Letter: Wayne State president deserves support

The Detroit News
WSU President Roy Wilson during the WSU board meeting.  Wayne State University Board meeting with a vote on extending present WSU President Roy Wilson's contract, which they did approve, at the McGregor Memorial Conference Center at WU in Detroit,  Michigan on December 7, 2018.

Re: “WSU board seeks financial responsibility,” March 12: As a former president of Wayne State University, and the immediate predecessor of President M. Roy Wilson, I’ve had first-hand experience working with the Wayne State Board of Governors.

I am disappointed to see issues disputed in public, and I’m also surprised a single board member, who is neither the chair nor the vice chair, would speak on behalf of the entire Board. Normally the board would debate and settle issues among themselves and then proceed in a unified fashion on behalf of the university and community they serve.

As a former president, I have kept apprised of Wayne State’s progress under the leadership of President Wilson, and it is nothing short of outstanding.Many recent accomplishments can be attributed directly to President Wilson’s leadership including record freshman enrollment, record improvement in the six-year graduation rate, the completion of (and surpassing of) a $750 million fundraising campaign, the new Mike Ilitch School of Business, made possible by a record donation by the Ilitch family, the opening of a new residence hall, and continued progress on other university goals.

One of the most important accomplishments, though, was the progress made in bringing the School of Medicine back to financial stability and setting a future course with Henry Ford Health System.

In years prior to serving as president of Wayne State, I was chair of the Board of Henry Ford Health System, and later chair of its foundation. I knew then the importance of a strong partnership with Wayne State. While president of Wayne State, we worked hard to expand this partnership, so I was delighted when I learned that the university, led by President Wilson and the board, signed a letter of intent (LOI) to accelerate this expansion well into the future. Such a move would be good for the university, Henry Ford, and Detroit.

First, employees are not “consultants,” as the letter from Sandy Hughes O’Brien stated. Two of the four were WSU employees. Not that there’s anything wrong with consultants. Academic medicine is complex, and requires experts with knowledge and experience. Hiring consultants for this type of effort is essential, and if they are good, the return for their expertise should more than cover the cost.

It appears the total cost over several years for salaries and consulting fees was around $7.5 million, far less than consulting fees I saw as a former CFO, a former university president and a participant on many corporate boards. It also is a small fraction of a budget that was nearly $600 million when I was president, and most of these funds were probably from non-General Funds Budget sources, and therefore had no impact on student tuition.

And what did Wayne State get for all that money? The finances of the medical school have been turned around, with one faculty initiative alone saving millions annually. The School of Medicine received its accreditation from the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME) — which was at risk due to a high number of citations that needed to be addressed quickly. A new curriculum has been introduced and the school is enjoying record application numbers. If this is what Wayne State got for its money, I consider the cost of salaries and “consultants” a bargain.

These accomplishments, and more, would not be possible without the leadership of President Wilson, whose considerable expertise in academic medicine (key to the Board’s decision to hire him in 2013) helped him recognized both the challenges and the opportunities in the School of Medicine. He intelligently hired experts to deal with a potentially perilous situation, and is setting the best course for the future. He deserves the support of all members of the Board.

Allan Gilmour

former president

Wayne State University