The Michigan State President is out. But the war is not over.

Aannounced his intention to step down as president of Michigan State University on Thursday, Samuel L. Stanley Jr. effectively retreated from an embarrassing power struggle with the institution’s board of trustees. But Stanley’s departure is unlikely to quell the animosity at the university. Among other things, an investigation into the dean’s forced resignation has led to accusations of micromanagement, igniting open warfare between academic leaders and the board.

Inside video address on Thursday, Stanley aligned with faculty and student leadership groups, both of which have passed in recent days votes of no confidence in the board. “I, like the Michigan State University Faculty Senate and the Associated Students of Michigan State University, have lost confidence in the performance of the current Board of Trustees,” Stanley said, “and I cannot in good conscience continue to serve on this Board in its current form.”

Inside a letter Stanley, who was named president in 2019, gave the chairman of the board a 90-day notice of his resignation. His departure brings further upheaval at a university that has seen frequent turmoil and two more presidential resignations in the five years since the Larry Nassar sex-abuse scandal rocked the campus and captured national attention.

Stanley’s announcement followed weeks of speculation and debate about the president’s fate. A month ago, Detroit Free Press reported that the board had given Stanley an ultimatum – quit or be fired. Since then, several rifts between board members and the university’s academic leadership have come into sharper focus. One area of ​​disagreement concerns the university’s handling of allegations that Sanjay Gupta, as dean of the Eli Broad College of Business, mishandled an allegation of sexual misconduct at the college. Gupta resigned in August after meeting with the Rev. Teresa K. Woodruff, who later told the faculty that the dean did not fulfill his mandatory reporting obligation.

“Additionally,” she said, “he failed to act in a timely and reasonable manner to protect students and honor our values.”

Gupta was a popular dean who had a lot of support in his college. Although firing a dean is a provost’s prerogative, some of Gupta’s colleagues questioned whether he was treated fairly. In response, the board hired an outside law firm to investigate the circumstances surrounding Gupta’s resignation. In addition, the board has commissioned a broader review of the Title IX office on campus.

The battle at Michigan State is an illustrative confrontation where the power and will of board members have come into direct conflict with what academic leaders and faculty see as their legitimate areas of responsibility. This tension is at the heart of many recent controversies in public higher education, where the line between proper board oversight and often partisan micromanagement has been blurred or crossed. The president of the state of Michigan may be leaving this battlefield, but there are no signs of a truce on the horizon.

Ttensions between the university’s administration and its board have been building for weeks. But things escalated significantly in recent days when the provost and president sent letters to the board accusing the trustees of directing their outside counsel to oust university staff over the Gupta case.

Most trustees, however, appeared unpunished, telling faculty in a letter days later that an outside review of the case was warranted and necessary.

“While we understand that some members of the community do not believe this is an appropriate review,” they wrote, “we respectfully disagree.”

In explaining their rationale, the trustees cited the Michigan Constitution, which requires the board to exercise general oversight of its institution. They also cited the preamble to the board’s bylaws, which says the board “exercises final authority in the government of the university.”

A letter sent from the board’s official email account went out to all faculty and staff on Tuesday. The unsigned letter was allegedly from a “majority” of the eight members of the board, who are elected by the people. Shortly after the letter was sent out, the faculty senate passed a vote of no confidence in the trustees.

Some cracks in the board’s approach have been clear from the start. At the start of the controversy, Chair Dianne Byrum issued a statement blasting her fellow trustees for “creating confusion over the future of our university president.” Stanley, Byrum said, “has led our university through many challenges over the past few years, and any attempt to remove him before the end of his contract is misguided.” (Barring his resignation or removal, Stanley’s contract was set to run through July 31, 2024.)

Michigan State faculty spoke Chronicle on Thursday that they were dismayed by board members’ continued insistence that they have the authority or mandate to second-guess personnel decisions.

“The board has decided that it wants to reach out to the administrative structure of the university because they don’t like that Sanjay Gupta is no longer dean,” said Professor Jack Lipton, who chairs the university’s committee. academic management, is a member of the faculty senate.

“What I see here is a problem with the board doing things it shouldn’t be doing and getting involved in the executive management of the university,” added Lipton, chair and professor of translational neuroscience.

Lipton said he doesn’t trust the board. “I wish they would all resign,” he said.

Chronicle emailed several board members, including the chairman, on Thursday, but none agreed to be interviewed. In a statement, the board said, “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 lead us forward while the entire world experienced severe turmoil and uncertainty. The Board of Trustees will work with President Stanley during this transition and more details will be shared with the campus community as information becomes available.

As candidates for the board, the two current trustees publicly said they would resign if they were at the end of no-confidence votes. At a University Council forum on October 16, 2018, Brianna T. Scott and Kelly Tebay both said they would step aside in such a situation. transcript of the event.

“When those who are the key stakeholders here on campus feel like you don’t trust me, I think it’s hard to work effectively with that type of feedback,” Scott said, according to the transcript. “I would say I would resign. I would be sad to do that.”

Tebay said, according to the transcript, “I would resign for a vote of no confidence. Absolutely. I don’t think if you’re on the board and your staff and faculty don’t believe in you, you should definitely resign. Yes, I would resign.”

Tebay did not respond to an email Thursday seeking comment or whether he plans to resign.

Scott said in an email in response to a summary of the remarks: “I do not believe this is an accurate representation of my statement.” Chronicle sent a screenshot of the statement to Scott, who didn’t respond beyond saying he appreciated getting the screenshot.

The term of office of both board members ends in 2027.

TThe controversy at Michigan State has drawn national attention, drawing rebukes from higher education leaders who see the story as a problematic drift toward board intervention. Barbara R. Snyder, president of the Association of American Universities, issued a a powerful statement last month, saying he was “shocked by reports that university trustees are interfering in the day-to-day operations of MSU.”

Peter McPherson, who served as president of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities for 16 years, spoke Chronicle on Thursday that he had spoken earlier in the day with a pair of college presidents who expressed concern about the unfolding drama in East Lansing: “What’s happening at Michigan State is not right. That’s the broad view.”

Prior to his appointment at Michigan State, Stanley was president of Stony Brook University, part of the State University of New York system. He is a physician and medical scientist who earned his medical degree from Harvard University.

The reactions of higher education leaders to the Michigan State case are oddly reminiscent of another governance controversy a decade ago. When the University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors ousted Teresa A. Sullivan in 2012, the backlash was so strong that the board quickly reinstated her. The controversy received widespread attention mainly because it was seen as an example of board excess that showed little respect for academic traditions and values.

The two cases resonated throughout higher education, McPherson said, “because people generally thought that both Sullivan and Stanley were very good people and were doing a good job, and the board was more involved than they should have been.”

“There’s an infinite number of things that boards can be interested in,” he said, “but in general they shouldn’t try to get into management. The line is hard to draw and it’s not definitive.

(Ironically, Stanley tapped Sullivan, a Michigan State alumnus, to be interim provost in 2019, replacing June Youatt, who had resigned in the wake of the Nassar abuse case.)

For Michigan State professors, Stanley’s departure has deepened uncertainty about what may lie ahead for the university and whether the board’s recent actions are part of a larger agenda.

“There’s more to this than just a power-hungry board,” said Dànielle Nicole DeVoss, a member of the Faculty Senate and Chair of Writing, Rhetoric and American Cultures. “I have to assume there’s a lot more at stake here.”

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