Wayne State board approves bonus for school’s president

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Detroit — The Wayne State University of Board of Governors on Friday ratified a $25,000 one-time bonus for President M. Roy Wilson despite allegations of inappropriate decision-making behind closed doors by the board.

Before the board gave its approval, several people in the audience criticized the bonus, which was discussed and approved by governors in an executive session on July 22 in which two board members participated by phone.

“Democracy dies behind closed doors,” Steve Neavling, the Motor City Muckraker reporter who first published a story about the bonus, said when he spoke before the board. “Please show some leadership and transparency because the public and students deserve it.”

Louis Lessem, the university’s general counsel, said after the meeting was adjourned that there was nothing inappropriate about the board discussing the president’s performance and a bonus in a closed meeting since the Open Meetings Act does not apply due to a 1999 Michigan Supreme Court decision. That law is being challenged by local media. Even if that law were not on the books, Lessem said, personnel issues are often discussed in executive session.

Even so, Neavling and others objected.

“The proposal to raise the president’s salary to $522,000, which I understand requires a vote of the board, requires a serious review,” said retired WSU history Professor Francis Shor. He cited an increase in tuition, administration excess especially in the medical school and lack of transparency with the Ilitch School of Business.

The raise increases Wilson’s salary this year to $522,000.

When hired in 2013, Wilson’s contract stated he would receive $470,000 in base salary the first year, $483,000 the second year and $497,000 the third year. Salaries were not specified for years four and five.

By contrast, University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel recently was awarded a 3 percent raise that boosted his base salary to $795,675

WSU Governor Kim Trent apologized for contributing to what she called the inaccurate reporting of the Motor City Muckraker story, saying she was among the board members who participated by phone since she was out of town.

“Now I am being painted as an unethical person because I take my duty of this board seriously,” Trent said. “The idea that this somehow lacks transparency ... I know that we are not subject to the Open Meetings Act.”

Trent also spoke of her support for giving Wilson’s $25,000 bonus, saying Wayne State used to have horrible recruitment but that has since changed. She cited the recent growth in the number of African-American students in the medical school from four to 40 and the increased six-year graduation rate of African-American males — once 3 percent, now in the teens.

“We have made significant progress,” Trent said. “(Wilson) should be commended for that.”

Others, including Board President Gary Pollard also spoke of Wilson’s accomplishments, saying he has had a “profound impact” on the university.

Only Governor Dana Thompson voting against the bonus.

Thompson said she had been concerned with several aspects of decisions made at the university, particularly suspension of the math requirement she learned about in the press.

“That’s a serious consideration when a board is responsible for making policy decisions and doesn’t have access to information that seriously affects the institution,” she said. “President Wilson has accomplished some important things for the university ... but what concerns me about certain actions that President Wilson has taken and the administration has taken is a lack of a transparency.”