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MSU Trustees address community outcry at tense board meeting

Arjun Thakkar
Board members said they hear the campus community’s outcry following tensions over Title IX concerns and President Samuel Stanley Jr.’s announced departure.

It was a tense, emotional environment at the October Michigan State University Board of Trustees meeting as trustees addressed ongoing tensions with the campus community.

Relationships between the board and community members have been strained for weeks over Title IX concerns and President Samuel Stanley Jr.’s announced departure. Each trustee spoke individually Friday about issues on campus, including support for bringing back the school’s swimming and diving program.

Board members said they hear the community’s outcry and are taking it seriously, though they weren't all in agreement about how to move forward.

Board chairperson Dianne Byrum said the trustees had been speaking with faculty and students to create a working relationship. She said the board considered their input regarding the search for an interim president to replace Stanley. She expects the board to pick an interim replacement before Thanksgiving.

"We're making progress together, we are listening to our constituencies out here, and we're taking your comments to heart," Byrum said.

Trustee Pat O'Keefe shared impassioned remarks defending the board's role in providing oversight, particularly on fighting sexual misconduct. He defended the trustees' independent probe into former Broad College of Business Dean Sanjay Gupta's dismissal, which drew multiple no confidence votes from campus organizations.

At one point, O'Keefe put on a hat that said "No More Nassar" as he critiqued community members who expressed distrust in the board. He referred to advice he heard from peers and said, "You're not doing your job until you get a vote of no confidence from the faculty."

"We are not as a board going to get pregnant with information on the sexual transgressions of the faculty without a plan to remove the excrement from this campus," O'Keefe said.

Trustee Brianna Scott was driven to tears as she explained the frustration and division among board members. She said the first step to establishing trust at the university is for all the board members to be on the same page.

“I personally want to see this board be better than it is," Scott said. "But when I can't trust my colleagues, that's a problem.”

Multiple public commenters expressed support for reinstating the swimming and diving program at the university. Among the public commenters was Mike Balow, who is running for the board in this fall's election.

The trustees said they intend to reach out to the advocates this semester and work with Athletic Director Alan Haller to create a plan for the team.

Several trustees expressed a desire to move forward and rebuild relationships on campus. Their biggest challenge over the next few months is appointing Stanley’s successor.

Stanley reflected on his tenure during what is likely to be his final meeting with the school’s Board of Trustees. Earlier this month, he announced his plans to depart the university in January, citing a lack of confidence in the board amid recent tensions.

Following public comments at the meeting, Stanley shared remarks on his time as president. He oversaw MSU’s response to COVID-19, worked to address Title IX concerns, and helped develop a vision for the university’s growth through 2030.

"For all the hard work over the past three plus years, it's really fulfilling to look back on what we've accomplished together," Stanley said.

Stanley received a standing ovation by those who attended as he concluded his remarks.

Members of the board said they plan to work with community members in the search for Stanley’s successor.

Arjun Thakkar is WKAR's politics and civics reporter.
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