Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is reportedly “looking into” removing members of the Wayne State University Board of Governors who voted to oust the school’s president because of his handling of a new free tuition pledge.
Whitmer told Crain’s Detroit Business that she find the situation at Wayne State “very troubling” and said she’s monitoring the situation “closely.” Under Michigan’s constitution, the governor can remove elected officials from office if there’s clear evidence of “malfeasance or misfeasance.”
Four members of the Board of Governors claimed earlier this month that they voted to terminate President M. Roy Wilson, but their opponents said the vote had no legal standing because it didn’t occur during a formal meeting of the board, The Michigan Star reported.
Governor Michael Busuito, leader of the dissenting faction, even sent an email to the school’s chief of police and directed him to prevent Wilson from entering his office. Four governors voted in favor of the motion to terminate Wilson, while three Wilson supporters walked out, and a final governor was absent.
Governors Sandra Hughes O’Brien, Dana Thompson, and Anil Kumar voted in favor of Busuito’s motion to oust Wilson, a decision that was outlined in a two-page statement written by Busuito.
“This board is split as a result of Wilson’s failure to lead,” Busuito said in the statement. “A split board paralyzes an institution. When such a division exists, the president must reunite the board or leave.”
The Wilson opponents previously called for the president’s termination in a statement released in October, which claimed that the school’s new Heart of Detroit Tuition Pledge is a “desperate move by a president on the ropes.”
They criticized Wilson for his “lack of transparency and accountability to his employer,” since the Board of Governors wasn’t notified of the tuition pledge until moments before it was announced.
“This tuition pledge has major financial, political and reputational implications, yet the president did not inform nor discuss with all members of the board the details of the pledge prior to the morning the tuition pledge was announced,” their statement added.
Busuito believes the vote to fire Wilson was legitimate because it was an executive committee meeting. Kim Trent, chair of the Board of Governors, disagreed with Busuito’s argument and said she didn’t call an executive committee meeting.
“The apparently toxic atmosphere on the board is something that’s very troubling and it’s something that has much bigger ramifications than the board members — it’s about the university, it’s about the city and it’s about the state,” said Gov. Whitmer. “I take it very seriously and I’m watching closely.”
Whitmer said “it would be premature to make any sort of conclusion” on removing members of the board, but didn’t rule out the possibility.
“There’s a standard for that process. Number one, you’ve got to find out if the standard is met. And that’s a question I think that is open and something we’re looking into,” she said.
Chad Livengood, a reporter with Crain’s Detroit Business, discussed Whitmer’s comments on a recent episode of the “MichMash” podcast. He pointed out that there are “just as many reasons” to remove board members at Michigan State University because of its handling of the Larry Nassar case.
“Nobody at the board level at MSU really has been held to account,” he said. “That would seem like a lot of people would say, ‘Wait, let’s go clean house at MSU before we go to Wayne State.’”
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Anthony Gockowski is managing editor of Battleground State News, The Ohio Star, and The Minnesota Sun. Follow Anthony on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Gretchen Whitmer” by Gretchen Whitmer. Background Photo “Wayne State University” by del arte. CC BY-SA 3.0.