Is it time to make MSU trustees full-time salaried employees?


A little over a year ago, Michigan State University President Samuel Stanley turned in his 90-day notice. He was tired of dealing with a group of micro-managing trustees, several of whom had told him to hit the road only months before.

The university still has no full-time president. The school has an interim president who has been told she ain’t getting the job. The board has a professional firm looking for a full-time president. But, again, no full-time president.

Instead, we have full-time trustees whose usually secretive internal politicking has exploded into the public. On Sunday, Trustee Brianna Scott called for Chair Rema Vassar to step down for doing what all MSU trustees inevitably do: overextend their authority while enjoying the perks of the position. (U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow also called for Vassar’s resignation on Tuesday).

Did Vassar violate the board or the university’s ethical rules? If somebody wants to think she did, she did. If somebody wants to argue she didn’t, she didn’t.

More important for the school is that nobody is in charge. The school is careening off one self-inflicted negative headline after another. The internal strife is as bad as it’s ever been, even with Democrats’ having a 7-1 majority.

The odds of pulling in a quality academic with big-time college experience to go to war with a board openly at war with itself aren’t great.

No trustee is resigning his or her post.

It’s time to fix the problem. Let nature take its inevitable course.

The board wants to be in charge. Put them in charge. 

Dissolve the Office of the President. Have the board run the university like an oligarchy. The members want to do it anyway. Some already are.

Pay them full-time salaries. At $100,000 or so each for eight members, you’re saving the money you’d need to pay a quality full-time president to participate in the academic version of “Survivor.”

A full-time president would be a tool for the majority that elects him or her anyway. Why bother with a middle person? The board can reassign some current MSU official as its mouthpiece to tell department heads what to do. The board clearly knows best.

This solves many problems. There would be no issues with negotiating settlements with deposed Dean Sanjay Gupta or working outside deals with Attorney General Dana Nessel over confidential Larry Nassar documents.

Plane trips with the football coach to a game? It’s always been a perk of the job, but trustees could claim it’s part of their employment to attend such functions. End of story.

We need a football coach. Former Trustee Joel Ferguson always took care of that work in the past. Fellow sports fanatic Dennis Denno can get some pointers from Ferguson. He can shift his focus away from heading the presidential search and toward finding the next Nick Saban.

Like legislators, they got to their position by impressing the right people, doing the right things, raising the correct amount of money, whatever. These eight politicians have been forming coalitions like a mini-legislature since at least the days of John DiBiaggio.

We entrust politicians to run our country, our state, our cities and our townships. Why should a university be immune from the privilege?

Like legislators, give them health insurance, life insurance, a 401(k) and the whole bit. Compensate them properly for the full-time hours and attention they’re already giving to the job.

Last year, I called on this entire unpaid board to resign. They didn’t. Even if they had, a newly elected board would eventually snap back into the same bad habits. Time to go 180 degrees in the other direction.

If they’re the ones pulling the strings, let’s end the charade. If Rema Vassar wants to be highly involved in the MSU shooting response, let her be. If another trustee has some passion project they want to embark on, have at it.

The politicians think they are in charge of the university, folks. Put them in charge.


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