Michael Sedlak: Building Academic Greatness

May 19, 2021

Professor Michael Sedlak, a historian of education and steady leader of the College of Education, retired from Michigan State University after 38 years on the faculty in fall 2020.  

Michael Sedlak poses for a photo in front of Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater home in Pennsylvania.
Sedlak at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater home in Pennsylvania. 

Sedlak has overseen all matters of academic affairs as associate dean since 1994, making countless contributions to the quality—and reputation—of the college’s degree programs. His impact was especially known to the students who studied Education Policy, a highly regarded doctoral program which Sedlak helped establish and then directed for many years. 

And few can forget his role in the college’s legendary rock ensemble, Against School Violence, as the drummer.

Colleagues and former students say Sedlak built an intellectual community that challenged and sometimes “terrified” them, but more than anything, supported them. 

He advocated for growing financial opportunities available to graduate students, first developing the Summer Research Fellowship for mid-stage doctoral students, and then adding a similar fellowship for students completing their first year. With the support of the MSU Graduate School, the college now provides funds to help roughly 80 doctoral students focus on developing their own research each summer. 

Sedlak was the “best-ever recruiter of doctoral students,” said Dean Robert Floden, recalling the many connections Sedlak made between talented prospective scholars and the faculty at MSU, often across state and international borders. 

One former student, Andy Shouse, said that Sedlak not only helped him through difficult situations during his fifth-year teaching internship but as he later navigated the rigors of graduate study.  

“Your office was a sanctuary for me,” Shouse said, during a virtual retirement celebration for Sedlak held on Sept. 29, 2020.

Sedlak is an “amazing institutional citizen,” whose work can be described as “invisible but irreplaceable,” said Kristine Bowman, who has assumed many of his responsibilities as associate dean for academic and student affairs starting in August 2019. Beyond overseeing graduate programs and fellowships, Sedlak’s portfolio included managing external accrediting agencies including the State of Michigan, academic governance, summer school, and faculty affairs such as promotion and tenure.

Sedlak playing the drum set with the college band "Against School Violence" in a conference room during an AERA conference.
Sedlak playing with the college band at an American Educational Research Association conference.

In addition to his administrative accomplishments, Sedlak had a distinguished scholarly career, addressing topics including the history of the teaching profession in the U.S., international comparisons of university-based teacher education, and analyses of the implicit “bargain” in U.S. high schools that works against attempts to raise academic standards. Insights from his scholarship influenced the famous Holmes Group that shaped national teacher education reform, MSU’s move to a five-year Teacher Preparation Program, and curriculum in the top-ranked doctoral program in Teacher Education, his home department.

As someone who enjoys construction, and has completed many home projects, it’s not surprising, colleague Lynn Paine said, that “Michael sees the structure of things” and has left the MSU College of Education on a steady foundation. 

“Thank you for being a builder of relationships and programs in our college,” Paine said.