House OKs Walberg measure requiring parent consent for student pronoun, name changes

Wayne State board chooses civility, postpones controversial vote

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Detroit — The tenor of the Wayne State University Board of Governors was markedly different on Friday when it met with new board member Shirley Stancato and put off a possibly controversial vote until its next meeting.

For the past year, the board has been split on a host of issues including the leadership of President  M. Roy Wilson. There have been acrimonious public debates, lawsuits filed against one another and other moves that many have viewed as not conducive to the mission of the university or serving students.

From left, Wayne State University board members Sandra Hughes O'Brien, Shirley Stancato, Michael Busuito and Bryan Barnhill II listen during a meeting  Friday, Jan. 31, 2020.

But it was the idea of Governor Mark Gaffney, who supports Wilson, and Governor Michael Busuito, who opposes the president, to postpone electing a chair and vice chair of the board until the March 20 meeting

"The votes were not there for a firm decision," said Gaffney.

Added Busuito: "We couldn't come to an agreement and I didn't want to put the public through a debate that wasn't going to lead to a resolution. I just thought it would be best to do it a more civil way, behind closed doors, and then bring it to the public after we decide behind closed doors."

Busuito added that the reason he thought it was important to take a different approach to handling the university's business was because of Stancato, whom he has publicly hailed as a calming force among the warring factions on the WSU board.

Stancato was named to the board in December by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to replace Kim Trent, a Wilson supporter who resigned to take a job with the state.

"We've got a new board member and I want to give her every opportunity to use her experience that she has, which is a reason why the governor brought her in," Busuito said. "She's got a wealth of experience and we'll see if she can help us get through this difficult time."

Governor Marilyn Kelly, who ascended to the board's interim chair position after Trent's departure, called postponing the vote on a new chair and vice chair "a sensible decision because the board is split."

She said that Stancato brings "a lot of experience and a level head," and she is happy to have her on the board.

Wilson, meanwhile, declined comment on the board's decision.

It is not yet clear what Stancato's position is on Wilson or the many other issues that have split the board, but she expressed admiration for him during the time he served on the board of New Detroit when she was the group's president and CEO.

On Friday, she said it was necessary to put off the vote for the top board officers and wouldn't comment any further about the board proceedings.

"I'm on the side of the university," she said. "It's about the kids getting an education."