MSU tenure policy change targets Strampel
East Lansing -- The former dean of the Michigan State University osteopathic medical school, charged with sex crimes, faces a new school policy aimed at forcing him to retire rather than fight the university’s bid to revoke his tenure.
And the clock is ticking for William Strampel, the ex-boss of convicted pedophile Larry Nassar. Strampel has to decide this week whether to retire or risk losing lifetime health care benefits for himself and his spouse, his professor emeritus status and other perks.
“It would be in the university’s best interest if he left,” said Dianne Byrum, an MSU trustee and chair of the policy committee, where the change emerged.
Michigan State spokeswoman Jessi Adler said Tuesday she was unaware if Strampel had made a decision to retire or go forward with tenure revocation proceedings.
“We are still evaluating and looking at this situation and we hope to have clarity by Friday regarding the next steps,” Adler said.
Neither Strampel nor his attorney, John Dakmak, responded to messages seeking comment from The News.
The change comes as Strampel, 70, who has been on a medical leave since December, is scheduled to return to the faculty this month as university officials have started the process to revoke his tenure. He’s also facing criminal charges in Ingham County Circuit Court and a possible loss of his medical license.
MSU allows staff to retire when they are over 62 and worked at least 15 years, or if they have worked at the university for at least 25 years and are any age. The university offers a defined contribution retirement plan, as opposed to a defined benefit plan.
One of the most significant retirement benefits for some MSU staff is health care.
Because Strampel joined MSU in 1999, he and his spouse would receive lifetime health care benefits if he retires instead of battling tenure revocation. The university offered this benefit for staff employed before 2010. Other retirement benefits include free parking on campus, library privileges and emeritus status, a title that has cachet.
But Byrum said MSU has to balance that against Strampel’s tenure proceeding, which could take years, while the university is still paying him his $217,903 annual salary. During that time, Strampel could be convicted in a court of law, and lose his medical license while tenure proceedings dragged on.
“When you have someone with the seriousness of both the allegations in the tenure process as well as the criminal charges and the legal difficulties of William Strampel, that is not someone we want on our campus,” Byrum said.
At a meeting June 22, trustees approved a change to the university’s policy on removal of tenure, a hallmark in a professor’s life that ensures academic freedom and also gives educators indefinite appointment at an institution.
Though the new policy could at some point affect other MSU faculty, officials say it was aimed directly at the former osteopathic medical dean, who is charged with using the power of his office to harass, discriminate, proposition, intimidate and sexually assault female students. He is bound over to stand trial on a fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct charge, misconduct in office, along with two charges of neglect of duty. His next court appearance is July 12.
Under MSU’s revised tenure policy, once written charges have been filed with the school's president and the chair of the University Committee on Faculty Tenure, a faculty member may not obtain official retiree status while his case is pending.
“The whole case with former Dean Strampel forced this,” said Rob LaDuca, an MSU chemistry professor and incoming chair/president of the faculty senate.
Prior to the change, a faculty member had more time to consider retirement or resignation in the face of dismissal. Tenure proceedings take months, sometimes years. Faculty members lost retirement benefits after they were dismissed for cause at the conclusion of the process.
But if the proceedings didn’t appear to be going in their favor, “basically people could retire and short-circuit the process,” LaDuca said.
Recently at Wayne State University, officials tried to take away the tenure of five faculty members who President M. Roy Wilson said were barely working.
Interim MSU President John Engler said months ago that he was going to try to strip Strampel of his tenure, which can be removed from a professor on grounds such as intellectual dishonesty, harassment, acts of moral turpitude and use of professional authority to exploit others.
Removal of tenure is rare. At MSU, only two professors have been stripped of their tenure in the past 20 years, said Theodore Curry, MSU’s associate provost and associate vice president of academic human resources.
Typically, there are many steps that MSU makes with faculty to work with them before tenure revocation proceedings begin, Curry said.
“In some cases, like the one we are obviously talking about, Strampel, where one might commit an offense that is so serious that you don’t go through the typical corrective action steps,” Curry said. “The example I use is if someone embezzled $50,000, you don’t bring them back and say can we get it down to $20,000 next time? That is so serious you move immediately to dismissal.”
Through vice president and special counsel Carol Viventi, Engler asked that Strampel’s tenure revocation proceedings move forward, Curry said.
A review officer has been appointed and made a confidential recommendation to Provost June Youatt regarding whether Strampel should be dismissed for cause, Curry said.
Youatt has met with the review officer and has reached out to Strampel to meet with her informally before deciding whether to make a recommendation to Engler about tenure revocation proceedings.
Strampel has the opportunity to meet with Youatt by July 6 – Friday, said Curry.
At any point up to that, Strampel could retire.
But if he doesn’t and Youatt makes a recommendation to Engler to pursue revoking Strampel’s tenure, a standing committee will hold a hearing.
Strampel would then be unable to retire under the new policy.
Nassar, the former MSU and USAG physician who sexually assaulted young women for decades and is now incarcerated, did not have tenure.
But Strampel came to MSU with tenure, Curry said. He had a career in the military, and he was hired as a senior associate dean and professor in 1999, Curry said.
Most faculty members are hired as assistant professors and work their way through a process that includes two probationary periods before they get tenure. But sometimes MSU hires people who have tenure elsewhere, or achieved success elsewhere, and grants them tenure, Curry said.
“Strampel was one of them,” Curry said. “It is normal for someone hired at that level – senior associate dean – to have the kind of record that would warrant tenure.”
LaDuca said he believed the policy was aimed at forcing Strampel to be accountable for his actions, go through the tenure proceedings and not leave “under a cloud.”
“The university wants to have everything out in the open regarding Dean Strampel and these accusations,” LaDuca said, “and if they are found vetted and true we would no long want Dean Strampel as part of our community.”
He likened the change to someone discharged from the armed services honorably or dishonorably.
“We want to him have him go through the process of internal discipline with a jury of his faculty peers and evaluate the accusations,” LaDuca said. “If the process concludes he has done these nefarious things, we want to not have him welcome in the MSU community, even in retirement.”