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SMC Luncheon Speaker: Dr. Roy Wilson, President of Wayne State University

Our luncheon speaker on February 11th was Dr. Roy Wilson, the President of Wayne State University since 2013. Dr. Wilson has had an illustrious career since graduating from Harvard Medical School. He has served was dean of the School of Medicine and vice president for health sciences at Creighton University, president of the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, chancellor of the University of Colorado Denver/Anschutz Medical Campus and chair of the Board of Directors of University of Colorado Hospital. Prior to joining Wayne State, Dr. Wilson served as deputy director for strategic scientific planning and program coordination at the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).Immediately prior to joining NIH, Dr. Wilson chaired the Board of Directors of Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science and was acting president during part of that time.

Dr. Wilson addressed the history of Wayne State and a number of myths about higher education. Wayne State was founded as a hospital and medical school more than 150 years ago by five doctors returned from the Civil War. Today WSU consists of 13 schools and colleges offering nearly 350 programs to more than 27,000 graduate and undergraduate students. It is one of the top 60 public research universities in the US. Although some think that universities cost taxpayers too much money, Dr. Wilson described how WSU returns far more to the city and state than it receives. More than 75% of its 275,000 graduates remain in Michigan, creating jobs and adding to the economy. It is also a myth that the campus is dangerous. With its own security force, it is one of the safest campuses in the country, and many Midtown business rely on their officers. Since 2009, crime in Midtown has decreased by 59%.

Another myth is that college students today are “snowflakes” who aren’t ready for the real world. Dr. Wilson’s experience is the opposite. He described the WSU Med-Direct program, where students are admitted to both undergraduate school and medical school, with full scholarships and a year abroad. Even with a scholarship, many of them have to get a job to send money to their parents. More than 80% of WSU students work. WSU students also serve others in a variety of programs. Street Medicine Detroit connects medical students with the homeless. Other programs have resulted in 97,000 community service hours provided in the last 10 years by WSU students.

Dr. Wilson critiqued the myth that tenured college professors have a cushy job that requires no work, although he did say that it happens sometimes. Five years ago, WSU started a program to remove tenure from those that were abusing it. Some faculty members did lose tenure, while others decided to resign to avoid embarrassment.

Dr. Wilson addressed criticism of university research which some feel is impractical. He cited basic research projects that have had enormous practical benefits, such as drugs for AIDS and car safety research. Other myths, including that a four-year degree is no longer a good investment given the need for workers in the skilled trades, were rebutted by Dr. Wilson. He also cited Wayne State’s high social mobility index that compares the graduation rate of schools that enroll disadvantaged students. Among US universities, WSU has one of the largest increases in graduation rate over the last six years. Last year, Wayne State won the IEP Talent award from the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, recognizing exemplary initiatives in education and workforce development.

For more information, see the WSU website.

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