'Consensus builder' Stanley faces task of healing MSU
East Lansing — Michigan State University's next president is a skilled physician, nationally renowned researcher and a uniter who can help the university emerge from the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal, former colleagues said Tuesday.
Those who have worked with Samuel Stanley Jr. hailed the former Stony Brook University president's broad range of academic, administrative, medical and research experience and his compassionate demeanor. They said he is expected to stabilize a university roiled by the ouster of two presidents since last year and heal a rift between Nassar's victims and administrators at Michigan's largest public university.
Stanley, 65, was named president Tuesday by the MSU Board of Trustees after a decade-long stint as president of Stony Brook, a 17,364-student university on suburban Long Island in New York state, where he helped run a national laboratory and increased the number of faculty.
Stony Brook is one of 64 schools in the State University of New York system, yet is considerably smaller than MSU, which has 50,351 students.
"Sam Stanley is a person who brings people together, is a person with extremely high integrity, and he is a consensus builder," said Mark Wrighton, chancellor at Washington University in St. Louis, who was Stanley's boss at the Missouri school in the late 2000s. "Maybe it's his medical background, but I do believe he has compassion for people, and I know he has an appreciation for the intellectual breadth that comes with an institution like Michigan State."
Stanley’s upcoming tenure, which begins Aug. 1, means that Michigan’s Big Three universities will all be headed by medical doctors. Wayne State University President M. Roy Wilson and University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel are also trained as physicians.
Wilson was a 1980 classmate of Stanley’s at Harvard Medical School and often played basketball with him in the university’s Vanderbilt Hall. Wilson also recently worked with Stanley on two national panels.
One was a 2018 NCAA symposium titled “An ounce of prevention may keep you out of court.” Wilson also co-chaired a National Institutes of Health committee in 2018 for the director on Foreign Influences on Biomedical Research, with Stanley as one of the members.
The WSU president spoke of Stanley with high regard, describing him as “compassionate” and “down-to-earth.”
“MSU made an outstanding choice,” he said. “He’s a very smart guy. More than that, he is really well-rounded. He is not just a scientist. He is really well-rounded in the humanities.”
Wilson added he felt Stanley will be able to navigate the university community through the turbulence of the Nassar fallout.
“He’s very approachable,” he said. “I think the victims of sexual assault will feel like they can approach him in a way that may have not been able to with some other people.”
During his tenure at Stony Brook, Stanley led its largest annual fundraising haul in its history, according to the school's website. He championed the hiring of more professors, increasing the faculty by 240 positions over five years, the site says.
Stanley has helped oversee the management of the Brookhaven National Laboratory for the U.S. Department of Energy — making him one of the few academic leaders to aid in the running of a national lab.
The Brookhaven experience should help him at Michigan State, which is home to the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams. The physics research center is projected to create 1,000 permanent jobs when completed and is expected to attract research projects from other universities.
"I would guess ... that could easily be one of the attractions of MSU," Brookhaven lab Director Doon Gibbs said. "(Nuclear physics) is something I found him broadly passionate about."
At MSU, Stanley will take over a school rocked by the Nassar scandal, which led to the forced resignations of president Lou Anna Simon last year and interim president John Engler in January as anger mounted over the university's response to the hundreds of women victimized by the former sports doctor.
Stony Brook has coped with complaints about the university's handling of sexual assault allegations during Stanley's tenure. There are three open investigations into allegations of Title IX violations at Stony Brook and several lawsuits have been filed against the university over its handling of students' sexual assault claims.
According to the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, the agency is investigating Stony Brook for two claims, filed March 8, 2017, for gender harassment and denial of benefits; along with a 2014 sexual violence allegation.
Since 2017, Stanley has served on the board of the Association of American Universities, a group composed of America’s leading research universities. The association is headed by former University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman.
"He's quiet but very influential," Coleman told The News. "He is extraordinarily well-regarded for his expertise in infectious diseases. He's perfect for Michigan State at this time because he's experienced, has a medical background, has a biomedical research background and has been involved in important issues of the day, including the treatment of women and the unfortunate issues around sexual assault."
During his Stony Brook tenure, Stanley worked on New York economic issues, serving on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s regional Long Island development council, where he focused on attracting technology and renewable energy firms.
For seven years, he was chairman of the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, which advises the federal government on issues related to the communication, dissemination and performance of sensitive biological research.
Before becoming Stony Brook's president, Stanley was appointed vice chancellor for research at Washington University in St. Louis in 2006.
Stanley has a bachelor's degree in biological sciences from the University of Chicago and earned a medical degree from Harvard Medical School in 1980.
After a 1983 fellowship in infectious diseases at Washington University's School of Medicine, he eventually became a professor in the departments of Medicine and Molecular Microbiology.
Stanley's research focused on the defense of emerging infectious diseases, and he was one of the nation's highest recipients of support from the National Institutes of Health. That included a $37 million grant to improve the nation's defense against bioterrorism and anthrax attacks.
"The work he did on bioterrorism is an important illustration of his ability to bring people together," Wrighton said.
While at Washington University, Stanley helped create the Midwest Regional Center for Excellence in Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases Research. Led by Stanley, the center brought together scientists from several universities who were concerned about preventing bioterrorism threats after the 9/11 attacks.
"A lot of the infectious disease community, including Sam, rallied to this cause. He was the leader," said Robert Belshe, an infectious diseases professor at Saint Louis University. "He's a warm person. I remember him being easy to get along with and when we had discussions, he cut right to the heart of the matter."
Stanley's leadership skills should help Michigan State, he said.
"He's a very effective leader, and I would be confident he will strive to organize the university community, set an agenda and move forward and get beyond the baggage the university has," Belshe said.
Stanley is a member of the board of directors of the Association of American Universities and the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities and recently served on the NCAA board of directors and NCAA board of governors, according to MSU.
Stanley is married to Dr. Ellen Li, a biomedical researcher, and they have four adult children.
“Dr. Samuel Stanley is an outstanding physician and an accomplished leader in higher education," said Robert Jones, chancellor at the University of Illinois, in an MSU news release. "He is deeply committed to access and equity, and he has leveraged the premier Educational Opportunity Program to provide thousands of qualified students the chance to pursue their educational goals.
“It was a pleasure working with him during my four years in the SUNY system, and I look forward to collaborating again as he joins Michigan State University and the Big Ten.”