MSU to reveal choice for its next president on Tuesday

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News
Michigan State University is expected on Tuesday to put forth its choice for the university's 21st president.

After months of a secretive process, Michigan State University on Tuesday will put forth its choice for the university's 21st president following the dark chapter of the Larry Nassar scandal, which tore apart MSU's community and took down two of its presidents.

At 10 a.m. Tuesday, the Board of Trustees will gather in a special meeting for a personnel action, according to a notice posted Friday. The meeting will be to vote on a candidate who has been recommended by an 18-member presidential search committee that formed in August, according to a source. 

The board is expected to name Stony Brook University President Samuel Stanley Jr. as the new MSU president. Learn more about him.

Some expect criticism of the new president, regardless of his credentials and track record. Though MSU search committee members held numerous listening sessions with a wide swath of stakeholders in the community, asking what kind of qualities they hoped to see in the next president, many were frustrated the search process was closed for public vetting.

"No matter who it is, there will be a level of disappointment that this was conducted in the way that it was conducted (in secret),” said Anna Pegler-Gordon, an MSU social relations and policy professor who has been involved with the activist group Reclaim MSU.

“If there had been public involvement that led to a good candidate, there would have been enthusiasm, I don’t think there can be enthusiasm for someone who is picked without any public involvement. There will be a very critical eye cast on whomever is picked.”

Numerous attempts to reach several MSU officials were unsuccessful on Friday. But Dianne Byrum, chairwoman of MSU board's and co-chair of the presidential search committee, said in the past that the search process needed to be confidential to attract the most qualified candidates.

Trustees and the search committee had "extensive discussions about whether the search should be open or confidential," said Emily Guerrant, MSU spokeswoman, on Friday.

"The community input sessions last fall advocated to attract the strongest possible pool of candidates for the president of MSU. Our consultant, Dr. Teresa Sullivan, and our search firm, Storbeck|Pimentel, both advised that the majority of presidential searches at research-intensive universities during the past three years have been confidential, as most highly qualified candidates are not willing to be recruited for an open search.

"Additionally, MSU is competing for highly qualified presidential candidates at the same time as several other universities around the country, most of which are conducting confidential searches."

Regardless of who is selected, Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to publicly accuse Nassar of sexual assault and prompting hundreds of others to come forward, said that "accountability and transparency are still paramount."

"The university still at this point has not acknowledged any failures," Denhollander said. "MSU still needs to do an independent investigation to find out what went wrong, they need to acknowledge what went wrong and they need to announce concrete steps to change it. The new president, unfortunately, is going to face an uphill battle because the university has not cleaned up the mess."

An MSU alumnus and donor echoed that sentiment.

"The new president has a huge task restoring confidence and transparency ...," said Alan Young. "I hope he/she will lay out a plan to get this dark chapter behind us as soon as possible ... ."

Nassar victims and their supporters have blasted the decision by the search committee to keep its work private, saying the lack of a transparent hiring process sends the wrong message to victims, students and others. 

But leaders of the hiring effort say they followed the recommendation of the search firm they hired and Sullivan, the former University of Virginia president who is advising the board on its presidential search. They believed an open search would scare off candidates. 

Sullivan was hired at a cost of $1,000 per eight-hour day, totaling $52,077 as of May 22, according to Guerrant. In September, MSU also hired a woman- and minority-owned national search firm, Storbeck/Pimentel & Associates, whose costs as of May 19 were $317,270.

The new president could attend the Mackinac Policy Conference, a four-day conference of state leaders on Mackinac Island that begins Tuesday and will include several MSU representatives, according to Matt Friedman, a public relations professional who has represented Michigan universities. Among them: Dianne Byrum, board of trustees chair; David Bertram, associate vice president for state relations, and Kathleen Wilbur, executive vice president for government and external relations.

Other universities, such as Wayne State University, have announced new presidents in the past and brought the new leader to the conference, Friedman said

The introduction will come on the same day as jury selection begins for the trial of William Strampel, the former MSU osteopathic medicine school dean who's been charged in connection with the scandal involving Nassar.

Two weeks later, a preliminary hearing will continue for Lou Anna Simon for a judge to determine if the former MSU president should stand trial on charges of lying to a peace officer in connection with the Nassar investigation. 

A court hearing also is scheduled on July 10 for the former long-time head MSU gymnastics coach, Kathie Klages, who allegedly lied to a peace officer in regards to her knowledge of Nassar's crimes.

Meanwhile, $425 million of MSU's settlement over Nassar has mostly been distributed to the 332 victims who filed suit against the university. But officials are still grappling with claims from a second wave of about 172 more victims, for which another $75 million has been set aside as part of the $500 million settlement.

Michigan State, the largest university in the state, has been without a permanent leader since January 2018, when Simon, the former president, resigned under pressure as more than 200 women testified in two courtrooms over nine days about Nassar's abuse.

Nassar, a former sports doctor for MSU and USA Gymnastics, admitted sexually abusing MSU athletes and Olympic gymnasts while treating them for injuries. He also admitted to possessing 37,000 images of child pornography. He received three prison sentences that will keep him locked up for the rest of his life.

After Nassar's admissions, Ingham County Judge Rosemarie Aquilina allowed as many young women to testify during an extraordinary court hearing, captivating the world for five days before the judge handed Nassar the harshest of his three prison sentences: 40-175 years for criminal sexual conduct. Facing growing outrage over MSU's response to the scandal, Simon resigned under pressure that same night, followed a few days later by Athletic Director Mark Hollis.

Before the scandal reached its height, scores of women and girls reported Nassar and also filed civil lawsuits against MSU, USAG, the United State Olympic Committee and Gedderts' Twistars, accusing the institutions of failing to protect them from Nassar.

MSU trustees were also under fire. They asked then Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette to conduct an investigation, which led to criminal charges against Simon, Strampel and Klages. Officials have still not completed the investigation.

Trustees also tapped John Engler — a former three-term Republican governor regarded as a well-connected and influential politician and lawyer — to replace Simon as interim president in hopes of protecting MSU's interests in Lansing, deal with lawsuits filed against the university by Nassar's accusers, and help the university put the scandal behind it. 

Engler succeeded in the first two tasks, but the third proved to be his undoing. During his year-long tenure, he infuriated Nassar victims and their allies with comments about survivors that many felt were tone deaf. For instance, he suggested that Denhollander was getting a "kickback" from a lawyer. He also suspended and later close a $10 million fund created to help victims pay for counseling.

During a meeting with The Detroit News editorial board, he made a comment about Nassar victims "enjoying" the limelight that led many to say they'd had enough.

After Engler resigned under pressure in January, the board appointed Acting President Satish Udpa, who previously served as the university's executive vice president of administrative services. At his first board meeting, Udpa immediately apologized to the community for the months of turbulence and insensitivity. Since then, the tenor of the university has calmed.