MSU President Simon talks tuition, inclusion and sexual assault
The State News met with MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon on Monday to discuss various issues involving MSU. Here are some of the most significant portions of the conversation:
On presidential-hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) proposals for free tuition:
“I think for our students, (tuition) is way too high for a public institution, but I think some commitment financially is really important. ... It has to be of value, and it’s hard for me to believe that free is of value, so I advocate some skin in the game, but not the level we’re at.”
With the total student debt across the nation continuing to rise, a proposal from presidential-hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders would attempt to curtail and ultimately get rid of, tuition at public universities and colleges.
Saying she was “old school,” President Simon said she felt those who could attend college ought to put some kind of monetary investment into it, but at a price that wouldn’t leave students with crushing debt. While most of the talk revolves around community college, and not four-year institutions, Simon said she couldn’t really predict what kind of effect tuition-free college might have at MSU.
“Michigan is a state that has historically and persistently underinvested in higher education,” she said. “So tuition here for students tends to be very high as a state.”
On tensions with students of color and Liberate MSU:
“I think that we all want a better society and a more genuinely inclusive and diverse society, so we’re not at odds with the broader goal.”
Earlier in the school year, activist group Liberate MSU sent out a list of demands the group felt needed to be implemented on campus in order to create more equal opportunity for students of color.
Liberate MSU’s main goal revolves around combatting the challenges students of color face at MSU.
Among the list of 10 demands were calls for a multicultural center, a more diverse student and faculty body, and more funding for programs dealing with race, gender, sexuality and class.
President Simon acknowledged the demands and held a meeting with Liberate MSU on November 30, 2015.
“While I don’t agree with their solutions, there were clearly issues, for example, with Liberate in both the AAAS (African American and African Studies) program and the CLS (Chicano Latino Studies) program,” Simon said. “Some of it related to leadership, and there is going to be new leadership in both of those programs.”
Ultimately, Simon said compromise was the ongoing theme for relations between MSU administration and the group.
“We’re not going to do everything they ask, or the way they asked that things be done, but I think we’ve gotten the programs on track in ways that can they grow and end being much stronger, and then be a basis for hopefully recruiting a more diverse faculty,” Simon said. “But you have to recruit a more diverse faculty not simply just in AAAS and CLS, but across the university.”
On student concerns with Vice President for Student Affairs and Services Denise Maybank:
“She has a responsibility in the judicial process to ensure the process is fair and equitable to every student involved, and not simply to slant an outcome in one direction or another because of external political pressure.”
MSU students and student groups have expressed concern with Maybank’s handling of cases involving sexual assault and, in particular, three cases MSU was under investigation for mishandling.
Simon said one of the three cases was dismissed, mentioning that this fact has often been lost in the shuffle of the things being said and written about the investigation. She also added that in the cases MSU is under investigation for, much of the wrongdoing revolved around not handling the cases in a timely manner.
Simon defended Maybank, saying that sometimes the public has a tendency to lean one way in respects to sexual assault.
In particular, Simon defended Maybank’s overturning a decision in a sexual assault case in favor of allowing the accused sexual assailant to graduate without sanction.
Simon said she hired a third-party law firm to look into that case, and said the firm also found reason to reexamine it. Simon said the decision to reevaluate a sexual assault case once a decision was already made was a hard decision to make, but one that she felt was justified.
“It happens that Dr. Maybank independently reviewed the case that was sent out for reconsideration on procedural matters. It happens that the independent law firm also flagged that case as something that would need to be reconsidered for fairness to everyone involved, independently,” Simon said.
She added that while it might have garnered less attention if MSU administration had left the case as it was, inaction was not morally correct.
"If we’re going to be able to say that we looked at things as fairly as we can from all students involved, it was necessary to do that,” she said. “Would the heat be lower now if we did not do that or let it be adjudicated in court — as other cases have been adjudicated in court — where we have taken suspensions and they have not been held? Would it have been easier right now? Probably. Would it have been the right thing to do? Probably, in my judgement, not.”
On intramural sports facilities:
“We’ve allocated $35 million — I think we’ve said publicly at the board meeting — for the Movement and Fitness primarily focused on the IM upgrades.”
The Movement, Recreation and Fitness Explorartory Group was put together by MSU Provost June Youatt and is comprised of former student-athletes and campus community members, Simon said. The committee is tasked with finding a movement and fitness strategy because “under the assumption that, since we’re 50,000 people and 13,000 employees, its unlikely we’ll have an IM facility big enough for everyone,” Simon said.
The committee will make recommendations on how to spend the money, but that does not necessarily mean the IM facilities will see upgrades.
“For me, getting a degree, having a really good experience with their coach — and a couple of them got to go up a little bit higher — is a good thing. Now whether we can make it better or not is a different matter,” President Simon said of upgrades to athletic facilities, adding it was better to have a good experience than to have elegant facilities."
Further on the topic of the committee recommendations, Simon said, “I think you’re going to see potentially some very radical recommendations that don’t necessarily involve facilities.”
MSU basketball losses and the lessons we can learn:
“Through it all people responded with class, and I think you couldn’t ask for any better responses from the coaches and the student-athletes in a time of great disappointment and despair. You can really tell the character of people when they’re under that kind of pressure.”
Following MSU basketball’s stunning upset at the hands of Middle Tennessee State and the subsequent loss of women’s basketball following a controversy about home-court advantage, President Simon said she thought there were lessons to be learned.
“You can also tell whether the sense about team and family is real, because everybody says the same thing in athletics, ‘we’re a team, we’re a family,’ all that kind of stuff, and you know at those moments that it really is real and that’s what you want from sport associated with the university,” she said.
President Simon also said she believed we can take a look at the lesson of not taking intermediate steps on a path to greatness for granted.
“It’s also a great life lesson for all of us that you can’t really take for granted the intermediate steps when you’re destined for greatness, because you can get derailed along the way, and so I hope that, for me as an individual, for all of you, for others, that when that happens — because it will happen in life, because things are unfair — that people act with the same sense of caring and class that those kids had.”