MSU faculty senate urges expanding university boards

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

The Michigan State University faculty senate on Tuesday endorsed a proposal to create a University Board to allow students and faculty to play a role in the process of searching for and selecting a new president.

It also endorsed a measure to expand the controlling boards for MSU, the University of Michigan and Wayne State University by four members each to include student and faculty representatives.

Both proposals, written by Reclaim MSU, an alliance of students, staff, faculty and alumni at MSU and formed in the wake of the Larry Nassar scandal, were discussed during the senate’s regular meeting on campus. The senate vote on the proposal was 29 to 18 with two members abstaining.

The changes are being sought by the group to allow full participation of faculty and students in governance. As part of the proposal, Reclaim MSU states that if two-thirds of the members of the school’s Academic Congress should oppose the selected candidate for president, the Board of Trustees should not be able to select this candidate.

The two-part proposal would amend the MSU Board of Trustee bylaws and the Michigan State Constitution

The MSU trustees’ bylaws can be amended by a majority vote of the board. To amend the state constitution, two-thirds of the members of each house of the Michigan legislature must approve, followed by approval from a majority of Michigan voters.

According to a statement on Reclaim MSU’s website, the proposal was a response to MSU’s board of trustees appointing John Engler as interim president without a search. Engler’s contract was publicly released on Tuesday.

“The current board closed ranks around the previous President at a critical juncture, showing their loyalty to her rather than their loyalty to this institution, to our community, and to survivors of sexual assault. In addition, in the appointment of the interim President, they refused to listen to the advice of faculty, students, and deans,” the website states.

The four additional positions would be filled by an undergraduate student, a graduate student, and two faculty members from different colleges within their universities, the proposal states. The new board members will be elected within their institutions, separately from the statewide elections of other board members, and will serve terms of two years, the proposal says.

The new board members will have full voting rights on their controlling boards and be involved in all board processes, including selection of a president and decisions regarding university expenditures and investments.

Natalie Rogers, an MSU student and organizer with Reclaim MSU, attended the meeting and was pleased with the senate’s vote.

“I feel amazing. The fact the faculty endorsed this proposals a huge step for us. Now is the time to take action, not sit idly by,” Rogers said Tuesday after the vote.

A comment from MSU officials was not immediately available.

Nassar, a former sports doctor for MSU and USA Gymnastics, is accused of sexually abusing more than 250 women under the guise of performing medical treatment. He will spend the rest of his life in prison after pleading guilty to sexual assault and child pornography charges last year.

On Feb. 13, nearly all of the faculty senate’s voting members cast a vote of no-confidence in the Board of Trustees in the wake of the Nassar scandal.

The nonbinding vote was a rare move in academia and another sign of the anguish and frustration among the MSU community as it works to move past the sexual abuse scandal.

In mid-January, faculty members discussed casting a vote of no confidence in then-President Lou Anna Simon before Nassar was sentenced and dozens of young women testified in Ingham County Circuit Court about the impact his abuse had on their lives. But at the end of the seven-day hearing, after more than 150 women and girls spoke, Simon resigned before a vote could take place.