MSU hires provost despite opposition from black faculty

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

 The Michigan State University Board of Trustees on Friday approved the hiring of Teresa Woodruff as provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, despite opposition by the school's African American faculty.

Before the vote, Eunice Foster, president of  MSU's Black Faculty, Staff and Administrators Association, said that red flags were raised about Woodruff's handling of underrepresented and marginalized students at Northwestern University, where Woodruff is a top graduate school official.

Teresa Kay Woodruff

She also said MSU President Samuel Stanley failed "to recognize that he should have provided some explanation to the campus in advance and to the organizations that have met with him multiple times regarding these matters."

During his report, delivered after Foster spoke to the board, Stanley said the provost has to be the academic leader and set the standards for the university.

"She has extraordinary academic credentials," Stanley said, pointing to Woodruff's distinctions, including her Guggenheim Award and membership in the National Academic of Inventors.

"Her commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion is also strong," the president added.

At Northwestern, Stanley said Woodruff developed a successful mentoring program to reach out to economically disadvantaged high school students, mainly students of color in the Chicago area, and bring them to campus for science academies to prepare them for college and STEM careers.

The program led to Woodruff winning a 2020 presidential award at the White House for excellence in science, mathematics and engineering mentoring, Stanley said.

"She communicated an ambitious vision for MSU's future and a recognition of the core importance of ensuring diversity, equity and inclusion and a safe welcoming campus," Stanley said. "She is a dynamic and accomplished leader."

Stanley announced ​​​the appointment of Woodruff last month, pending board approval.

A day later, Foster, an MSU professor of plant, soil, and microbial sciences, wrote Stanley a letter ​​​calling her appointment a "travesty ... to those of us seeking a just, inclusive, and equitable campus, this appointment is a misjudgment of what Michigan State University needs now, given the abysmal state of race relations both on campus and in the nation.”

When Foster spoke to the board before the vote during the public comment portion of the meeting, she said Woodruff's research in ovarian biology and reproductive science is not an issue.

The concerns were raised by 350 underrepresented and marginalized students of the graduate school at Northwestern, where Woodruff is leaving, who petitioned leaders there to remove her because of policies and practices that created harm for students who are underrepresented, Foster said.

"Dr. Woodruff's work with women is commendable," Foster said. "But her work with students of color and other marginalized groups suggest that she has much work to do in these areas and these are area in which MSU is lacking."

Woodruff's tenure begins Aug. 1. She will be paid $515,000 annually.