Brianna Scott and Kelly Tebay are the two democratic candidates running for the two open seats on the MSU Board of Trustees. They spoke with Morning Edition host, Emily Fox about the fallout from the Larry Nassar scandal, how to prevent more sexual assaults on campus and how to lower tuition.
FOX: Brianna Scott runs a law firm in Muskegon. She continued her studies at MSU after getting pregnant when she was 20 and becoming a mother. She says it’s important to have an MSU Trustee who was a non-traditional student and struggled to pay tuition.
SCOTT: “Going through that struggle. Being poor, being on welfare and food stamps and all of the things that I went through during that time period, they were all very humbling, but they are experiences that so many of our students encounter when they come onto this campus. We have people that are non-traditional students. I’ve experienced that. I’ve come as a person that has a child who has to worry about studying and working a yet still being able to be a parent. I’ve also had the financial struggle of trying to figure out how am I going to pay for that next installment payment that’s due for my tuition and having to look for all of the scholarships and grants that I possibly would be able to get.”
FOX: Kelly Tebay works for the United Way in southeast Michigan. She says the fallout from the Larry Nassar sex abuse scandal inspired her to run.
TEBAY: I felt that we needed a voice that was not far removed from their time at Michigan State, that really understands what it’s like to be a student.”
FOX: And this Larry Nassar case, it’s about students and it’s about sexual assault and my understanding is you were sexually assaulted while you were a student at Michigan State. How did that experience shape how you viewed the university?
TEBAY: You know when you’re 18 years old and something like that happens to you, I don’t think you really think about the institution and how it affected you. It was my first experience away from my parents, I had no idea. Yes, there are resources available, I had no idea where to even start.
FOX: Both Tebay and Scott agree that the MSU board of trustees did not handle the fallout from Larry Nassar well. Scott says the board seemed defensive and were very concerned with protecting themselves after the round of victim impact statements hit the media in January.
SCOTT: I felt that they furthered that reign of disillusionment in the way that they just went out and hired John Engler without getting any input from any of the faculty and staff, any of the students or even considering what the victims and their families were asking-- to be involved in that process. And so I feel that they did a disservice early on. However, I feel that now they are coming around and they are trying to correct some of the issues that they initially made. And I feel that they are coming to place where I can actually give them maybe a grade of a “C” at this point.
FOX: Tebay agrees with Scott and adds. . .
TEBAY: I think that we all really felt the pain, and I think that the survivors deserved better, and I believe that the board should have, instead of trying to protect themselves and Michigan State, admitted that they made a mistake and said, “We were wrong, we’re going to find out where the breakdown was and we’re going to fix it.”
FOX: There was a motion to fire Interim President John Engler in June. The Board of Trustees voted it down 6-2. If you were on the board at that time, how would you have voted?
SCOTT: I would not have voted in favor of Engler.
TEBAY: Same, I would have voted to vote him out.
FOX: And why is that?
SCOTT: I don’t think the position should have gone to someone that was so closely related to politics because I think that it politicizes the position. And one of the fears that I had when that first happened was that he was going to come in and start appointing people from his political party into positions of power at MSU, so that was a concern. I also think that his track record of being one that is his way or the highway is not the type of temperament that we need here at Michigan State right now. We need someone who shows a little bit more empathy than what get from John Engler, and someone that has compassion for people who have been victims of sexual abuse. And his track record shows that he is not that guy.
TEBAY: And even before he was voted in, he would not have received my vote. As Brianna said, his track record is what really spoke to me. For those that don’t know, there were 400 women in the prison system while he was governor complaining of sexual assault and he ignored them. He shut down our mental health facilities in the state, and our education system really hurt after he was governor. And those are really three things we need to be focusing on here at Michigan State. And I think that the fact that they chose someone like that was really mind-boggling to me. I really didn’t understand, and before they did the vote to remove him, just his bullying tactics he has had was quite disgusting toward the survivors.
FOX: Sexual assault and the handling of the Larry Nassar case have inspired Tebay and Scott to bring new ideas to the table if they were elected to the MSU Board of Trustees.
SCOTT: I have this idea of working along with the Chief Compliance Officer, having a committee that would consist of two board of trustee members that also has other stakeholders that I think should be part of the investigation and the determination of whether or not cases are going to move forward, or what type of discipline will happen if there are issues concerning Title IX. And those stakeholders would be having someone with a law enforcement background, having a person who comes from the prosecutorial background, someone that acts as a public defender that has that perspective as well, and having someone that has the professional experience dealing with issues of behavioral health or sexual assault victims, and making sure that we have a global perspective, not just a police officer from the police department saying, “I evaluated this. I didn’t feel there was anything there,” and then sending it off to the Chief Compliance Officer just to check it off. But actually making sure there we are dotting every “I” and crossing every “T,” and making sure that we provide follow up care for the person who has been a victim. Assigning a person like an advocate or a case manager that will go alongside that person through the end, letting them know what resources we have here on campus, making sure that they know, “okay, well this is the step this is in right now, this is the next step,” so the person stays informed on how the process is proceeding.
FOX: Scott says that will help prevent a case like Larry Nassar from happening again on MSU’s campus. Meanwhile, Kelly Tebay says she would want to focus on freshman orientation as an MSU Trustee.
TEBAY: I think that it is really important to level set expectations from day one. One of the things that I have learned while running for this office is that the in-state students and students from the United States have a different orientation than the international students. And that the international students have a week-long orientation while the in-state students and United States students have two days. I barely remember my orientation and don’t remember learning very much expect for the stark data they gave us about sexual assault and drinking on campus. But we need to have conversations about resources that are available. What is expected of you as a student at Michigan State, training about sexual assault, sexual assault prevention, awareness, taking care of one another as students, bystander training; these are all things that students need to be taught. They’re not necessarily skills that they are going to walk into Michigan State having.
FOX: Tebay and Scott also have ideas on ways to lower tuition. They both understand what it’s like to have student loans. Tuition at Michigan State University has gone up by nearly 70 percent over the past 10 years. Scott says she feels that increase when she pays her son’s tuition. She says she’s glad MSU will freeze tuition for MSU freshman during the next two years, but that doesn’t impact the tuition payments for her son who’s not a freshman. Scott says one way to help with the financial burden of tuition is to introduce block tuition rates that some other universities are looking at.
SCOTT: Where if you have between eight and twelve credits, this is how much you are going to pay per credit hour. If you go between six and ten credits, this is where you would be. Coming up with the relatively easy for people to budget and to determine what they can afford for each semester.
FOX: And Kelly Tebay says she’d like to lower tuition by taking a page from the University of Michigan’s playbook. It’s called the Go Blue Guarantee.
TEBAY: And that is using the endowment to cover the cost of tuition for students that are in-state with a household income of under $65,000. And then if you are between $65,000 and $125,000, we’re going to make sure that there are grants and scholarships to cover at least half of your tuition. And I think that’s a really good start. Obviously, we need to grow our endowment as well. I also really want to work with our community colleges. In my opinion, as a public institution there is no reason why your credits shouldn’t transfer if you go to a community college for your prerequisites. I’ve already started having conversations with some of the community colleges to talk about what does that look like, how do we make sure that students can stay at home for a couple of years, save that money and take those prerequisites classes and then be able to transfer to Michigan State and not have to have that burden of all those prerequisites that are very expensive.