Professors at Michigan State University are preparing a vote of no-confidence in the university’s elected board of trustees. It’s an appropriate expression, if a toothless one.
The faculty is rightly upset that the board failed to fulfill its watchdog role over an administration that so badly bungled the Dr. Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal. The board is culpable in the cover-up that allowed Nasser’s assaults on young female athletes to continue, and then shielded from accountability those who might have protected the victims.
MSU’s instructional staff is right in calling on trustees to resign. This newspaper and many other voices have done the same. But the only no-confidence votes that will matter are the ones cast by Michigan voters as the trustees come up for re-election over the next six years. While the faculty can have considerable influence on the fate of a college president, it is impotent against elected board members.
The final straw for the professors was the appointment by the board of former Michigan Gov. John Engler as the interim MSU president.
Named by a board evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, Engler is a conservative Republican. That was abhorrent to the faculty.
Instead of a politician, they want an academic to lead MSU back to stability. Of course they do; that’s the world they know.
But what MSU needs most now is strong, decisive leadership to navigate the more than 200 federal lawsuits filed against the university by Nassar’s victims, as well as the restoration of the school’s credibility.
Engler may not fit into the faculty lounge, but he’s a proven leader with experience in crisis management. He still has a lot of influence with the Michigan’s business community (re: donors), and can stare down the political opportunists who hope to cash in on MSU’s troubles. He also cares deeply for the institution.
The faculty have lots of reasons to have lost confidence in the MSU board, but Engler’s appointment shouldn’t be one of them.
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