Divided WSU board expected to weigh code of conduct at Friday meeting

Karen Bouffard
The Detroit News

Wayne State University's divided board of governors is expected to decide Friday whether to adopt a code of conduct in the wake of allegations that a board member inappropriately interfered in the university's day-to-day operations.

Wayne State University President Roy Wilson at a board of governors meeting in March.

A code of conduct for the governors is among three reforms recommended by an independent investigator commissioned by the university to investigate complaints made in February and April to the Higher Learning Commission, the university's accreditation agency.

The anonymous complaints allege that a board member intervened in daily operations of the university, including trying to have employees fired. 

The Higher Learning Commission in September gave the university until March 24 to report on its progress toward implementing the investigator's recommendations. The board failed to approve the code at last month's board of governors meeting. 

"One of the recommendations of the Higher Learning Commission is that we should adopt a code of conduct, and that it contain sanctions for violations of the code," board of governors vice chair Marilyn Kelly said Thursday.

"We’ve brought this matter back on the agenda tomorrow in direct response to that directive from the Higher Learning Commission."

The eight-member board is bitterly divided, with four members seeking the ouster of University President M. Roy Wilson, who is supported by the other four.

Govs. Michael Busuito, Sandra Hughes O'Brien, Dana Thompson and Anil Kumar say Wilson no longer is the university's president since they voted 4-3 at a Health Affairs Subcommittee meeting last month to fire him.

Board chair Kim Trent, vice chair Marilyn Kelly, and Govs. Bryan Barnhill and Mark Gaffney say that vote was invalid because it was not an official board of governors meeting.

Busuito said the four who oppose WIlson will not recognize him as president at Friday's board meeting, and the four will not vote in favor of the proposed code of conduct. 

"There were seven board members and four of voted to fire him, so as far as we’re concerned, he’s fired," Busuito said. "We’re not going to recognize him as president.

"They want us to sign on on for a code of conduct," he said. "This code of conduct basically says we have to support the president. You can’t tell us who we can talk to, who we can’t talk to and what we can say." 

In addition to adopting a code of conduct, the recommendations include training for board members on accreditation criteria, and additional training for individual board members who interfered in university operations. 

The progress report due on March 24 will be reviewed "for any possible further action" that could include a site visit by the accreditation agency, according to the accteditation agency's letter. 

The investigator hired by the university, an attorney with Iowa-based Frederikson & Byron, P.A., concluded in a report in September that the board member interfered on three occasions. 

The report didn't name the board member, but O'Brien confirmed it was her, adding she believes the complaints were placed with the accreditation agency by university administrators who want her unseated in next year's board of governors election. 

"The reality is there were three instances that (the investigator's report) discusses over seven years time," O'Brien said. "Instances where there were failures on the administration's part when people reached out for assistance and I helped."

O'Brien said she will not vote in favor of the code of conduct Friday, but didn't rule out adopting a code in the future. 

"The problem with the code of conduct is it does not have everybody’s input," O'Brien told The Detroit News on Thursday. "Nobody’s going to go for it again because we’ve not all had an opportunity to have a say."

Asked what happens if the governors fail to approve the code, Kelly said "That's a good question."

"We know that the Higher Learning Commission accredits the University — it has the ability to sanction it, and to even withdraw its accreditation. It’s the ultimate weapon," Kelly said, who added that the board doesn't know how the failure to adopt a code might affect accreditation. 

"We’d not be well advised to wait around and see." 

kbouffard@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @kbouffardDN