Campus support for Michigan State University’s embattled president has grown over the past 10 days, including nearly 100 prominent faculty members who signaled their “wholehearted support” for Samuel L. Stanley Jr. in an open letter this week.
The faculty letter was a response to an apparent attempt by several Michigan State trustees to oust Stanley, who has served as president since 2019. Other professors and student groups have also demanded transparency from the board Detroit Free Pressciting an anonymous source, reported that the trustees gave Stanley an ultimatum: resign within a few days or be fired.
“An anonymous attempt to undermine a sitting president is simply despicable,” said Raymond L. Brock, a physics professor who co-authored the faculty letter with two other professors, Felicia Wu and Victor DiRita. “The excuses seemed pretty flimsy and contrived, and the reputational hit we’re taking is discouraging faculty from coming to MSU.”
Brock described the letter as a “spontaneous and heartfelt effort to seek clarity on this matter.” He added: “We wanted to make sure Stanley knew he had our support.”
The professors’ statement highlights a longstanding division between the campus community and Michigan State’s board members, who are elected by statewide vote. Kristen A. Renn, a professor of higher education who signed the letter, said the council’s recent actions have hurt the university’s efforts to distance itself from past events — particularly the scandal caused by former university athletic trainer Larry Nassar, who sexually abused girls and women for years under the guise of medical care. It was a time when “the board wasn’t behaving well either,” Renn said.
“This behavior by the board was a huge distraction from campus life and the very serious nature of our continued progress on sexual assault and harassment issues,” Renn said.
The status of Stanley’s work remains unclear. Right after that Detroit Free Press article was published, on September 11, university officials told reporters that no ultimatum had been issued. But officials confirmed that board members discussed Stanley’s contract, which does not expire for two years.
On Wednesday, a Michigan State spokeswoman wrote in a statement in response to questions about the president’s status and the board’s actions. Chronicle that “the president and board of trustees continue to discuss the best path forward for the university.”
“Many faculty, students and alumni have reached out to both the president’s office and the board’s office to express their views on the situation,” the statement continued. “We appreciate that so many groups and individuals care deeply about MSU and making sure that we can be and are the best institution that we can be.”
In a letter this week, Michigan State faculty expressed concern that the university’s reputation has already been damaged.
“Putting the president through a public hearing of negotiations over his contract or his future, leaking to the media and public disagreements among the board, creates confusion in the community and damages the image of our great institution,” the letter reads.
Michigan State’s Faculty Senate spoke similarly about the saga last week, as did the Coalition for Racial and Ethnic Minorities and the university’s student government. State newsstudent newspaper.
Title IX has emerged as a key issue in the debate over Stanley’s future. Eli Broad College of Business Dean Sanjay Gupta abruptly resigned in August after failing to report sexual harassment allegations against a subordinate, a decision Stanley supported. University officials have said Gupta’s resignation was the result of “poor administrative oversight, including failure to follow our mandatory reporting guidelines,” as previously reported Chronicle.
Gupta said in a statement Chronicle that he welcomed an investigation into the events that led to his resignation.
“I am confident that the results reflect the high ethical standards and integrity of the leadership of the Broad College of Business,” he wrote.
However, several board members have raised concerns about Stanley’s handling of reports of sexual misconduct and whether he followed state law on how to prove them. Detroit Free Press, which also said the board hired an outside law firm to investigate.
Last month a press release Board Vice Chairman Dan Kelly said trustees have “retained outside counsel to review the administration’s decision” on Gupta’s resignation.
Stanley’s term is scheduled to run until July 31, 2024. If Stanley were to resign or be fired, he would be the third university leader to resign in the past five years.
“We were on our way to getting better,” Renn said, “and this self-inflicted media circus is disrupting a lot of the good work that people are doing on campus.”