Wayne State Board of Governors rejects code of conduct

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Detroit — A proposed code of conduct and responsibilities for the Wayne State University Board of Governors was rejected Friday, highlighting anew the ongoing split between members.

The policy has been worked on for a long time and is overdue, said Governor Marilyn Kelly, chair of the WSU board's Bylaws Review Committee, which recommended its adoption.

But it was voted down by Governors Dana Thompson, Michael Busuito, Sandra Hughes O’Brien and Anil Kumar. Those four board members have been at odds with the other four governors on numerous issues in recent months, including actions taken at a June 21 meeting of the board that led to a lawsuit, which remains unresolved.

Wayne State University Governors Sandra Hughes O'Brien, left, and Michael Busuito and two other board members voted against a proposed code of conduct.

“I’m very disappointed that it failed,” Kelly said after the meeting. “It seems like the kind of commitment that people would find no difficulty with.”

The statement of responsibilities and code of conduct included numerous pledges including participating in the appointment, support and assessment of the president; understanding the mission of the university, preparing for and participating in all official board meetings and recognizing that the board’s principal role is to provide oversight, review and approve strategies while deferring to the administration for the management of daily business.

Officials said other university boards have a code of conduct, including Eastern Michigan University.

Thompson said she opposed the code, and called it ironic that it was brought forth after the June 21 meeting, where four governors conducted business with President M. Roy Wilson sitting as an ex-officio member to establish a quorum. Actions taken at the meeting included approving a plan to pay up to $16.15 million to lease — and potentially buy — a Midtown building for a new pediatrics center.

Thompson referred to those actions as going “around a democratic process to push  a real estate deal through that was decided on several times and that board members did not think was a fiscally responsible way to spend millions of dollars for the university …”

“To think enacting a code of conduct is going to help address that situation is absurd,” Thompson said.

But Governor Mark Gaffney said he believed in a high degree of ethics, and the Wayne State University board “needs this.”

Board Chair Kim Trent agreed, saying that it was important to put in writing how board members should act while representing the university.

“We’re all here for the institution,” Trent said. “Because we all have that goal in mind … I can’t understand why people would not support the (code of conduct).”

Wayne State University Board of Governors chair Kim Trent said the panel needs a code of conduct for the good of the institution.

Trent said she had served on numerous committees with codes of conduct, leading Busuito to respond that the WSU board "is not a sorority" — a remark that drew gasps from the audience.

Afterward, Trent said Busuito missed her point when she said she had adhered to a code of conduct of her sorority, Delta Sigma Theta, along with an African American mothers' group.

“If a sorority and a mothers' group has to abide by a code of conduct, how much more should the governing body for Michigan’s third largest university have to have some rules to govern itself,” said Trent.

Hughes O'Brien disagreed, referring to a media report that Wilson had asked the university's general counsel to investigate board members' conduct when around the time a deal was being negotiated with Henry Ford Health System.

"I have seen earlier this year in the paper the weaponizing of a code of conduct that was nonexistent," said Hughes O'Brien. "I would hate to see how it would be used against board members if it was in existence."