Michigan State president out after battle with trustees
Michigan State University president Dr. Samuel Stanley Jr. resigned Thursday after a month-long standoff with the Board of Trustees over Title IX issues. Some trustees had tried to push Stanley out last month, initially asking him to retire but stay on for a year as they searched for his successor.
Dr. Stanley announced his resignation in a YouTube video, noting that he had provided the board his contractually required 90-day notice.
“I, like the Michigan State University Faculty Senate and the Associated Students of Michigan State University, have lost confidence in the action of the current Board of Trustees and I cannot in good conscience continue to serve this board as constituted,” Dr. Stanley said in the video, referring to the no-confidence votes both students and faculty issued in the board this week.
Dual Title IX controversies are at the heart of the issue that ultimately pushed Dr. Stanley out.
Trustees have claimed that Dr. Stanley failed to properly certify Title IX compliance reports as required by state law; he has argued that it was board members who made missteps.
Last month, in the early days of the standoff, Dr. Stanley said in a virtual Faculty Senate meeting that he had “faithfully complied with the state of Michigan certification process the last two years and reviewed all of the Title IX reports that were required.” He laid the blame on trustees, adding that “some of our board members may not have actually complied with their part of the state requirement in 2021,” and noted that an internal audit of the certification process was underway.
Michigan State’s trustees are elected, not appointed. Comprised of five Democrats and three Republicans, the board has provided little information as a unified front while the effort to remove Dr. Stanley has played out. However, some individual trustees have previously spoken with news organizations or appeared at a virtual Faculty Senate meeting, and their statements early on indicated a clear division, with some members resisting the move to sack Dr. Stanley.
A review of the Title IX certification process conducted by MSU’s Office of Audit, Risk and Compliance and released Sept. 30 provided the first glimpse of the board as a cohesive entity. A board statement released alongside the review noted the concerns about Title IX compliance reports certified in 2021 and added that two outside law firms have been retained “to investigate the 2021 Title IX certification process, provide guidance to the Board in reviewing Title IX reports, identify shortfalls in the process, and make recommendations to improve the process.” While those efforts are ongoing, according to the statement, the board revealed few details about the overall progress.
But according to details that emerged from MSU’s review, there were a number of failures in the Title IX compliance certification process. One issue was the lack of “a comprehensive process workflow policy to ensure consistency over time.” Similarly, the review found that communications about the certification process were “inconsistent, incomplete, and unclear.” It also found that one unnamed trustee provided verbal rather than written confirmation during the certification process, breaking from established protocols.
Ultimately, the review offered various recommendations, emphasizing the need for clearly documented processes as well as more training for trustees—and possibly the creation of an online portal where they could better access and review certification documents.
Dr. Stanley’s resignation comes amid another issue that has roiled the campus: the resignation of a dean under pressure from Provost Teresa Woodruff, who has defended her decision vigorously in the face of board questions.
Trustees have since opened an investigation into the ouster of Sanjay Gupta, former dean of Michigan State’s Broad School of Business, who was asked to step down in August after he allegedly failed to report an instance of an employee touching a student inappropriately.
The Faculty Senate and campus administrators have argued the ouster of a dean falls outside of the board’s authority, accusing trustees of overstepping. But Michigan State trustees broke their silence on the issue on Tuesday, with a statement to faculty and staff arguing that the investigation into Gupta’s resignation falls under their purview.
“The Board expects the review will provide clarity regarding the facts leading to Dr. Gupta’s departure, including whether the University’s procedures were carried out in compliance with federal, state, and local laws, rules and regulations, and institutional policies. Ensuring that University processes and procedures were strictly followed will allow our entire community to have confidence that every stage of the process—from initial complaint to the conclusion of an investigation and University response—was properly handled and will be so in the future,” read the emailed statement.
While the board has faced opposition from Faculty Senate and campus leaders to the Gupta investigation, 23 business school professors have voiced their support for the ongoing inquiry.
The Presidential Shuffle
Dr. Stanley’s upcoming exit makes him the third president to leave Michigan State since 2018 for matters related to Title IX issues. Dr. Stanley joined MSU in 2019 after his two predecessors were toppled over the Larry Nassar sex abuse scandal, in which the former sports doctor was convicted of sexually assaulting numerous athletes over a period of years.
Michigan State, which was found responsible for a number of institutional failures related to Nassar’s crimes, settled with victims for $500 million and has since been under a Title IX spotlight.
The Nassar case pushed out then president Lou Anna K. Simon, who left in 2018 with a $2.4 million payout and narrowly avoided criminal charges for allegedly lying to investigators about the case. Interim president John Engler, a former Republican governor of Michigan, left abruptly in 2019 after he accused Nassar’s victims of enjoying “the spotlight.”
MSU then tapped administrator Satish Udpa to serve as interim until Dr. Stanley stepped into the role.
Since the news broke Thursday, both the board and MSU officials have remained tight-lipped, with trustees releasing only a brief statement: “The MSU Board of Trustees appreciates President Stanley’s service over the past three years. President Stanley arrived at a difficult time and provided steady leadership to guide us forward while the entire world was experiencing severe disruption and uncertainty. The Board of Trustees will work cooperatively with President Stanley during this transition and more details will be shared with the campus community as information is available.”
An MSU spokesperson did not respond to a request seeking information about the process for appointing an interim president and other details about Dr. Stanley’s resignation.
Despite having a clause in his contract that allows him to join Michigan State’s faculty upon his resignation, Dr. Stanley will not enter the professorial ranks, local media reported.
As news of the resignation spread, state and local elected officials weighed in.
“I’ve spoken with President Stanley and thanked him for his hard work to lead [Michigan State] through some of its most difficult challenges, including guiding the school through the fallout of the Larry Nassar scandal and through the darkest days of the pandemic,” Democratic representative Elissa Slotkin wrote on Twitter, calling Dr. Stanley “a steadfast advocate for MSU’s students.”
She also charged the Board of Trustees with choosing a capable interim president.
“The responsibility now falls to the board to show real leadership and to choose an interim president with the experience and management skills to make this transition as seamless as possible. The student body, faculty, alumni, and the state of Michigan deserve nothing less,” Slotkin tweeted.
Michigan’s Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer, also chimed in.
“The university is an important part of our economy, an important part of our state … They’re going to need to have great leadership. I thought they had great leadership. And now, obviously, there will be a change there, but I’ll be watching very closely,” Whitmer said at a campaign event in East Lansing Thursday, according to reporting from nonprofit news site Michigan Advance.
Outside the state, Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education, issued a statement questioning the board’s actions in pushing Dr. Stanley out: “President Stanley is a distinguished and accomplished higher education leader who had only just begun to leave his mark on Michigan State University. Instances of politicization of public university boards and the tendency to micromanage by some boards are toxic to the good governance of public research universities. Michigan State University is a great institution, and it deserves to have great leadership. President Stanley’s decision to depart under these circumstances is a sad day for Michigan State and an embarrassment to the state of Michigan.”
Dr. Stanley’s departure means two presidents have left major Michigan institutions this year, both pushed out by governing boards. While Dr. Stanley is resigning under pressure, his former counterpart at the University of Michigan, Dr. Mark Schlissel, was fired by the Board of Regents—a separate elected entity—after it was revealed that he’d had an affair with a subordinate.
Dr. Stanley will remain in office until January, according to the timeline laid out for his resignation. The Board of Trustees has not outlined a process for finding an interim president. The board’s next meeting is scheduled for Oct. 28.