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MSU board chair Byrum backs Stanley, says he shouldn't retire

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

The chair of the Michigan State University Board of Trustees on Monday issued a statement that said some board members should not ask President Samuel Stanley to retire two years before his five-year contract is over.

"It is my belief these board members should apologize, reverse course and refocus on their proper role as Trustees of this amazing institution," said MSU Board Chair Dianne Byrum, a Democrat. "President Stanley should be allowed to complete his service to MSU without undo interference by the Board." 

President Samuel L. Stanley speaks to the media after the Michigan State Board of Trustees meeting Friday on Dec. 13, 2019. At right is trustee Dianne Byrum.

MSU Vice Chair Dan Kelly, a Republican, issued a Monday statement claiming Stanley wasn't asked to consider retiring.

“This past Friday, Board Chair Dianne Byrum, Vice Chair Dan Kelly and President Stanley had a brief meeting," Kelly said in the statement. "Contrary to recent media reports, at no time was the president threatened with termination or given an ultimatum regarding his employment. The Board has made no decision regarding any change in President Stanley’s employment status nor his employment contract.”

Byrum and Kelly issued their statements one day after MSU spokeswoman Emily Guerrant confirmed that Stanley was in talks with the governing board of trustees about his contract, a development that could end his presidency. Sources said he was asked to retire last Friday and deliver a response by Tuesday.

Byrum said some board members have "created confusion over the future of our university’s president."

"MSU President Samuel Stanley has led our university through many challenges in recent years and attempts to remove him from his post before his contract is complete are misguided," Byrum said. "I am disappointed in the behavior of some members of the board, which threatens to roll back the progress MSU has made and will continue to make."

Sources told The Detroit News on Sunday that there were enough votes on the board to remove Stanley, 68, because of numerous issues, including the university's handling of sexual and relationship violence if he didn't choose to retire. 

Byrum said MSU has a record high freshman class unlike other universities, the school continues to climb in academic rankings and Stanley has taken steps to stabilize the finances wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic.

 "We’ve taken great strides to address relationship violence and sexual misconduct and to improve the culture on campus," Byrum said. "At MSU, we are on the move and making progress. That’s why I take strong exception to the conduct by several MSU Board of Trustees who have sought to undermine and second guess President Stanley under the mistaken belief they are somehow better qualified to run the university."

She said the board members "are not as evidenced by the outpouring of concern, bewilderment and outrage their recent actions have generated."

Leaders of MSU Faculty Senate issued a statement Sunday, saying they were "gravely concerned about the trustees’ reported intention to oust" Stanley. 

"Despite the institutional trauma Michigan State University has endured in recent years, the board of trustees is apparently debating — behind closed doors — forcing out a third president in less than four years. They should know better," said chair Karen Kelly-Blake and vice chair Stephanie Anthony.

They added that MSU faculty demands transparency especially since Byrum announced less than a year ago Stanley's review and contract change.

"If the trustees’ view of the president has shifted so drastically since, we should know why," the statement said. "We insist that the board of trustees communicate with faculty leadership in a deliberative and substantive way before any decisions are made."

If Stanley were to leave his post, he would be the third president to depart the university since the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal. Former President Lou Anna Simon left at the height of the scandal in 2018 after a judge sentenced Nassar, and former Michigan Gov. John Engler was appointed interim president but resigned under pressure in 2019.

Stanley was hired to change the culture at MSU following the massive scandal involving the now-incarcerated serial rapist Nassar, who preyed on hundreds of female athletes for decades.

The decision to ask Stanley to retire followed the August resignation of Sanjay Gupta, dean of the MSU Broad School of Business for 15 years, amid concerns about his leadership and failure to report under the university's guidelines that relate to instances of alleged sexual assault or relationship violence. Stanley supported the resignation.

Two weeks later, Kelly announced on behalf of the majority of the board that it had hired outside legal counsel to review the departure of Gupta as dean of the business school.