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Schuette: Let governor pick Big 3 university boards

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

Attorney General Bill Schuette, a Republican running for governor, wants the state’s top office holder to appoint boards for Michigan State University, University of Michigan and Wayne State University to provide “a clear line of authority and accountability.”

It would be a change from current policy, in which the eight-member boards at the state’s three largest public universities are elected by statewide voters. Board members are elected for eight-year terms, and two board positions at the East Lansing, Ann Arbor and Detroit campuses are voted on every two years.

Schuette is arguing for a change to direct gubernatorial appointments, which would require a constitutional amendment, because he argues those boards can’t be held directly accountable for their actions and punished for negligence.

“As governor, Schuette will immediately explore modernizing the system by giving the power to appoint the board members of these three universities to the governor, as is already done with the other 12 public Michigan universities,” Schuette’s campaign announced Monday in a plan billed as building trust in government.

The proposal comes after Michigan State President Lou Anna Simon resigned Wednesday and Athletic Director Mark Hollis retired Friday in the wake of Larry Nassar being sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison on seven first-degree sexual misconduct as an MSU sports doctor. It followed statements either read or submitted in court from more than 150 victims of the 54-year-old Nassar, who is already serving 60 years in prison for possession of child pornography.

Schuette has launched an investigation into MSU with a special prosecutor and is seeking documents from certain current and former university officials.

Full coverage: Larry Nassar abuse scandal

“While we should never take lightly the changing of our Constitution, the ongoing scandal at Michigan State University has exposed a weakness in our system in which the major university boards essentially operate out of the view of the public,” Schuette’s campaign said.

Critics have noted that Michigan is the only state in the nation that holds at-large statewide elections to choose trustees for its flagship universities.

But Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Brandon Dillon knocked Schuette’s proposal, suggesting he’ll “flip flop when he loses to a Democrat.”

“It’s something to look at in terms of how boards are put together, but the problem is when Bill Schuette proposes something like this it automatically gets tainted with politics,” Dillon told The Detroit News. “He is doing everything he can to make sure the investigation into the tragedy at Michigan State is being politicized.”

Staff Writer Jonathan Oosting contributed