DETROIT – There was a moment Thursday when M. Roy Wilson, who was presiding over his final Board of Governors meeting as president of Wayne State University, was overcome with emotion.
The 69-year-old ophthalmologist, who has led the university for the past decade and received numerous national and international awards and citations throughout an illustrious career, shielded his face in his hands as he listened to the news.
“For all of President Wilson’s achievements, and to honor those accomplishments, the Board of Governors recommends that the name of the newly renovated State Hall be changed to M. Roy Wilson State Hall,” Board President Mark Gaffney stated.
Wilson humbly removed his glasses and seemingly rubbed tears from his eyes as the eight-member Board unanimously approved the renaming of State Hall, which opened in 1947 as the first building on the Wayne State campus that was built explicitly for the university.
Renaming the most-frequented building on campus feels like a fitting tribute to a transformative leader who has meant so much to so many in the community. Once fully renovated, the $70 million M. Roy Wilson State Hall will feature new classrooms, lecture halls, meeting and lounge spaces, a reflection room, lactation room, and all-gender restrooms. Renovations are expected to be completed by this fall.
Nearly 73% of all WSU students use State Hall each semester, and more than 90% of students have at least one class in the 76-year-old facility before they graduate. All 13 schools and colleges at Wayne State have used the building.
During his 10-year run as president, Wilson masterfully navigated some turbulent times, growing the graduation rate and shrinking the gap between graduation rates for students of color and white students. He also helped grow the campus footprint with the construction of the 70,000 square-foot Wayne State Fieldhouse, STEM Innovation Learning Center, Mike Ilitch School of Business, Anthony Wayne Drive Apartments, and completion of renovations to the Student Center Building, Hilberry Gateway and State Hall.
“President Wilson has accumulated an enormous number of accomplishments, most notably student success, fundraising and diversity,” Gaffney said. “As a leader deeply committed to students, President Wilson launched the student success initiative, which focuses on improving graduation and retention rates.”
Wayne State’s strategic six-year graduation rate goal was quickly surpassed, especially among first generation, low income and students of color. For its efforts, the university was recognized by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities for having the most improved graduation rate in the nation: a 21-point jump from 2012 to 2018.
Under Wilson’s leadership, Wayne State also doubled its extramural research funding awards to more than $320 million in 2021.
In 1947, during the dedication of State Hall, Michigan Governor G. Mennen Williams praised Wayne State’s expansion saying, “All of us have to make way for progress and education. The only institutions which are permanent are the institutions of principle and spirit.”
Wilson has lived up to the Warrior spirit by furthering Wayne State’s institution commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion by hiring the university’s first diversity officer (Marquita T. Chamblee) and creating the Office of Multicultural Student Engagement, and launching the Social Justice Action Committee.
In the fall of 2020, Wayne State welcomed its largest incoming class, and most recently, the university served as a national leader in safely navigating the COVID-19 pandemic with compassion and science.
“I was thinking, ‘That took a lot in 10 years, but that’s an awful lot even in 10 years,’” Gaffney said. “So, with due consideration for all that President Wilson has achieved and to honor those accomplishments, I recommend that the name of the newly renovated State Hall be changed to the M. Roy Wilson State Hall.”
The 12th president in school history, Wilson is the seventh to be honored with the renaming of a campus site, joining David Mackenzie (Mackenzie House), Clarence Hilberry (Hilberry Gateway), William Keast (Keast Commons), George Gullen Jr. (Gullen Mall), David Adamany (David Adamany Undergraduate Library), and Allan Gilmour (Gilmour Mall).