Michigan State University unveiled its $88.1 million Grand Rapids Research Center Wednesday morning amid demonstrations both targeting and supporting one of the event’s speakers, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
“This is the most dynamic health sciences ecosystem in the world,” MSU President Lou Anna Simon told a crowd of some 100 guests huddled inside a tent beneath the six-story building at 400 Monroe Ave. NW.
The 162,800-square-foot research facility will be used initially by 33 investigators and their research teams, who are working on Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases as well as women’s health issues, autism and pediatric cancers. Plans call for the building to eventually house 44 research teams.
"To everyone involved in this important project, thank you for your vision, your hard work and your generosity,” DeVos said.
Norman Beauchamp, dean of the MSU College of Human Medicine, described the towering silver structure as a beacon of hope, “to the children of today and tomorrow” who have been diagnosed with autism as well as to women who suffer from infertility.
“We’re here to celebrate a building that represents the state of the art, capable of attracting the best research in the country and a magnet of collaboration,” Beauchamp said.
A graduate of MSU’s medical school and a former faculty member at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and the University of Washington, Beauchamp said his motivation to return in 2016 as the college’s dean was simple.
“I came back because what has to happen, every day you deliver the best in clinical care, and when you hit a gap, you need to be able to go to a place where you can find answers,” he said.
MSU’s new building will give researchers a space to do just that, Beauchamp said adding that it’ll put MSU at the forefront of medical research within the Big 10. The College of Human Medicine’s research funding has more than doubled since 2010, from $20 million to $49 million this year.
Each floor of the new building will have teams focusing on different types of challenges – from neurodegenerative disease like Alzheimer’s on the second floor, to women’s health on the third to pediatrics on the fourth, Beauchamp said. The project is about $14 million short of its funding goals, but Beauchamp said he doesn’t think they’ll have trouble getting there. An additional two buildings are also planned for the site.
Also among the morning’s speakers was Lt. Governor Brian Calley, who used his time at the microphone to talk about how the new research building contributes to the development of Grand Rapids.
“Research, education and practice — all put together — that’s where the world changes.
The chants of more than two dozen protesters could at times be heard as speakers, including DeVos, addressed MSU’s milestone.
Protesters pilloried the education secretary over her support of school choice and her department’s reexamination of Title IX guidance to colleges on addressing sexual misconduct.
Jessica Rigney held a sign in support of Title IX. She said she was raped by a classmate at the University of Virginia, causing her to leave the school. She's waiting until her assailant graduates to return.
Rather than failing accused students, Rigney said, the current system is “failing in the opposite direction."
“The odds of an attacker being punished by their school is very small,” Rigney said.
In addressing the presence of the protesters, DeVos speculated jokingly that they were gathered because some members of her family attended the University of Michigan. Richard and Helen DeVos, the in-laws of Betsy DeVos, donated $10 million in support of the Grand Rapids Research Center in 2016 and also contributed toward the Secchia Center, which headquarters MSU's College of Human Medicine.
Former Ambassador Peter Secchia, whose name graces the headquarters of MSU's College of Human Medicine in Grand Rapids and who was credited by DeVos for germinating her interest in politics, praised the education secretary for her efforts on Title IX.
“She’s a marvelous leader, and I’m proud of her for making the tough decision to bring back due process,” Secchia said.