Saturday, August 20, 2022

Public comments express frustration, disappointment toward MSU

February 23, 2018
Protesters from Reclaim MSU hold signs during the Board of Trustees meeting on Feb. 16, 2018 at the Hannah Administration Building. (Nic Antaya | The State News)
Protesters from Reclaim MSU hold signs during the Board of Trustees meeting on Feb. 16, 2018 at the Hannah Administration Building. (Nic Antaya | The State News) —

The MSU Board of Trustees heard 11 comments from the public during last week's meeting from undergraduate and graduate students, professors and members of the community. Every single comment expressed anger, frustration and disappointment towards MSU's administration and its handling of recent events.

The public comments portion also included participation that was not on the agenda from Reclaim MSU near the end of the meeting, when students of the coalition distributed and read the group's statement. 

Members from Reclaim MSU crossed the line where members of the public were not permitted to stand and, instead of facing Interim President John Engler and the board during comment, faced the crowd with their backs to the trustees. 

Below are a few of these comments.

Siaira Milroy, Reclaim MSU, international relations senior

During Milroy's statement, she called for the Board of Trustees to hold bi-weekly meetings on behalf of Reclaim MSU. She said holding more meetings is necessary for transparency, which she said the Board of Trustees is seriously lacking. She also said that students and faculty must be included in the board's decisions. 

“No confidence. Students have no confidence, faculty have no confidence, this community has voted no confidence in this Board of Trustees and the actions that have been made in the past month. As a university, we are in a state of recovery.                                                                                                                                                            ...

Students have asked for full trustee town halls, faculty asked to be included in the decision of the interim president, the need to be included in the selection of who would lead the public investigation — yet actions have moved quickly and excluded voices that are not a part of the administration. 

By continuing the action of silencing others, it does not show that we are moving forward. It shows that the same problems that allowed a predator to disrupt the safety of students within this university is still here. It shows that the concerns and suggestions of this community are still not being taken into consideration. How can we move forward if a culture of silence is still endorsed on this campus and by this administration?                                         

In order to move forward with effective change, we need students and faculty included within decisions. Survivors and individuals on this campus have continually been silenced and emotionally drained by the inconsiderate actions that you have made. It is hard to call ourselves Spartans at this time. But it is unbearable to be on campus while your decisions continue to disqualify the importance of sexual assault. 

I am not the first to say that you are wrong to put politics before people. This is a time to move forward, not backward. We can choose to take the unfortunate event that affected this entire university negatively and use it to change the culture or we can choose to continue to stain our reputation as a university. 

I’m here, and I’m not alone. Reclaim MSU calls for you to hold bi-weekly meetings in this time of crisis. Show that you care, show that you have more than empty promises and an interim president with a history of disqualifying sexual assault. In the least, have a meeting in the coming month of March.”

Selman Akbulut, mathematics professor

During Akbulut's statement, he discussed reporting discrimination he experiences within his department to MSU and the university's failure to respond. He said the grievance system is broken, and that contributes to the culture that allowed ex-MSU doctor Larry Nassar to sexually assault over 260 women and girls. 

“I would like to urge this board to look at the roots of this problem. … There is a broken grievance system at this university. Victims are not getting their fair share and the grievance process does not work. 

I know this firsthand. ... There are issues in the math department with racism, graduate students are discriminated against, there’s nepotism and anytime I criticize them, I get harassed in my department. … I get penalties from HR, my salaries are cut, my website is blacked out because I dare to speak against these things. … 

The grievance system is so flawed, it is unbelievable at this university. For students, it’s worse. Because for faculty there’s a grievance office. Students don’t have that. They just have one student representative in our grad committee, and that was taken away from them by our Chair.

There is an example I can give from my situation when my courses are cut and I get penalties, I go to all these offices. 

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I go to faculty grievance office, they tell me to get a lawyer and they will hold the grievances. They don’t. I go to Terry Curry’s office, he says, ‘I will investigate this.’ He doesn’t. I go to office of equity, they tell me they’ll investigate, they said, ‘oh you have a good case, you should go to EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission).' But unfortunately, they can’t do anything about this because, ‘You did not prove your discrimination was the result of you being Turkish or a Muslim.’ 

What kind of grievance system is this? It’s a joke. That’s what happened to those young women. … This is a complete joke. You need to do something about this.”

Sara Bijani, doctoral student, president of the MSU Graduate Employees Union

During Bijani's statement, she discussed the financial activity of the Board of Trustees and said it is flawed. She also called for the investigation of vice president of student affairs Denise Maybank and said her interference in sexual assault investigations on campus is contributing to the lack of proper sexual assault measures on MSU' campus.

“This university has a nearly $3 billion endowment. Just this week, this administration claimed to only have enough money to hire one additional sexual assault counselor. That same day, this administration signed a contract to pay yet another law firm another $50,000 a month to represent MSU in state and federal investigations. 

Clearly, the money is there, it’s just not being spent on the right things. … If the past month has made anything clear, it should be that prevention and survivor advocacy services on campus are inadequate. 

I encourage you to finally, for once, get ahead of this. Put some real money behind preventing sexual assault. Take some action. Clean this house. Invest in a real campus reporting system that survivors can trust. The system you have now isn’t working. 

The recent review found that 87 percent of reports filed with OIE (Office of Institutional Equity) in the 2016-17 school year were not investigated due to ‘victim non-participation.’ Survivors don’t trust MSU. Reporting simply doesn’t work when there are no mechanisms in place for removing abusers. 

To that end, please, will you finally investigate vice president Denise Maybank? Maybank has directly interfered with over a dozen campus sexual assault investigations that we know of, repeatedly bringing convicted rapists back to campus after they were expelled by a board of reviewers. She’s making the problem worse. 

Counseling and psychiatric services are still understaffed. The sexual assault program is still underfunded. … This is unacceptable. … Supporting survivors needs to be the priority at MSU,  which needs to begin with properly funding and staffing the resources that survivors need.”

Justin Johnson, MSU alumnus, running for a position on the Board of Trustees in 2018

During Johnson's comment, he discussed weak oversight within the MSU administration and how that led to unrest in the community. He also discussed what the position of a trustee entails, and how trustees have not been fulfilling the responsibilities of this position.

“The bylaws of the board granted broad oversight responsibilities over every aspect of university life. Part of the reason why the MSU community, students and faculty continue to be unhappy with your response, is that it seems likely that you will continue to shirk away from the responsibilities that you volunteered to fulfill when you ran for your seats. 

The hiring of Governor Blanchard’s law firm with no evidence of consultation or approval of the board is unacceptable. 

This kind of weak oversight is what allowed William Strampel and Katherine Klages to overrule university policy and possibly break state and federal laws. 

This kind of weak oversight gave us the sorry claim that there are no records or recollection of any conversations about Larry Nassar. 

And this kind of weak oversight gave us the report today that says, despite an agreement between the administration of Michigan State and the department of education, there is still no documented process that charts out coordination between the police and the Board of Trustees. 

So, why isn’t this happening? The position of trustee is that of a public servant. You sought this responsibility. ...  It appears the board hid behind President Simon. They are hiding behind President Engler. And I’m afraid that they will hide behind the next president ...  and this kind of tragedy will happen again. 

The students, faculty and MSU community are already raising their voices, but they are not the eight people sitting in here who are vested with ultimate institutional authority.”

Samuel Klahn, Reclaim MSU, comparative cultures and politics junior 

During Klahn's comment, he told the Board of Trustees its decision to appoint Engler as the interim president was wrong. He went over the allotted three minutes of speaking time provided for members of the public and before his statement he questioned why so little time was provided to speak when the Board of Trustees said it promised to listen to students.

“I am sad, heartbroken, furious and ashamed of this university and its inaction. Not just in the preceding decades, but its cowardice in the recent months. 

When did brand become more important than our mission to teach, inspire and improve the world around us? When did the definition of leadership stop including responsibility, and when did Michigan State lose its heart? 

We’re all asking, ‘how can I help, and how can I fix?’ And those are good questions but we must ask altogether harder things, ‘what is best for MSU, and what is best for survivors?’ … 

I think the hardest concept to stomach is sometimes, Spartans can’t. Or that Spartans will and some Spartans should not. Do what’s right, not what is safe and easy. If you maintain all the funding that the university could ever need but you don’t have the faith of the faculty or the students, where is all of that revenue going to go to? 

Rethink your decisions about President Engler. The people did not tap him to lead. I am truly sorry, sir, but you’re a partisan figure for state and federal legislatures. You’re not the leader, educator or healer that this community needs. You’re not qualified, and even if you were, you were not properly elevated to this office by the people of this community. 

Please talk to us, we need to understand you and we need you to understand us. With operative representation of faculty, undergraduate and graduate students; we don’t need you to give us a voice. We need the agency for you to be unable to silence us ever again.”

Natalie Rogers, Reclaim MSU, comparative cultures and politics sophomore 

Rogers read Reclaim MSU's statement outside of the time the public was allowed to speak. Reclaim MSU began standing behind Klahn near the end of his comment, holding up signs and distributing copies of their statement to the public, media, trustees and Engler.

“We, Reclaim MSU, are a coalition of students, faculty and staff at Michigan State University, formed in response to the insufficiency of our institution’s ability to respond to, prevent and investigate instances of sexual misconduct, violence and discrimination. 

We condemn sexual violence and the rape culture plaguing our campus. We condemn all discrimination based on ability, age, citizenship status, gender, HIV antibody status, nationality, parental and pregnancy status, race, religion, seniority, sex, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status and weight on our campus. 

We condemn the lack of functional institutions to investigate instances of sexual misconduct, prevent instances of sexual assault and to support the survivors. 

The current administration’s attitudes and inaction towards discrimination, harassment and sexual violence on our campus are unacceptable. In their shameful negligence of these issues, they have betrayed the trust of the MSU community. The administration’s lack of accountability has enabled them to act against the best interests of the MSU community. 

As public servants, the Board of Trustees has failed to be accessible, accountable and transparent. It is time to stop prioritizing the brand and reputation of Michigan State University. 

We must reclaim MSU. This means valuing the health and wellbeing of the community through the equitable distribution of power and resources. 

This means the direct participation of faculty, students and staff within the administration and the Board Of Trustees. 

This means procedural justice, where different social groups and stakeholders are represented and have a seat at the decision-making table. 

This means a safe and inclusive campus that is empowering and fosters a learning environment.

This means fostering a culture of both consent and transparency on the part of the Board of Trustees and the administration. 

We stand behind the demands of the students, faculty and staff of Michigan State University. We are here to fight. Together, we will reclaim MSU.” 


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