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Trustees discuss campus climate, health services, hope to restore trust

February 16, 2018

At the first MSU Board of Trustees meeting led by recently-appointed Interim President John Engler, discussions regarding student health and wellness on campus and the appointment of personnel to administrative positions took place. 

The extension of head football coach Mark Dantonio's contract as well as trustee comment on campus climate and recent events took place as well. 

The board room reached maximum capacity and was crowded with student organization leaders and protestors from the faculty and student body. Much of the discussion from the board involved the need to restore trust in the administration.  

Trustee and president comments 

Trustee Brian Mosallam, who has met with various student groups on campus in the past week, said the Office of the General Counsel practices a flow of information that does not allow for Title IX reports and incidents of sexual assault on campus to be reported to the board. Mosallam said that needed to change immediately. 

He also discussed the town hall he held on Feb. 1. The event received criticism for only having one trustee present.  

"I was shocked and saddened to hear about all the pain, fear and anxiety that exists on this campus because of sexual misconduct. This problem is real, and we must act to address it," Mosallam said. "It is unacceptable for survivors of sexual assault to live in fear and anxiety that they will not be heard. It is unacceptable for instances of sexual misconduct to go unreported because people do not have confidence in this university to do the right thing."

Trustee Mitch Lyons said he felt a lot of the anger on campus is coming from the quickness in appointing Engler to the position of interim president.

"It was in the best interest of the university to get somebody with boots on the ground immediately," Lyons said. "We are in crisis mode. I know this entire board was in agreement. ... We did what we felt was the right move for the university."

Lyons said the search for a president will require a more careful assessment, and he thanked Engler for being willing to take the role of interim. 

Chairman of the Board and Trustee Brian Breslin said the no confidence votes that took place this week were "humbling, to say the least." 

Breslin said he has been working with student liaisons, even though he has not met with any student organizations or attended Mosallam's town hall. Breslin said he has been limited to what he can say because of litigation. 

"I do believe that the trust you don't have in us — the confidence you don't have in us — can be restored," Breslin said.

Engler also commented on his hope to move the university forward, to listen to students and to ensure a similar situation won't happen again. 

"One of the important messages that comes through is, 'How do we fix this?'" Engler said. "A couple different of ways — prevention and also in terms of response. We've done a lot already with response, but I think the prevention issue is much harder, and everybody's got a role in that." 

Changes in MSU health colleges and services

On Wednesday, Engler held a press conference to announce new appointment and structural changes within MSU health colleges and student wellness services that were further discussed at the meeting. 

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The deans from various health colleges as well as Engler hope to improve MSU mental health services by shortening appointment wait times and increasing counselor availability. 

"I think one of the things we have to do is figure out how we can have students involved in this so they see mental health as an option going forward," College of Nursing Dean Randolph F. R. Rasch said.

Newly-appointed interim dean of the College of Osteopathic Medicine Andrea Amalfitano, who is replacing former dean of the college William Strampel, who was ex-MSU doctor Larry Nassar's employer, said he has been holding town halls within his college and directly asking the students about "where we (the college) failed."

"They feel a lack of transparency, they've lost trust. ... We are listening. We are saying words knowing that they may ring empty," Amalfitano said. "And so we are taking actions."

He said he set up a path-forward task force within the college and has had several support groups, facilitators and counselors involved.  

"Words are cheap. They want evidence of action, and that's what we're trying to deliver. And it’s not going to be fast enough. And sometimes it's not going to be enough, period. And I'll take that commentary," Amalfitano said. "But we've heard you ,and we're trying to move forward to make sure that we correct our systems."  

During the Board of Trustees' discussion on the changes made within MSU's health colleges, assistant professor Jean Boucher stood up in the crowd to say they were missing the point. 

"Health is not the issue, this is a management issue," Boucher said. "This is a power issue, it's abuse of power. You're going on and on and on about health. Health is not the problem."

New positions and actions 

During the meeting, Dantonio's rolling six-year contract was extended for another year through 2024.

Amalfitano officially became the interim dean of the College of Osteopathic Medicine, William Beekman was appointed to the position of interim athletic director and Carol Viventi to the position of vice president and special counsel to the president. 

Approval of the Student Rights and Responsibilities Document 

The "Student Rights and Responsibilities Document" is, as Vice President of Student Affairs and Services Denise Maybank said, "the basis of our conduct system."

A change was made in the preamble to the student regulations, which now states:

"The regulations relating to protection of individuals apply without reference to where the activity occurs when the alleged misconduct involves hazing or acts causing or explicitly threatening to cause serious bodily harm."

Maybank said student rights advocates from the Associated Students of Michigan State University participated in this discussion. 

"(The discussion) began last year as a part of looking at what we're doing and really responding to what it is that the community has been asking for," Maybank said.

As of now, the next Board of Trustees meeting will be held on April 13. Live coverage from Friday's meeting can be found here. The detailed agenda for the February meeting can be found here.

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