Letter: Board turmoil continues at Wayne State University

The Detroit News
Wayne State University Old Main building in Detroit

Press reports on anonymous complaints filed with Wayne State University’s accrediting agency charging that an elected board of governor member “interfered” in university internal affairs give a misleading image of impropriety and disruption ("WSU governor rips report finding she intervened in operations," Oct. 10).

A report commissioned by the administration maintains board members ought not to involve themselves in the internal affairs of the institution. But in the actual world of higher education the issue is much more complex. The events about which anonymous complaints were filed about board interference at WSU are small potatoes compared to controversial board relations at some other universities.

Involvement of board members in internal matters has a long history at Wayne. 

Sometimes this has been salutary (as was the case when Governor Sandra Hughes O’Brien intervened in a stalled process to prevent the deportation of a respected professor), and sometimes it has not.

In my decades at Wayne State, I have seen many issues brought to board members who subsequently made contact with the administration and gotten useful responses. Board members are elected officials who are responsive to voters’ concerns, as they should be.

The university administration has fostered interference by board members such as those of Eugene Driker, now a former member. On the board he was influential in our law school. He continues to be. He actively supports President M. Roy Wilson. Lucrative attorney fees have been paid to his law firm by the university. The most recent payment was $173,000 to prosecute a single tenure revocation case.

If the MSU board had been more involved in campus matters during the years before the Larry Nassar affair surfaced, the scandal may have been cut short. The MSU board left everything to President Lou Anna Simon, who lost her presidency amid the matter. She faces two felony criminal charges.

Wilson's appointment of David Hefner as vice president of health affairs set in motion events that are at the root of the present conflicts.

More:Wayne State payments scrutinized amid stalled Henry Ford deal

Wilson put Hefner in charge of revamping our School of Medicine and negotiating a new relationship with the Henry Ford Health System. He proposed a formal relationship with Henry Ford that was grandiose, administratively intricate and difficult to understand. It became clear, however, that its bottom line was that the WSU medical school would become dominated by its Henry Ford partner.

As this became fully realized by the WSU board, a majority (six to two), concerned about handing over public assets to a private institution, voted to have the president fire Hefner. Hefner left a trail of political wreckage behind him that will take decades for the institution to overcome. The recent firing of over 100 clinical pediatric faculty members by the university administration are a consequence of his actions.

There are those who are trying to characterize race as an issue in current controversies. Nothing could be further from the truth. The present controversies around Wilson stem from medical school issues in which his race plays no role.

Charles J. Parrish, professor 

president, WSU AAUP-AFT Local 6075