on the strategic planning task force committees, but we are trying to do both at once. So, I appreciate everyone who is helping with this, and I particularly want to thank Carol Parker who is pulling double duty helping engage the strategic planning group and as one of the core people in the LCME effort. Either one is a big job, managing both efforts is kind of ridiculous.

This week, we had a good discussion in the leadership meeting regarding incorporating Henry Ford faculty into our departments. Each MSU department is following its usual rules for adding faculty to their department. Some departments, and I am looking at Physiology here, have 30 or more faculty to evaluate. That is just a huge amount of work, and I appreciate everyone’s work on this effort.

Next week, both the Deans Update and the Town Hall are away, so expect them back in their usual place on February 18.

So many people have been doing so much work for so long, thank you.

Be well, wear your mask, support vaccination and boosters.

Serving the people with you,


Aron Sousa, MD
Interim Dean

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