More Questions Than Answers in Effort to Oust Michigan State President

Students and faculty are calling for transparency in the standoff between Michigan State University's president and its board of trustees.

Published September 27, 2022

Edited by Darlene Earnest
More Questions Than Answers in Effort to Oust Michigan State President
Photo by Education Images / Contributor / Universal Images Group / Getty Images

  • A leadership battle between Michigan State University's board of trustees and its president has largely played out through media reports.
  • Board members appear to disagree on whether President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. should resign.
  • Nearly 100 faculty members last week voiced their "wholehearted support" for Stanley in a public letter.

More than two weeks after he reportedly faced an ultimatum from university trustees to resign or be fired, Michigan State University (MSU) President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. still has a job.

And as the standoff moves deeper into September, support for Stanley seems to be holding, as students and faculty call for transparency from MSU leadership.

Here's what we know about the leadership battle playing out in East Lansing this September.

Title IX Reporting a Key Issue

MSU's leadership spat spilled into the spotlight on Sept. 11, when The Detroit Free Pressreported that the university board of trustees had given Stanley two days to resign or face the possibility of being fired.

Trustees reportedly disapproved of Stanley's handling of Title IX-related issues surrounding the resignation of Sanjay Gupta, former dean of the business school.

According to reports, Gupta failed to report allegations of sexual harassment by a subordinate, and resigned in August. Stanley supported the resignation, and university officials have said it was "the result of poor administrative oversight, including a failure to adhere to our mandatory reporting guidelines."

MSU's Board of Trustees comprises eight publicly elected members, each of which serve staggered eight-year terms.

At least one board member has since denied Stanley was given an ultimatum to resign.

Michigan State Board of Trustees Vice Chair Dan Kelly, a Republican, said in a later statement that "at no time was the president threatened with termination or given an ultimatum regarding his employment. The Board has made no decision regarding any change in President Stanley's employment status nor his employment contract."

Michigan law requires all public universities to certify that their president and at least one board member review all Title IX cases involving a university employee in each fiscal year.

“The board of trustees is far from unified as to President Samuel L. Stanley Jr.'s future”

Board of trustees member Pat O'Keefe, a Republican, told The Detroit News that the board learned in June that the university "may have filed a false and misleading Title IX compliance certificate for 2021 signed by the president and provided to the State of Michigan Budget Office and other regulatory agencies."

In a Sept. 13 statement — the same day as the reported ultimatum and O'Keefe's comments — Stanley pushed back on the board of trustees' claims, writing 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."

"Contrary to information previously provided to me, in June of this year, I was notified that some of our board members may not have actually complied with their part of the state requirement," Stanley wrote. "We asked for an internal audit and review on the situation, which showed that we could improve the processes by which the reviews were taking place. An external consultant is helping us improve these processes and keep us in compliance. We have been taking this issue seriously."

Stanley released a message to the university on Sept. 16, acknowledging that "these past few days have been challenging for our community and for all who care about MSU," and writing that he would share more information when he is able to.

"Advancing health and safety has been at the heart of my presidency since day one, and I know you share this commitment," wrote Stanley, who became president in 2019 after Lou Anna Simon resigned following the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal. "Together, we have been working hard to advance a culture of support, free of discrimination, harassment, sexual misconduct and relationship violence."

The board of trustees is far from unified as to Stanley's future.

In a statement, board Chair Dianne Byrum, a Democrat, condemned the attempt to oust Stanley, the Lansing State Journal reported, writing that "attempts to remove him from his post before his contract is complete are misguided."

Board member Melanie Foster, a Republican, likewise said she supported Stanley, according to the Lansing State Journal.

Calls for Transparency, Support From Faculty

The State News, Michigan State University's student newspaper, reported on Sept. 14 that many students were left in the dark about exactly what was happening with Stanley's contract.

Misinformation that Stanley had been fired, The State News reported, spread on multiple social media apps. Students told the publication that they were frustrated and wanted more transparency from both the board of trustees and the administration.

The State News' editorial board on Sept. 20 released an editorial demanding the board of trustees have a public discussion rather than individually disseminating statements and opinions through a variety of media outlets.

"The trustees need to come together and communicate clearly with the public, not pick and choose which publications they want to give an exclusive to next individually or anonymously," the editorial reads. "It's confusing for the MSU community to find out information about its president through conflicting headlines."

A group of 94 prominent professors criticized the board in a Sept. 19 letter and expressed their "wholehearted support for President Stanley's leadership of our institution."

The faculty were particularly critical of how the situation has largely played out in the press rather than via clear communication to the university community.

"When individual Trustees disclose Board business to the press, we consider that counter to the expectation that our Trustees act with the best interest of MSU in mind," the letter reads.

"Such actions put the broader good of our university at risk, and when they are anonymous, it is disheartening. These actions also seem a violation of the Board of Trustees' Code of Conduct. Dragging the President through a public discussion of negotiations about his contract or his future, by leaks to the media and public disagreements among the Board, causes community confusion and damages the reputation of our great institution."