MSU research VP resigns from role amid controversy

The Detroit News

Following opposition to his comments and views, Michigan State University on Friday announced its senior vice president for research and innovation has resigned from that role and will return to a tenured position.

Stephen Hsu’s move is effective July 1, school officials said in a statement.

“I believe this is what is best for our university to continue our progress forward. The exchange of ideas is essential to higher education, and I fully support our faculty and their academic freedom to address the most difficult and controversial issues,” MSU President Samuel Stanley said.

“But when senior administrators at MSU choose to speak out on any issue, they are viewed as speaking for the university as a whole. Their statements should not leave any room for doubt about their, or our, commitment to the success of faculty, staff and students.”  

Stanley plans to appoint an interim senior vice president soon and consult with the Academic Governance Steering Committee on the selection, MSU said Friday.

In a statement on his blog Friday, Hsu said he disagreed with Stanley’s request that he leave his position “as serious issues of Academic Freedom and Freedom of Inquiry are at stake. I fear for the reputation of Michigan State University. However, as I serve at the pleasure of the President, I have agreed to resign. I look forward to rejoining the ranks of the faculty here.”

Stephen Hsu

The decision came after a group of the university’s faculty, students, support staff and others recently launched a petition seeking to oust Hsu.

The online petition, which organizers said has gained more than 800 signatures, described Hsu as “an open racist and eugenicist. It is shameful that this man is in charge of research funding at our institution. Academic freedom does not mean faculty with harmful, racist, and anti-scientific views should be promoted to the highest levels of the institution.”

Another open letter calling for Hsu’s removal has also collected more than 500 signatures. It cited the MSU Graduate Employees Union last week posting tweets referencing blog posts and statements attributed to Hsu.

“The statements contain racist and sexist language couched in scientific terms, including beliefs that there are fewer women and African Americans who are qualified to hold academic and other skilled positions, and that systemic racism does not explain differences in accomplishments among Black students,” the authors wrote.

On his blog, “Information Processing,” Hsu has denied the claims.

“The attacks attempt to depict me as a racist and sexist, using short video clips out of context, and also by misrepresenting the content of some of my blog posts. A cursory inspection reveals bad faith in their presentation,” he wrote in a June 12 post. “The accusations are entirely false — I am neither racist nor sexist. The Twitter mobs want to suppress scientific work that they find objectionable. What is really at stake: academic freedom, open discussion of important ideas, scientific inquiry. All are imperiled and all must be defended.”

Hsu joined MSU in 2012 after serving as director of the Institute for Theoretical Science and a physics professor at the University of Oregon. He has also founded two Silicon Valley companies and authored more than 100 research articles on topics such as theoretical physics, cosmology, computer science and biology, according to his biography on the MSU website.

In response to the calls for Hsu’s removal from his role, supporters issued an online petition letter asking to keep him. It garnered more than 1,400 signatures from around the world.

“Professor Hsu is a thoughtful, decent, and compassionate human being who approaches complex questions with honesty and openness,” the letter said. “To allow Hsu to be removed by falsehoods and innuendos would be to concede that there is no place in the academy for someone who has committed no crime or injustice toward any individual, but merely disagrees with the prevailing orthodoxy.”

In a blog post Friday, Hsu thanked his supporters, adding: “The fight to defend Academic Freedom on campus is only beginning.”