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Whitmer, lawmakers urge Wayne State to adopt code of conduct

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

The state’s highest-ranking elected officials have asked the Wayne State University Board of Governors to adopt a code of conduct, citing the risk that the university could lose its accreditation without one. 

The Higher Learning Commission in September gave the university until March 24 to develop the code of conduct after the commission received anonymous complaints that a board member had inappropriately interfered in the university’s day-to-day operations. 

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The board has yet to adopt such a policy and its last meeting before the deadline is March 20. 

The commission has threatened a series of actions should the board fail to adopt a policy, including withdrawal of the university’s accreditation, according to a letter signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Attorney General Dana Nessel, House Speaker Lee Chatfield and House Democratic Leader Chris Greig. 

The university is a “critical part of Michigan’s history” and has more graduates who stay and work in Michigan than any other state university, the letter said. 

“For this and many other reasons, we strongly urge you to adopt one code of conduct, acceptable to the Higher Learning Commission, at your next meeting,” the letter said.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Wayne State University President M. Roy Wilson.

“Discuss it. Refine it. Let every member’s voice be heard. But please adopt it and commit yourself to it.”

Board chairwoman Marilyn Kelly said she would do "everything in my power" to ensure the board adopts a code of conduct, noting the Higher Learning Commission "holds the key to our federal funding, research dollars, and our institution's legitimacy."

"A code of conduct is a statement about how we should do our jobs as board members," Kelly said in a statement. "It provides standards for us to follow and sets expectations. It sends a message to our students, faculty and staff, as well as to the greater community, that we are committed to strengthening and moving the university forward."

The eight-member board has been bitterly divided, with four members seeking the ouster of University President M. Roy Wilson, who is supported by the other four. Kelly supports Wilson.

The commission also recommended training for board members on accreditation criteria and additional training for individual board members who interfered in university operations. 

The progress report due on March 24 will be reviewed "for any possible further action" that could include a site visit by the accreditation agency, according to the accreditation agency's letter.

eleblanc@detroitnews.com