Letter: False accusations harm WSU reputation

The Detroit News

Unfortunately for Wayne State University and members of the community, who must be tiring of this public squabble, I feel compelled to respond to a recent article (“Wayne State board rift widens in real estate, legal fights,” July 26). 

It is disheartening to have to continue this public war of attrition begun by three members of Wayne State's Board of Governors, which I chair, but it would be irresponsible to allow false accusations and alternative facts to harm the reputation of good people and a venerable institution that has been an anchor in the community since 1868.

This may seem like bickering, but the stakes are high and include the reputations of outstanding community leaders and a great university that serves our students and community, Kim Trent writes.

This latest salvo stems from the fact that three disgruntled governors boycotted (their word) one of the most important board meetings of the year — a June 21 meeting scheduled more than two years in advance — because they wouldn’t have the votes to obstruct university progress. This obstruction seems part of an ongoing strategy to harass Wayne State’s outstanding president, M. Roy Wilson, into resigning, which would be a giant loss for the university and the community. Their boycott was a dereliction of their duty as elected officials.

It failed, but they continue their campaign of obfuscation, undaunted by the damage caused by their efforts.

In the article, board member Sandra Hughes O’Brien claims that WSU’s administration failed to provide information regarding the potential purchase of a building that was being considered as a home for Wayne Pediatrics, a department in the School of Medicine created when Tenet’s University Pediatricians severed ties with Wayne State. I was present when the administration presented a full property appraisal and more than adequate information to move forward with this important decision on May 1.

The article gives the impression that the university intended to purchase a property, which they eventually subleased, at far above the market price. This false conclusion was due to comparing a property appraisal, which estimates market value, with a property assessment, which is done by the city for tax purposes, and comes in far less than the property appraisal. The university originally offered to purchase the property for $14 million, based on a property appraisal of $13.5 million, other excellent property developmental opportunities, and the low risk of purchasing in a hot market.

The article references a “senior research analyst” from a Chicago-based real estate firm as saying, “this would be the highest price.” But his calculation is based not on the original offer price of $14 million, but on a higher price that resulted when the three board members insisted that we pursue a lease instead of a purchase, which tacked an extra $2 million plus on to the deal. Had he done the calculation properly, he would have found the price per square foot to be right in line with the market.

The three governors’ baseless assertion of conflict of interest is especially galling, considering their own personal grievances and conflicts. It is also highly irresponsible, potentially damaging the reputations of a fellow board member and a highly regarded business leader, both of whom have impeccable reputations and track records of service in southeast Michigan and beyond.

To the outside world, it may appear that this is just more back and forth — the latest round in an endless battle characterized by finger-pointing and accusations. It is not. This may seem like bickering, but the stakes are high and include the reputations of outstanding community leaders and a great university that serves our students and community.

Kim Trent, chair

Wayne State University Board of Governors