Michigan State President Dr. Samuel Stanley Jr. On His Plans For The University

May 29, 2019
Originally published on May 28, 2019 7:39 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Michigan State University has elected its first permanent president since the conviction of former MSU sports doctor Larry Nassar for sexual abuse. The investigation and cover-up by university officials led to more than a year of instability in the presidency. In August, Samuel Stanley Jr. will take over. He is a medical doctor who is currently president of Stony Brook University in New York. He joins us now from East Lansing, Mich.

Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

SAMUEL STANLEY JR: Thank you so much. Great to be here.

SHAPIRO: Although Michigan's case was very high-profile, many schools, including Stony Brook, are being investigated by the federal government for its handling of sexual assault cases. How have you dealt with this issue as you've been president of the school that you're at now, Stony Brook?

STANLEY: It's been a really important issue for us and one that I think we've had a tremendous amount of focus on. As you pointed out, there's an unfortunate reality that this kind of case is happening all over campuses all around the country. That's the result of a systemic problem that we need to deal with.

We've worked really hard to do a couple of things. One is to work to change the culture on our campus - and this is something I'll be working at Michigan State as well - to increase awareness about the issues around this, to make people understand what behaviors are acceptable and not acceptable and then develop processes and procedures that reduce barriers to people reporting, that make them feel safer about reporting and make them feel that they're going to be listened to and they're going - things are going to be pursued in an appropriate manner when they bring complaints.

Overall, we want to continue to work to try and reduce this kind of behavior on campus. And again, that involves education and also creating a culture where we're looking out for each other on the campus, a culture of safety and a culture of transparency and respect. So that's really what we've been trying to do at Stony Brook University and I think what we'll be working on at Michigan State University as well.

SHAPIRO: You know, phrases like change the culture and increase awareness are very broad. Can you tell us about a specific thing that you think you could bring from Stony Brook to Michigan State that might help the school?

STANLEY: So we've begun before students get to campus. We've been educating on issues around sexual violence, domestic violence and sexual misconduct. But it also involves being at the top where people know that this is not acceptable at our institution, where it's not acceptable with my senior staff. It's not acceptable at the dean or department level. But that kind of message gets through the campus as a whole - that we're not a place that was going to tolerate this. And we're going to make sure that we have the most respectful and safe campus that we can.

SHAPIRO: You're talking about ways to prevent sexual abuse from happening in the future. Looking to the past, this is a school whose reputation has been damaged, that people have lost trust in. How do you rebuild that?

STANLEY: Regaining trust is about aligning what we're saying and with our actions - that we're taking the appropriate actions to move things forward and that we're holding people accountable for their behaviors, and we get rid of a culture where people may - even unintentionally in the name of collegiality - try and cover up activities that are taking place. I think that's possible to do. And ultimately, I think for Michigan State University, we want to be defined not just by the Nassar episode but how we responded to it and how we improved culture on the campus in response to it.

SHAPIRO: Is there something from the last year that you wish the school had done that they didn't, that you would like to see happen as soon as you take charge?

STANLEY: I think not. The key thing, I think, that was very important was President Udpa's apology to the survivors. I think they had not been adequately addressed in that way. And I think that was a very important thing that was done within the past six months. I think that really does make a difference on campus.

I think I - the survivors are a group that I plan to meet with as soon as I can. I plan to listen with, listen to and learn from, understand their ideas. And it took tremendous courage for them to come forward, and I think we need to honor that.

SHAPIRO: When you meet with the survivors, the people who survived Larry Nassar's abuse, what do you think you can say to them that Michigan State leaders haven't already tried to say?

STANLEY: I don't think there's anything probably I can say to them that hasn't been tried to have been said. I think I'm going to be there really to listen. I think it'll be my actions that we take afterwards, understanding from them where are the areas where they think we've fallen short? Where are the areas where we think we can do more? And I think my responsibility will be to listen to them and try to do everything I can to translate that into action.

This is so horrific what happened. As a physician, I'm particularly sensitive to the kind of betrayal that took place, why there would be a lack of confidence and trust associated with it. The physician-patient relationship is very important. And to see it abused and really violated in this way is heartbreaking for me. And it angers me as well.

SHAPIRO: You officially begin this job August 1. And soon after that, new students will arrive on campus. What's your message to them?

STANLEY: The same message - that Michigan State University is working to develop a culture of safety that's going to be as inclusive and diverse as possible. The campus needs to come together to do this. It's something that everybody needs to care about. And again, giving them - helping them have the awareness and sensitivity and the tools they need to help in prevention in this particular area.

SHAPIRO: Dr. Samuel Stanley begins his new role as president of Michigan State University in August. Thanks for joining us today.

STANLEY: Thank you so much. It was my pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.