MSU's next president garners praise but faces tough task

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News
Samuel Stanley Jr. listens during a Michigan State University meeting where the board of trustees is expected to name him university president, May 28, 2019

Michigan State University's new president is being praised as an outstanding physician and an accomplished leader by some, but others see a tough road ahead for the Harvard-educated doctor, who they say has a huge task restoring confidence and transparency at the university in the wake of the Larry Nassar sex abuse scandal.

The MSU Board of Trustees selected Samuel L. Stanley Jr. as the school's next university president at a special meeting on Tuesday. Stanley will officially begin his term as Michigan State’s 21st president on Aug. 1.

State Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr., an East Lansing Democrat and minority party vice chair of the powerful Appropriations Committee, said the hire appears to be a “very, very good start” for MSU.

“I think, obviously, the culture at MSU was fairly broken,” Hertel said. “We saw what happened with those who were in charge, so I think the idea of hiring an outsider is probably the best way to go — somebody to take a fresh look at everything and try to make the changes that are needed on campus.”

Hertel said he was impressed by a radio clip he heard of Stanley discussing campus sexual assault prevention efforts during a United Nations summit, along with his history of “making Stony Brook one of the most successful campuses for socio-economically depressed students.”

Robert Jones, chancellor at the University of Illinois, said Stanley is an outstanding physician and an accomplished leader in higher education. Jones worked with Stanley at the State University System of New York.

"He is deeply committed to access and equity, and he has leveraged the premier Educational Opportunity Program to provide thousands of qualified students the chance to pursue their educational goals,” Jones said. “It was a pleasure working with him during my four years in the SUNY system, and I look forward to collaborating again as he joins Michigan State University and the Big Ten.”

Alan C. Young, a Detroit-based MSU alumni and donor, said the new president has a huge task restoring confidence and transparency to all its stakeholders.

"However I hope (he) will lay out a plan to get this dark chapter behind us as soon as possible and quickly lay out a strategy to restore our position of academic prominence that the trustees, alumni, students, parents, donors and staff can all rally behind," Young said.

ReclaimMSU, an alliance of students, faculty, staff and alumni seeking a culture of transparency and accountability in the wake of the Nassar scandal, asked the search committee in a tweet during the announcement if it had asked Stony Brook's University Senate whether Stanley had built trust and a responsive climate.

"Or did they just take his word for it?" the tweet said.

 Andaluna Borcila, an MSU professor and member of ReclaimMSU, said Tuesday immediately after the announcement it's hard to have thoughts when she and others just learned the outcome of the presidential search.

"There's going to be a lot of healing that needs to be done," Borcila said, and outreach needs to happen immediately.

Stanley said he wants to meet with the survivors and learn from them.

ReclaimMSU asked Stanley in another tweet: "Will your actions match your words? Will you immediately meet with the MSU community, engage with us openly and answer questions?"

In a statement posted on Twitter, Ron Hendrick, dean of the MSU College of Agriculture & Natural Resources, wrote: "We welcome Dr. Stanley and look forward to working with him in this next chapter of his highly accomplished career."

Prior to becoming Stony Brook's president, Stanley was appointed vice chancellor for research at Washington University in St. Louis in 2006.

Stanley has a bachelor's degree in biological sciences from the University of Chicago and earned a medical degree from Harvard Medical School in 1980.

After a 1983 fellowship in infectious diseases at Washington University's School of Medicine in St. Louis, he eventually became a professor in the departments of Medicine and Molecular Microbiology.

According to MSU, Stanley championed student achievement, access to higher education and advocating for more state and national funding for financial aid at Stony Brook. He also has been an international advocate for gender equity and ending sexual violence in his role as one of two U.S. university Impact Champions for the HeForShe UN Global Solidarity Movement for Gender Equality.