On Thursday, the Elections and Ethics committee in the Michigan House of Representatives will hear a bill that would allow the Governor to appoint the Boards of Trustees for Michigan State University, the University of Michigan and Wayne State University instead of being elected by the voters.
State lawmakers want to overhaul how three major universities select their governing bodies. This stems from ongoing criticism of Michigan State University’s handling of sexual assault complaints.
Multiple women have said that MSU ignored their sexual assault complaints against former school sports doctor Larry Nassar. Nassar was sentenced last week up to 175 years in prison for sexual assault.
Republican Representative James Lower introduced the measure. It would require the governor to appoint members of the boards at three major universities.
“Given everything surrounding the MSU Board of Trustees and the Nassar situation, the voters should be able to decide, is this system working?” Lower says.
Right now, the governing boards of MSU, Wayne State and the University of Michigan are selected by voters.
Lower: It would switch those from being elected on a state-wide basis on a partisan manor to a nonpartisan gubernatorial appointment. But it would also get rid of anybody who is on the current boards and replace them with new appointees after this year’s election cycle.
Hardwick: I was just going to ask, so at what point would you like this to take effect if it is – goes through and is assigned to law this year?
Lower: So the way it would work is we’re taking it up in the house, in committee, on Thursday, and if we got a two thirds majority in the house and senate, it would actually go on the ballot for voters in November of 2018. So if it was approved by voters, it would go into effect as of January one, 2019 and whoever the new governor was would get to make these appointments. And it’s important to note that the governor actually appoints 12 out of the 15 universities currently, so this is the way all other universities in the state, except Michigan State, U of M and Wayne State.
Hardwick: So was MSU’s handling of the Nassar case or the way the trustees picked Governor Engler a part of the reason why you went forward with this?
Lower: So this has actually come up a few times in recent memory and in legislature, changing the way we do this appointment process, or election process, for these boards. So this was actually something I was working on prior, but when you took a look at the board’s actions and their handling of the Larry Nassar situation, it really made the amendment timely and really bringing it forward now. So I guess it effected the timing, but it was something that I thought was a good idea regardless of the situation.
Hardwick: Right now, Michigan State University’s board is split 4-4 Democrat-Republican. So is there a concern that if you had a Democratic governor that he or she would elect all Democrats or a Republican governor would just put all GOP representatives on all these boards for these three major universities?
Lower: Sure, so these type of appointments is outlined in my legislation, and for the other 12 boards are subject to the advice and consent of the senate, meaning that they have to be confirmed by the senate essentially. So you do have that check and balance on there, but that hasn’t really been a problem for the other 12. So if you take a look at Grand Valley, Central Michigan University, Northern Michigan, Michigan Tech, and you know you can name through the universities in the state of Michigan that are appointed. That’s just never been a problem because when the governor does an appointment, whether it’s a Democrat governor or whether it’s a Republican governor, they go through the backgrounds and the resumes, and it’s a formal application process, and they try to select an individual that’s the most qualified. So I don’t think that’s going to be a problem primarily because it’s not a problem for the other 12 universities in our state, but if you look around the country, what we do for Michigan State, Wayne State and U of M is completely unique. So not only is it unique in the state of Michigan, no other universities do it that way, and I think that’s a real problem.
Hardwick: Speaking anecdotally here, I think usually people just kind of just breeze through the board of trustees at the ballot, but maybe because of all the attention here at MSU, we’ve heard a lot of people say they are definitely going to pay more attention to the board of trustees, and may even consider running for that. Does this take that voice away from people who don’t have connections to be appointed by the governor?
Lower: Sure, I think that’s a fair question. I think it’s important to note that in order for this to go into effect, it would have to be approved by voters. So this can’t happen just through the Michigan House of Representatives or the senate or the current governor signing it into law. It’s not a normal process ‘cause it actually takes an amendment to our state constitution.
Hardwick: Thank you State Representative James Lower of the 70th district here in Michigan for joining me today.
Lower: Great to be on, thank you.
Hardwick: For WKAR News, I’m Reginald Hardwick.