EAST LANSING −The chairperson of the Michigan State University Board of Trustees said Monday afternoon she opposed an effort underway by a group of trustees to oust university President Samuel Stanley Jr.and late Monday a second trustee threw her support behind the embattled president.
Democrat Dianne Byrum in a lengthy, terse statement condemned attempts by fellow trustees “to remove him from his post before his contract is complete.”
She did not name the trustees involved in the effort. Monday evening, Republican Melanie Foster, the longest-serving member of the board, said in a statement that she also supported Stanley.
The Detroit Free Press first reported Sunday that the Board of Trustees gave Stanley until Tuesday to resign or face the possibility of termination.
Stanley was not available for comment.
Board Vice Chair Dan Kelly issued a statement after Byrum released her comments Monday afternoon, but it was unclear where he stood on Stanley continuing as president.
“This past Friday, Board Chair Dianne Byrum, Vice-Chair Dan Kelly, and President Stanley had a brief meeting. Contrary to recent media reports, at no time was the President threatened with termination or given an ultimatum regarding his employment,” Kelly wrote . “The Board has made no decision regarding any change in President Stanley’s employment status nor his employment contract.”
Kelly did not respond to calls and emails requesting an interview, nor did trustees Renee Knake Jefferson, Pat O’Keefe, Brianna Scott, Kelly Tebay, Rema Vassar, Foster, Kelly or Byrum.
Emily Gerkin Guerrant, vice president for media and public information at MSU, on Twitter Monday before Byrum issued her statement denied claims that Stanley was given until Tuesday to resign or face possible termination.
“This is not a factual statement. President Stanley and the MSU Board of Trustees are currently in discussions about his contract. That is it,” she tweeted in response to an Inside Higher Ed post on Twitter that said Stanley would be forced out.
Byrum wrote that some trustees apparently believe “they are somehow better qualified to run the university” than Stanley.
“In recent days, some members of the MSU Board of Trustees, for which I serve as chairperson, have created confusion over the future of our university’s president. These actions do not represent how the board of an institution of higher education should act,” Byrum wrote. “MSU President Samuel Stanley has led our university through many challenges in recent years and attempts to remove him from his post before his contract is complete are misguided. I am disappointed in the behavior of some members of the board which threatens to roll back the progress MSU has made and will continue to make.
“Unlike many colleges and universities, MSU has a record freshman class. We continue to climb in academic rankings. We’ve launched the FRIB. The financial measures taken by President Stanley have helped stabilize our finances which were shaken by the COVID-19 pandemic . We have new healthcare partnerships and continue to make progress in healthcare research. We’ve taken great strides to address relationship violence and sexual misconduct and to improve the culture on campus. At MSU, we are on the move and making progress. That’s why I take strong exception to the conduct by several MSU Board of Trustees who have sought to undermine and second guess President Stanley under the mistaken belief they are somehow better qualified to run the university. They clearly are not as evidenced by the outpouring of concern, bewilderment and outrage their recent actions have generated.
“It is my belief these board members should apologize, reverse course and refocus on their proper role as Trustees of this amazing institution. President Stanley should be allowed to complete his service to MSU without undo interference by the Board.”
Foster, chairperson of the board’s Budget and Finance Committee, which is responsible for completing annual evaluations of the president’s performance, said Stanley should be allowed to complete the final two years of his contract.
In a statement Foster provided to the State Journal, she credited Stanley’s experience as a Harvard-trained epidemiologist who helped lead the university through the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. And the university made financial strides during that time, she wrote, including hiring the university’s first chief financial officer and an investment office that Foster said continues to “out perform benchmarks and create value.”
Foster additionally credited Stanley for building an “effective” executive staff, and “unprecedented” enrollment accomplishments, among other achievements.
“Unfortunately, there is discourse among the Trustees concerning the president’s performance,” Foster wrote. “For reasons I have just cited, I believe President Stanley should be allowed to complete his service at MSU per the terms of his contract. Many faculty, university organizations and students have written advocating their support and calling for Board transparency in this process. The Board needs to listen to our constituents.”
Stanley signed a new contract last fall that includes an annual salary of $960,000. His contract expires in 2024.
Fallout from Gupta exit continues
Reports of Stanley’s potential ouster come after Broad College of Business Dean Sanjay Gupta resigned on Aug. 12. At the time, the administration cited concerns over Gupta’s leadership of the college and his “failure to report under our mandatory reporting policies” as reasons that led to his resignation.
In an Aug. 30 statement, Kelly issued a statement saying the board had retained a law firm to investigate Gupta’s removal, which he said was “implemented by the provost (Teresa Woodruff) of the university with the support of the president.” Kelly said the statement was sent “on behalf of an overwhelming majority of the board members,” but did not elaborate.
Shortly after Kelly’s statement, Stanley defended Woodruff’s decision, claiming she was “well within her rights to make this leadership transition,” in a statement.
“I fully support this decision and the process utilized to come to this action. The administration will cooperate with the outside counsel,” Stanley wrote.
Byrum said Friday she did not support the inquiry. Vassar told the State Journal she did support the investigation. Other trustees declined to comment or did not respond to messages last week.
On Monday, Woodruff addressed reports of Stanley’s potential ouster in a statement to deans, directors and chairs at MSU.
“As our values statement describes, MSU is committed to providing an environment that fosters the values of mutual respect, dignity, responsibility, and open communication. As Provost it is my responsibility to live by these commitments and take actions that align with this promise, Woodruff wrote. “In my time at MSU, Relationship Violence and Sexual Misconduct (RVSM), Title IX policies, and our organizational culture have improved with the leadership of President Stanley. We remain committed to building on these efforts to create a safer, more secure, more supportive, and inclusive campus. The safety and well-being of the campus community is a top priority of this administration and that has been re-enforced by our actions.”
Campus groups support Stanley
Leaders of Michigan State University’s faculty Sunday night are among those groups supporting Stanley, and they expressed “grave” concern over the Board of Trustees’ reported plans to oust Stanley.
“We are gravely concerned about the trustees’ reported intention to oust President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. Despite the institutional trauma Michigan State University has endured in recent years, the Board of Trustees is apparently debating — behind closed doors — forcing out a third president in less than four years. They should know better,” read an MSU Faculty Senate statement. “Extraordinary actions require extraordinary justifications. Given our special role in achieving the mission of our university, MSU faculty deserve and demand the transparency the Board of Trustees claims to value.”
Tyler Silvestri, secretary for academic governance for the Faculty Senate, declined to comment further. The Faculty Senate scheduled a special meeting at 7 pm Tuesday to discuss the issue.
Additionally, a group of 21 senior professors in the Broad College of Business sent a letter to the Board of Trustees on Aug. 19 challenging claims that Gupta failed to meet mandatory reporting requirements and called on MSU to initiate an independent internal investigation.
Trustees on Friday narrowly approved the appointment of Judith Whipple, interim associate dean for faculty and doctoral programs in the College of Business, to serve as interim dean by a 5-2 vote. Kelly and O’Keefe, both Republicans, voted against the appointment, and Vassar, a Democrat, abstained.
Associated Students of MSU, the university’s student government body, criticized trustees’ reported plans to force Stanley out.
“The culture of decisions being made behind closed doors without the voices of all affected parties is abhorrent,” ASMSU said in a statement. “It is a detriment to the community members’ trust in this institution, especially students. Many of us came to Michigan State University under a promise of progress, one in which transparency would be key to the rebuilding of trust among students, faculty, staff and administration. That promise has been broken continuously with decisions being made on behalf of students without their voices being heard.”
The Coalition of Racial and Ethnic Minorities faculty and staff organizations at MSU called for transparency from the board.
“While MSU is not perfect, under the leadership of President Stanley and his administration, MSU has made progress towards a more inclusive campus community,” according to a statement from the coalition. “A culture of secrecy and closed doors, where the voices of those who are impacted by such decisions are excluded, cannot be tolerated any longer at MSU. As we welcome a record number of students to campus, it takes vigilance and a continued commitment to keep MSU a welcoming and safe campus. In order to do so, we, in CoREM, are committed to holding MSU and its members accountable to the policies and values we espouse.”
Board’s liaison to Stanley out
MSU also confirmed Monday that Eric Scorsone, secretary and chief of staff for the Board of Trustees and the liaison between the board and Stanley’s administration, left the post on Sept. 9, just seven months after taking the job. Dan Olsen, university spokesperson, said Scorsone has returned to the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources as a faculty member.
Scorsone first became secretary and chief of staff on Feb. 1, replacing Brian Quinn.
Scorsone declined comment when reached Monday evening.
Stanley was hired as MSU president in May of 2019.
Former President Lou Anna Simon was forced out of the position in January 2018 in the middle of the Larry Nassar scandal. Nassar, a former MSU and USA gymnastics doctor, was convicted of sexually assaulting hundreds of girls and women under the guise of medical treatment. MSU, which was accused of missing chances over many years to stop Nassar, agreed to pay $500 million to more than 300 women and girls who were assaulted by him. USA Gymnastics and the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee made a $380 million settlement.
Former Michigan governor John Engler was appointed interim president after Simon’s departure, but he resigned after he was slammed for his handling of the Nassar fallout, including insensitive comments about Nassar survivors.