Faculty members at Michigan State University are claiming a moral victory. By an overwhelming majority, the MSU Faculty Senate approved a Vote of No Confidence in the Board of Trustees.
The statement carries no legal weight. It’s not a mandate for the board to act, nor does it prompt the resignation or removal of any of the trustees. However, MSU professors see their vote as a symbolic show of force.
Sixty-five voting members of the MSU Faculty Senate gathered at the campus International Center on Tuesday to meet in an emergency session.
The agenda was simple: to advance a motion for a vote of no confidence in the MSU Board of Trustees.
But for at least one person in the room, the motion wasn’t quite as simple as it appeared. Dr. Shawnee Vickery, a professor in the Broad College of Business, stood up almost immediately.
“I am not sure if the at-large members of the steering committee realize how insensitive and tone deaf this motion makes us appear,” Vickery said.
Vickery said the MSU steering committee – the leadership arm of faculty governance – knew for months about the sexual assaults committed by former sports physician Larry Nassar. The case eventually forced the resignation of former MSU President Lou Anna Simon and prompted the board of trustees to appoint former governor John Engler as interim president.
The steering committee later solicited an electronic ballot to gauge the faculty’s interest in calling for a vote of no confidence in the board. But, Vickery said, the email the steering committee sent to the faculty inviting their participation was sent under false pretenses.
“Because of the deceptive email to the faculty, some faculty thought they were voting ‘yes’ on a vote of no confidence in the board of trustees, based on MSU’s failure to stop and prevent Larry Nassar’s criminal behavior,” Vickery explained. “But it’s actually a vote of confidence in the board because of their appointment of Governor Engler as interim president. This is exactly what the at-large members’ email states, and I have copies of both of them.”
Nearly a dozen people, faculty and students alike, followed with their own testimony. Dr. Lisa Lapidus with the College of Natural Science said power has gradually centralized in the MSU president’s office for years, causing the trustees to become complacent and compliant.
“Maybe they could have done something to stop Nassar from that horrible abuse,” Lapidus said. “But what they certainly could have done is been planning for the past 17 months for a presidential transition. We knew this was going to come eventually, and they apparently had no plan whatsoever.”
After an hour of debate, it was time to call the question. Shawnee Vickery made one final appeal to her colleagues.
“So I would urge us that we take a little time to get this motion right, and maybe go back to the faculty and let them vote for the right reason: that what happened on this campus was unacceptable and it’s because of that we don’t have confidence in the board,” said Vickery.
But that wasn’t going to happen then and there.
Gary Hoppenstand, the secretary for academic governance, tried to explain.
“I fully concur with your comments in terms of the importance of this,” said Hoppenstand. “But this is something that can be brought to the steering committee and then brought back to the faculty senate to make an official vote on that issue.”
With clickers in hand, the faculty senate voted on the no confidence issue.
Five minutes later, the results were in.
It was a landslide. Ninety-four percent voted yes.
Now, the steering committee will inform the board of the trustees of their vote. But it’s unlikely to produce any dramatic changes.
Steering committee member and Lyman Briggs College of Science associate dean Dr. Rob LaDuca says he’d like to see the entire board resign en masse. But first, he says, Michigan State University needs to make reparation to its sexual abuse survivors.
“Because nothing can truly move forward until their legal concerns are truly satisfied; not with obfuscation, not with contentions of statutes of limitations,” LaDuca said. “They need a fair and just settlement from the university.”
WKAR attempted to contact board of trustees chairman Brian Breslin and vice-chairman Joel Ferguson for comment on the vote, but our request was not answered by air time.
Shortly after the vote, MSU issued a statement saying it had retained investigative services provider Kroll to review complaints filed under the university’s Title Nine Relationship Violence and Sexual Misconduct Policy.