Board member urges Wayne State University President Roy Wilson to resign

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News
Dr. M. Roy Wilson, President of Wayne St. University, answers a question.

Weeks after a faction of the Wayne State University Board of governors halted talks to expand a partnership between Henry Ford Health System and the university medical school, one board member said Wednesday that President Roy Wilson should resign, while others defended him during a contentious meeting.

"What caused all of this uproar in the press and at the university is Roy Wilson's lack of transparency and accountability," Governor Dana Thompson said at the end of the WSU board meeting.

"For as long as I have been on this board, this man has acted like the board of governors reports to him," Thompson said. "His arrogance, petulant behavior and lack of respect for the process of accountability and oversight is part of the reason the deal with Henry Ford stalled."

"If Roy Wilson had any shred of integrity left in him, he would be leaving the university after today's board meeting.

But Governor Mark Gaffney, along with board Chair Kim Trent, disputed Thompson's characterization of Wilson and said her comments were dangerous to the long-term vision of the university. 

"It's unfortunate," said Gaffney. "I don’t think it helps this university to make comments like that during fragile negotiations with Henry Ford while trying to put together a huge deal for medical care for the people of this community. I’m afraid if we have discussions like this, it sets that deal back and puts it in danger. I support President Wilson.”


Trent also defended Wilson and critiqued some of the board's actions, saying board members delegate authority to the president of the university. The board’s job is to set policy, guide the president and give him goals, and track his progress, she said.

“We are not here to do things like go to the press in the midst of a very fragile negotiation,” Trent said. “This board has demonstrated incredibly poor judgment.”

The divisions among Wayne State's leadership emerged in December, when the board of governors extended Wilson's contract in a 5-3 vote — with two lame-duck members among those voting yes.

Trent defended Wilson's performance.

“This president has done an excellent job,” Trent said. “We extended his contract because he has done an excellent job … We as a board are trying to coming together … For members of this board to suggest this man, who has demonstrated nothing but integrity in his conduct, should be ashamed — no, colleagues. We should be ashamed that this conversation took place today.”

"You got that right," one member of the audience yelled, while others applauded.

Wilson did not respond to the governors' comments and left the meeting immediately after it adjourned.

But in an interview with The Detroit News earlier this month, Wilson said he had considered leaving Wayne State in the wake of the dispute, but many people in the university community and region reached out to him and told him they supported his work. So he planned to stay on "because I am committed to them."

Wilson also countered his critics, saying that information has always been available to them, and executives and consultants worked tirelessly on the evolving partnership with Henry Ford at a market-rate price. He said the team, no longer with the university, turned around many critical issues that improved the medical school.

Issues causing friction on the board include $7.5 million Wayne State paid over 3 1/2 years to executives and consultants who worked on a now-stalled partnership deal between the university's medical school and Henry Ford Health System.

The questions that some board members have asked about spending on the team have divided the governors and stalled Wayne State's efforts to deepen its partnership with Henry Ford — which proponents say would bring in millions of dollars and transform local medical care.

Earlier in the meeting, governors Michael Busuito and Sandra Hughes O'Brien clarified their criticisms of the handling of negotiations with Henry Ford and the hiring of the consultants who worked on the proposed tie-up. Neither called on Wilson to resign.

"Several board members of the board of governors are opposed to using millions of taxpayer dollars to compensate out-of-state consultants for a poor work product," Hughes O'Brien said.

Busuito added that he was elected to do a job for the public, not for Wilson.

"Even though I like him, I was not elected to be his friend," Busuito said. "I was elected to hold him accountable."

Thompson spoke at length after Hughes O'Brien and criticized Wilson's response to board members' requests for contracts of the executives and consultants involved in the Henry Ford discussions. She said they had to send Freedom of Information Act requests to get the documents.

She said board members asked Wilson to fire one of the executives, David Hefner, and the president "tried to slow-walk the firing and gave Hefner in a dated letter a month or so to pack."

The departure of Hefner, WSU's former vice president for health affairs who led the talks with the health system, was announced in late January.

"It was only after Governor O'Brien told Roy in an email that if he didn't send Hefner a letter firing him immediately, she would issue a public statement, that Roy finally did what he was told by the board he reports to," Thompson said.

"Imagine a president of a university forcing his board members to FOIA information that they are legally obliged to receive about the university? This is what Roy Wilson did when we were seeking information on consultants and their payments."

She added, "It is not due to personal grievances as some want you to think."

Trent said, "it is absolutely stunning to me that this happened today."

"If we are to move forward ... we need to stop the nonsense," she said. "We need to work together, we need to work for the best interests of Wayne State University ... I urge my colleagues to behave more responsibly. No one is trying to prevent you from getting information."

Afterward, some in the audience stayed in the board room and said they agreed with Trent.

Among them was Yvette Anderson, a WSU doctoral student and community activist, who said that Thompson's comments were disrespectful.

"It was personal and maligning to Dr. Wilson's character ... I was very disappointed. It was shameful."