Opinion

Stanley is right: No confidence

Posted

Congratulations to the micromanaging Michigan State University Board of Trustees for making the job of president so undesirable that the office’s current occupant is quitting a year and a half early and leaving at least $1.5 million in salary on the table. 

Nearly a year ago today the MSU board members felt so highly of Dr. Samuel Stanley that they gave him a 20% raise.  

Last week, Stanley gave MSU his 90-day notice, weeks after the board’s junior members worked to show him the door, despite the public objections of Chair Dianne Byrum and their most experienced trustee, Melanie Foster. 

Stanley’s offenses? Not keeping some board members up to speed on some Title IX reporting requirements while supporting the demotion of Business School Dean Sanjay Gupta, who didn’t strictly adhere to the school’s sexual harassment protocols. 

So, which is it? Is Stanley too lax when it comes to reporting or too strict? Or is it that Stanley didn’t check in with some board members before making his executive decisions? 

The word “micro-managing” came out of Stanley’s lips during his farewell video, and we’ll go with that since he’s the only one who’s talking. 

The board kicked out a sanitized public statement that told us nothing. All eight members have hit the bunker, hoping the storm will blow over. 

We’d wait for the next public hearing, but we know from past experience that the board’s longstanding practice of conducting all of their important discussions behind closed doors isn’t changing. Far be it for this board to run anything better than a tightly scripted performance as its “public” meeting. 

Something needs to change here, and we’re not talking about the president’s position. 

This insular MSU Board of Trustees is out of control. They are running this public, taxpayer-funded university through another ring of Larry Nassar hell without publicly explaining themselves. 

If a Harvard-trained physician with prior university leadership experience and broad support from MSU faculty and students isn’t whom this board is looking for, who is?  

And how did the board go from giving Stanley a $160,000-a-year raise to wanting him gone in 10 months? How can this board pour hundreds of thousands of dollars into independent investigations that relitigate a decision from the provost? 

How can publicly elected public officials be so reckless with taxpayer money? 

What is the quality of the individual who will want to become MSU’s next president under these toxic dynamics? Who wants to be a puppet for an arrogant board that is accountable to nobody but party hacks, that is listening to nobody, that doesn’t seem to care what anybody else thinks and that clearly has no idea what it’s doing. 

We stand with the Michigan State Faculty Senate and give our vote of no confidence to this board. 

We see no evidence that Tebay, Scott, Rema Vassar, Pat O’Keefe or Dan Kelley are cut out for the position they are holding. We hoped the addition of Vassar and O’Keefe in 2021 would help turn the page to positive reforms that put the heinous acts of Nassar far in the rearview mirror. 

Instead, they are the forward-facing members who appear to be instigating this coup.  

We’d like to support Democratic Trustee Renee Knake Jefferson as she runs for a full term on Nov. 8, but we can’t justify it. She’ll go as the lone Democrat we’re declining to support in this 2022 election. 

The canned statement she issued through the Democratic Party after Stanley’s departure announcement left a lot to be desired. Like most of the rest of this cloistered group of eight, she serves as more of an example of why big reforms are needed for the board than a reason she deserves to continue on it.

We do support Democrat Dennis Denno, whose grasp on reality and his knowledge of the Legislature, where he worked for 17 years, will benefit the board.

It is clearer than ever that a constitutional amendment making the trustees an appointed position, as opposed to an elected position, is sorely needed. 

The state Constitution requires the governing boards of MSU, the University of Michigan and Wayne State University be elected among candidates nominated by political parties. For Democrats, the process typically yields former athletes, boosters, union officials or folks who would diversify the ticket. For Republicans, it’s political ideologues or people lucky enough to have with solid Irish surnames. 

For years, we felt that if a few certain members were knocked off the board, the drama would stop. Alas, it has not. Whether it’s running over former President Marilyn Dean Baker in the 1990s, the odd selection of M. Peter McPherson of 1993, going into full CYA after the Nassar scandal blew up or the misguided decision to drag John Engler out of the basement, this board can’t stay out of the headlines. 

The elected Wayne State University Board of Governors was a textbook example of dysfunction a few years ago. 

When do we hear of problems with the appointed boards at the directional schools or Saginaw Valley or Ferris State? How are they able to stay out of the headlines? 

Possibly because the governor picks trustees based on a professional skillset that adds value to the board, whether it’s accounting, business acumen, finance, land development, personnel management, education or legal experience. 

These new board members are bringing nothing but bush league politics, division and drama to a university that been through enough, already.

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