Dennis Denno is a new member of the Michigan State University Board of Trustees.
“I graduated from Michigan State University in 1992. I met my wife, Raina, here, and we graduated together. We both live about a mile from campus. I worked in the Michigan legislature as a staffer for 17 years, all for legislators from Detroit or Flint. I was communications director for the House Dems, communications director for the Michigan Democratic Party, and started my own PR campaign consulting company in 2004. We do a lot of surveys all over the country. I also have a small gig as a civilian researcher for the Lansing Police Department Cold Case Homicide Unit.”
Research and polling have taken a little bit of a beating the last few years. What's the state of your industry?
“Polling's interesting. I'll be honest with you, I do less and less political polling and do more association and corporate polling. But it's getting tough. People are getting overwhelmed with phone calls. People don't want to answer calls on their cell phones that they don't recognize. At least in Michigan, if you still have a landline and if you still answer a landline, you're a solid voter. How do you get to those people who don't want to answer a survey? I think part of the problem is some people in this business make their surveys way too long, and it's got to be really short.
“The other thing is, when you look at politics today and you compare it to 10, 15, or 20 years ago, politics today is so much more fluid. If you look at a gubernatorial or a presidential campaign, I would argue maybe there are one or two events throughout the campaign that really sway voters, really move voters. Now, it seems like every week, almost every other day, there might be an incident or a quote-unquote "scandal" that moves the electorate. That's part of the problem we're seeing with polling. There are also a lot of fly-by-night companies that really don't do a very good job. There's no degree you need to be a pollster. Anybody could say they're doing this.”
Why did you want to be on the MSU Board of Trustees? What made you run?
“I'm proud to be a Michigan State graduate. I'm proud to be a Spartan. We do amazing work every single day. We're a world class university. We're a top research university and I'm really proud of that and I really want to help continue that mission. Michigan State touches every single corner of the state, all 83 counties. We have an Extension office in every single county. MSU does some incredible things. We're changing lives, we're saving lives every single day, and I wanted to help be part of that.”
How do you want to impact the board?
“I'm optimistic about the future leadership of this university. We're going to have a new president. We're going to have a new chair of the MSU Board. We're going to have two new trustees. Those all could be very positive things moving forward for Michigan State University's leadership.
“MSU is a huge university. I feel like I know a lot, but I know there's a lot I don't know. There's a lot I have to learn. The most important thing we're going to have to do as a board is we're going to have to find a new president to lead our university forward, and that's the most important thing we're going to do. Michigan State does incredible work in so many different fields. We need to do a better job talking about this. I want to see more about the great work we're doing, the transformational work Michigan State University is doing, not just here in East Lansing, but literally all over the world.”
What are some challenges and opportunities for MSU moving forward?
“One is budget and finances. When tuition is your number one source of revenue, can we continue to go to that well? Do we need to look at other avenues? Obviously, we continue to go to our donors. We continue to look for new donors. There are a lot of financial pressures on Michigan State. We're in a significantly better position than many of our public universities. I don't mean that as a criticism of our other public universities, but there are places we need to grow and expand.”
Why did you choose MSU when you were ready to go to college?
“I just thought Michigan State was a great place. It was a great opportunity for me to get away from home. I liked the idea of going to James Madison College because I felt like it was a small college within a large university. MSU gives students an opportunity to do a lot of different things, whether it's being involved in student radio, being involved in athletics, having a Power Five sports program on campus, or volunteering in the community. There are just so many different things students can do on campus, and I just loved the thought of being able to do that.”
How would you say your time at MSU impacted you and helped you become who you are and are still becoming?
“Michigan State University opened my eyes to the diversity of the world, both in people and ideas. It’s hard to believe that when I was a senior in high school, I didn't have all the answers. I didn't know everything. Michigan State made me realize that. I'm still realizing that. I think that's one of the things I love about Michigan State is we do have a diversity of people. We have a diversity of ideas. Can we be more diverse? Sure, and that's an important goal here. We are in the middle of mid-Michigan, and we have people from all over the world who are making Michigan State a great university.
“I've already met with numerous people on campus. I'm still meeting with people. I'm still learning. I'm still listening. I realize I still have a lot more to learn. I want to make Michigan State as great as it can be. I realize we're an incredible university and I really want to continue sharing that story with the rest of the state and the rest of the world.”
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