Lou Anna K. Simon
President of Michigan State University
Born Lou Anna Kimsey in 1947, in Sullivan, IN; married Roy Simon (a school administrator). Education: Indiana State University, B.A., 1969, M.A., 1970; Michigan State University, Ph.D., 1974.
Addresses: Office —Office of the President, Michigan State University, 450 Administration Building, East Lansing, MI 48824-1046.
Michigan State University, assistant director for Office of Institutional Research, 1974, assistant provost for general academic administration, c. 1980, professor, Educational Administration department, 1984—, associate provost, c. 1990, provost, MSU College of Law, interim provost, associate and assistant provost, assistant to the president, provost and vice president of academic affairs, 1993-2003, interim president, 2003, president, 2005—.
Member: Executive Committee of the Committee on Institutional Cooperation.
Lou Anna K. Simon rose through the ranks of academia to become the first female president of Michigan State University (MSU). She took over the reins of control during MSU's 150th year celebrations and received much attention as people eagerly watched to see how the new president would fare. Doug Guthrie for the Detroit News said of the new president, "Simon plans to quickly establish her own leadership style. She intends to show early in her administration how her academic background is likely to lend a different style of leadership in East Lansing."
Simon was born in 1947 into a blue collar family. Her maternal grandfather ran a lumber yard, and her paternal grandfather, who died from black lung disease, worked in a factory. Simon's father was a World War II vet. When he finished his tour of duty he worked at the American Electrical Power Company plant. Simon grew up and went to high school in Sullivan, Indiana. She was the first person in her family to go to college and the fact that she went happened by chance, as she really had not considered the idea until she was given a scholarship by her father's company. She was not sure where to go and went to her high school counselor for help. He suggested Indiana State University in Terre Haute because it was only 30 minutes away from her home. She went there and obtained a bachelor's in mathematics in 1969 and a master's in student personnel and counseling in 1970.
One of Simon's master's professors sent her to MSU after graduation to see Paul Dressel, the director of the Office of Institutional Research at the university; Dressel was known nationally as a higher education researcher. He was impressed by Simon and offered her a job in institutional research. She quickly accepted and while there obtained a doctorate, in 1974, in administration and higher education. She met her husband, Roy Simon, while they were both graduate students.
In 1984 Simon took on a professorship in the Educational Administration department. She worked also as interim provost, associate and assistant provost, and assistant to the president. She became provost and vice president of academic affairs in 1993. She was seen as indispensable to MSU's administration, and therefore she was chosen to take on the position of interim president in May of 2003 for five months when then-president M. Peter McPherson was in the Middle East helping to rebuild Iraq's monetary system.
In 2004, McPherson announced his plans to retire. In January of 2005, Simon began a three-year term as president of MSU, making her the 20th person to hold the post and the first woman to do so. The decision was made quickly because the MSU Board of Trustees wanted a known person to replace McPherson. She was an easy choice because eleven years earlier Simon almost got the presidency—she was a finalist for the position—but the job went to someone else. The Grand Rapids Press said of the appointment, "Ms. Simon will provide the continuity MSU seeks as it pursues major initiatives that will impact the university's future into the 21st century." Some thought that there should have been a wider, national search, perhaps bringing in new blood with new ideas and perspectives. Board President Dave Porteous, according to Judy Putnam in the Grand Rapids Press, defended their decision, arguing that "the board did do a national search—eleven years ago—and came up with Simon as one of four finalists. She's even more qualified now." The board will determine over the three years of Simon's term if they should renew her contract or do another search.
Simon garnered many skills during her time at MSU that were thought to be a great asset in a president. She has taught education courses on evaluation, planning, and budgeting. She is actively involved in the academic governance of the institution, encouraging faculty and student participation in their courses, departments, and even on a whole university level. Simon belongs to the Executive Committee of the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC), an academic consortium that involves the eleven universities of the Big Ten, along with the University of Chicago. And, of course, she has a progressively more responsible background in leadership at MSU. Also, McPherson wanted to move the medical school to Grand Rapids, something that Simon was overseeing and that was considered one of the benefits of having her become president: she would continue with the process, even making it one of her first priorities.
She took on the position of president at an important, if rather daunting time—2005 marks MSU's 150th anniversary. Students and faculty alike are looking to Simon with great expectation to see how she will handle such an auspicious event. A journalist for MSU's Big Green paper wrote, "As the new president of MSU, you have big shoes to fill. I'm sure that you don't need me to remind you that moving in on MSU's 150th anniversary comes with much anticipation. Students' minds have already formed lists of expectations of you and your staff during this presidency . [T]here is the need for State to be a better and safer place for everyone." Women's rights advocates were also watching Simon with great anticipation, as there was a great hope for change involved with a woman becoming president of the university. There had been an increase in rape cases on the campus at the end of McPherson's reign and it was hoped by many that Simon, as a woman, would make the abolition of such violence a priority in her upcoming years as president.
When she is not involved in the running of MSU, Simon loves to golf. She and her husband are also actively involved in their community, so much so that she decided not to move into Cowles House, the president's house on campus. Instead she and her husband intended to keep their own home in East Lansing and use Cowles for entertaining.
Grand Rapids Press (Grand Rapids, MI), June 22, 2004, p. A12; December 12, 2004, B3.
MSU Today, Fall 2004, p. 3.
PR Newswire, January 27, 2005; March 11, 2005.
Women in Higher Education, August 2004, p. 20.
"Biography & MSU History," Office of the President-MSU, http://president.msu.edu/biography.html (June 18, 2005).
"Dear Lou Anna," Big Green, http://www.thebiggreen.net/article.php?id=216 (June 18, 2005).
"New MSU president has plans to establish own style, agenda," Detroit News, http://www.detnews.com/2005/editorial/0501/03/A16/47258.htm (June 18, 2005).
"Statement from Lou Anna K. Simon," Special Reports, MSU, http://special.newsroom.msu.edu/new_president/simon_statement.html (June 18, 2004).
—Catherine Victoria Donaldson