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Wayne State leader gets new contract despite objections

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News
WSU board member Sandra Hughes O'Brien questions parts of President Roy Wilson's contract during the Wayne State University Board meeting at the McGregor Memorial Conference Center  in Detroit, Michigan on December 7, 2018.

Detroit — Wayne State University's Board of Governors approved a contract extension Friday for President M. Roy Wilson over the objections of three members who said the pact failed to address concerns arising out of the Larry Nassar sex abuse scandal at Michigan State University.

Board chair Sandra Hughes O’Brien and governors Dana Thompson and Michael Busuito voted against the extension, which was approved 5-3. The board members who approved the pact said Wilson deserved it for his "bold, innovative" leadership.

The three governors who voted no said the extension, which will keep Wilson at WSU through 2023, should include language covering malfeasance in light of how Michigan State handled the allegations against Nassar, who abused young women for decades. 

"I have numerous questions regarding our failure to include pertinent provisions that need to be considered in order to protect the university — provisions ensuring no golden parachutes for acts of malfeasance like those committed at MSU where the president knew or should have known the situation," said Hughes O'Brien. 

Thompson added that she voted against Wilson's contract extension because of issues with the WSU medical school, particularly the uncertainty surrounding ties with the Detroit Medical Center, and the hiring of consultants who "are getting paid millions of dollars but have yielded questionable results."

After lengthy and contentious talks, the WSU Physicians Group and the DMC agreed this fall to extend their partnership, under which the group's doctors provide medical services to seven hospitals and other facilities.

Thompson said she didn't understand the rush to extend Wilson's contract since Wilson's current contract doesn't expire until 2020. She wanted time to address her concerns.

She also wanted Wilson's contract to have provisions to avoid what happened at MSU with former President Lou Anna Simon, who resigned in January and has been charged with lying to investigators looking into the Nassar scandal.  

"She leaves the university (presidency) because of this terrible situation that happened with Nassar and she is still getting paid hundreds of thousands of dollars when all of these young people have been abused," Thompson said. 

Wilson said after the meeting he was not surprised at the opposition to his extension.

"I have been tackling some very, very difficult issues, and if you do that, you are not going to please everyone," he said. "But I try to do what is in the best interests of the university."

Wilson added that he has been offered opportunities outside of Wayne State.

His current salary is $548,358 a year. Under the extension, which takes effect when his current contract ends in July 2020, he will receive a base pay raise of $50,000, plus an increase of $50,000 in his deferred compensation. 

After the meeting, Hughes O'Brien said that all universities should learn from Michigan State.

"Every post-Nassar contract for a president, moving forward, should include a provision what is going to happen to a president when they knew or should have known something," Hughes O'Brien said.

"... We have to be more mindful and careful with the public's money in terms of how we compensate presidents who are involved in a situation like this where you knew or should have known," she said.

But governor David Nicholson, who led the committee that has been examining provisions for Wilson's contract since June, said a wide swath of the university community had input and "except for the three people you heard from today, they were very encouraging about the president's job and how he was doing and how far he had moved the university. They encouraged us to lock him up." 

"Losing him would have been a real loss for this institution," said Nicholson. "He does an exceptional job."

Nicholson said the contract includes a malfeasance provision, but noted that Wilson aside from being WSU's president, is a tenured faculty member.

"As is common with all university professors, they become tenured professor the first day of their first contract and President Wilson is no exception," Nicholson said. "Taking away a union professorship is one that would have union implications. If there is a malfeasance issue, there is no golden parachute in regards to the president's role and he doesn't lose his current other role as a tenured professor."

Under the resolution the board approved, if Wilson were asked to leave his post for any reason other than moral turpitude, he would receive 50 percent of one year's salary.

Board members who supported Wilson's contract extension said he has racked up a list of accomplishments during his tenure, which began Aug. 1, 2013.

"I feel our president has done an excellent job," said governor Marilyn Kelly, who served on the committee that reviewed Wilson's contract extension.

Governor Kim Trent pointed to the doubling of the black student graduation rate under Wilson and the school's success in securing WSU's largest gift, $40 million, to construct the Mike Ilitch School of Business, which opened in August.

Trent also pointed to Wilson overseeing an agreement that helped stabilize the university’s finances while expanding on-campus housing for more than 800 students, the completion of a development campaign that secured more than $750 million for WSU and an expansion of the university's research portfolio by more than $100 million.  

"For me, this vote is about the answer to a basic question: Has Roy Wilson performed the duties of his position in such a way that he deserves an opportunity to continue to execute his vision for the university with the support of the board?" Trent said. "I believe he has."