MSU plans to hire next president by June 2019
East Lansing — As Michigan State University embarks on a presidential search in the wake of continuing tumult over the Larry Nassar sex abuse scandal, the school laid out a timetable that will begin next month with a series of listening sessions on campus and end with a selection next June.
On Wednesday, Trustees Dianne Byrum and Melanie Foster outlined the timeline, which calls for the process to conclude in June 2019 with the selection of Michigan State's 21st president.
The announcement was met with skepticism from some faculty members and students, who questioned why their input was not part of the timeline and why the process will start when so many students and faculty are away from campus.
"That is not the best way to build trust," said Anna Pegler-Gordon, an associate professor of social relations and policy.
Byrum responded that many in the MSU community are anxious to move forward and that officials are laying out a process to encourage widespread involvement without wasting the summer months.
"We know students and faculty will not be back until August ... so we will be continuing those listening sessions through October," Byrum said.
She later added that Interim President John Engler, a lightning rod in the campus community since he was hired four months ago, will not be part of the search for his permanent successor.
"The most important task of a board of trustees is selecting a president," Foster said. "And we take this responsibility very seriously."
Foster added that the search is "paramount" in MSU's history.
Byrum said the search's importance is magnified because MSU still needs to heal from the Nassar scandal and because of the challenges facing higher education in general.
"At Michigan State, we see it through the lens of the Larry Nassar scandal but it goes beyond that," she said.
She pointed to the competition for students between institutions due to declining demographics of high school students, the questioning of higher education's value when looking at its expense, growing student debt and remaining a high-quality institution as state revenues have declined.
"There's a lot of challenges facing higher education today," Byrum said. "And the next president is going to have to face all of them."
Byrum is one of two trustees who has called for Engler to resign over emailed comments he made that criticized Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to publicly accuse Nassar of sexual abuse. Nassar, who worked at MSU for two decades, is serving a de facto life prison term after pleading guilty to sex abuse and child pornography charges.
Some question how much the board will listen to faculty and students who told the board they wanted an interim president who had experience dealing with sexual assault and did not want someone with a political background, like Engler, said Pegler-Gordon. But the board didn't listen, she said.
She is mostly concerned that members of the search committee and the community will have no recourse if the board chooses the wrong person to lead MSU.
"At this point, I don't have any trust that the board of trustees won't make a poor decision," Pegler-Gordon said.
The board is beginning the process in mid-July with listening sessions aimed at including the broader MSU community with a goal of conducting as many sessions as possible, Byrum said. The sessions will start with faculty and staff who are on campus during the summer and continue through the fall when the rest of the MSU community is back on campus.
The sessions will include small groups and larger forums. Notes will be taken to develop a collective list of the qualities being sought in the next president.
"We want the MSU community to develop the list, as opposed to a list the board is taking to the community" Byrum said.
Also in July, presidential search firms will be requested.
In August, the board will announce a 15-member search committee that will include faculty, students, faculty, deans, staff and alumni. It is hoped that the committee will be involved in the listening sessions.
In September, the search firms will be interviewed and one will be selected.
By October, a profile of the position will be finalized and made public.
Nominations will be accepted through a website that went live on Wednesday. So far, no nominees have been put forward, the trustees said.
Candidates will be identified and interviewed initially between November 2018 and January 2019 before the board conducts final interviews between February and May 2019.
Asked if the candidates will be interviewed publicly, Byrum said that has yet to be determined.
Michigan State has been without a permanent president since late January, when Lou Anna Simon stepped down after a seven-day court hearing in which more than 150 young women gave victim impact statements about the abuse of Nassar, an MSU doctor who sexually abused young women under the guise of medical treatments for decades.
The Detroit News reported that Nassar's sexual misconduct reached at least 14 Michigan State University representatives in the two decades before his arrest.
Soon after, the trustees appointed Engler. He has since faced scrutiny and backlash over adversarial statements about Nassar's victims he made privately that have since emerged publicly.
As the incidents piled up, scores of political leaders and students this month called for Engler to resign. Engler apologized but said he was not going anywhere.
At last Friday's board meeting, Trustee Brian Mosallam tried to get the board to consider removing Engler. While Byrum supported him, the other six trustees voted to keep the former governor in office.
The last time MSU conducted a presidential search was in 1992 before M. Peter McPherson was hired.