Michigan State University is the faculty, staff, and students, not “Communications and Brand Strategy,” teams of overpaid lawyers, and “University Advancement,” whatever that is. The purpose of these groups is to support the work of the faculty and students, not to make decisions that direct the mission of the institution.
A university is an academic institution, not a corporation. The goal is learning and the advancement of knowledge–not making a profit or protecting an endowment.
And our goal as an institution right now should be protecting our students, not protecting the “university.”
The truth is that there is no “university”–there are only people. And as an institution, we have let our people down. We need an interim leader who will be focused on the healing that needs to take place, not on protecting the university from litigation.
The choice of former Governor John Engler as interim president sends a very troubling message about what we represent as a community of learners, and tells the survivors that we are more worried about “institutional reputation” than in their health and well-being.
When news first broke of Nassar’s crimes, I was sad.
When the university botched their response, I was disappointed.
Now I’m angry.
To the MSU Board of Trustees: When the faculty recommended not to hire a politician in this polarized political environment, you smiled and nodded. There are thousands of really smart people at this institution—experts in policy, political science, higher education leadership, law, and dozens of other disciplines—who care deeply about their students, and have dedicated their professional lives to this institution. We serve as researchers, authors, and consultants across the country and around the world. And yet you never reached out to any of us for advice or assistance.
You ignored all of us, and our students, and rushed to hire a man who dismissed the claims of 500 women, the Justice Department, and the United Nations regarding serious and credible sexual assault allegations. Engler didn’t believe the women—the women were found to be right.
It wound up costing the state over $100 million, and hundreds of women were scarred for life—lives turned upside down, trust broken, dreams shattered.
And this is the man you chose to lead our university out of this nightmare.
Did you think we were just making stuff up?
Our university is a very diverse place. I know it’s fashionable to say that all professors are liberals, but the truth is much more complicated. Most of us couldn’t care less what party our interim president aligns with—we want a person who understands education, understands the issue of sexual assault and abuse, and shows compassion and wisdom in their dealings with others. Engler fails on all counts.
We need a person who listens, pays attention, and is committed to working with all of us to create an atmosphere that is healthy and affirming for all members of the university community—students, faculty, staff, visitors, friends, family—everyone. Again, Engler fails on all counts.
Choosing a career politician—especially a politician who was actively hostile to public education during his time in the governor’s office, supervised the defunding of our state’s public schools, and demeaned K-12 teachers and college professors—to lead the state’s largest public school is not simply “tone deaf”. It’s ignorant, arrogant, and uninformed.
In making this choice, you have demonstrated your inability to function as public stewards of our university. A “Vote of No Confidence” at this point is merely a formality. You have already lost the confidence of the students and faculty, and have lost the moral and ethical authority needed to serve as Trustees.
It’s too late to save your positions as Trustees—the best thing you can do at this point in time is to withdraw the appointment of Mr. Engler as interim president, and tender your immediate resignations. This will allow the rest of us to get started on the healing process, and focus on making sure that this kind of abuse never happens again.
[CC image credit: Chuck Grimmett | Wikimedia Commons]