Finley: WSU's M. Roy Wilson is a Detroit asset

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

I wasn't sure about Dr. M. Roy Wilson when I met him. I mistook the soft-spoken demeanor of the then-new Wayne State University president for a lack of grit, and I worried he'd get manhandled by a malcontented faculty and a contentious board. 

I was wrong. In his five years leading WSU, Wilson has proved himself as a strong president who has pushed the school ahead on a number of fronts.

WSU President M. Roy Wilson

He's also become a valued regional leader, playing key roles with a number of civic and business groups.

That's why it's distressing to see Wilson under attack by a faction of the WSU board, some of whom are acting on personal grievances rather than in the best interest of the university.

The board members — Republican Michael Busuito and Democrats Dana Thompson and Sandra Hughes O'Brien — are working to derail Wilson's plan to make Henry Ford Health System the school's primary education partner.

The deal would move WSU beyond its uneasy relationship with the Detroit Medical Center and, proponents say, improve the quality of local health care while generating more money for the university.

The three board members dispute the benefits and have raised concerns that WSU would lose control of its medical school, as well as the $7.5 million paid to university executives and consultants who helped put the deal together.

O'Brien wants WSU instead to buy the Detroit Medical Center, which isn't for sale and which the university likely couldn't run with any degree of efficiency even if it were.

Wilson insists the medical school will remain under the university's direction, and other board members affirm that contention. And the fees paid for the groundwork don't appear to be out of line with industry norms.

Meanwhile, negotiations with Henry Ford are stalled while the board squabbles.

Wilson's future is cloudy. He still has a majority of support from the eight-member board, so he's not in peril of being fired at the moment. 

But he may get weary of feuding with the board that hired him to do a job that he's done very well.

Under Wilson's leadership, WSU has improved its graduation rate, is enrolling more freshmen and has stabilized the finances of the medical school. He also worked with the Ilitch family to secure $50 million for a new business school named in honor of Little Caesars Pizza founder Mike Ilitch — a gift, by the way, that Trustee Dana Thompson voted not to take.

If his vision for the partnership with Henry Ford comes to fruition, WSU would be in competition for the top medical students in the nation.

In other words, Wilson is a hot property. Any leading university with a medical school in search of a new president has to have his name on its list.

He's become a major Detroit asset. Losing him would hurt the city, and Wayne State.

Catch “The Nolan Finley Show” weekdays 7-9 a.m. on 910 AM Superstation.