The Associated Students of Michigan State University, or ASMSU, decided not to move forward with a bill that would call for the immediate resignations of the MSU Board of Trustees and Interim President John Engler during its policy committee meeting on Feb. 22.
Some fought to pass the bill, some fought to change the wording so it would exclude explicit resignations and many fought to dismiss it completely.
Ultimately, the bill, introduced by Lyman Briggs College Representative Benjamin Horne during the general assembly meeting that Trustee Brian Mosallam spoke at, was tabled with no chance of being reintroduced.
“We talked about, ‘It’s going to get harder.’ It’s already hard. The issue is that we can’t make the change that we want to because there’s no one up top listening. I understand the difference between calling for no confidence and resignations, which is why I proposed the amendment,” Horne said. “We can’t let perfect be the enemy of good.”
Horne said the discussion over the bill created a divide within ASMSU. A few representatives fought to at least send an amended and more subjective version of the bill to the general assembly meeting on March 1 and voted against tabling it. But more representatives voiced concerns.
Some representatives were concerned with calling for any resignations, because the university didn’t give Engler a chance to make any changes yet.
James Madison College Representative Adam Majestic brought up some of Engler’s recent actions, like his decision to donate his salary back to the university, and said it shows Engler is committed.
“I don’t think we’ve given (Engler) enough opportunity to prove himself,” Majestic said. “He’s here to help. If he wasn’t here to help, I don’t know what he would be here for. ... I fear that ASMSU can become too politicized by taking a stance that can be seen as a political stance.”
Interfraternity Council Representative Jack Brinkley agreed with Majestic’s stance. He said though he didn’t agree with the board’s decision to appoint Engler as the interim president without consulting students or faculty, he thought calling for Engler’s resignation is the wrong move.
“With regards to President Engler, I don’t believe that there have been any sort of specific instances within the first couple weeks of his term that would have to lead to that (calling for his resignation),” Brinkley said. “It’s been pretty firmly established that in order to move forward, we need to move with the Board of Trustees, not against them. And we have seen progress with that. Even though we’ve only gotten one out of the eight trustees to meet with us, that is progress from where we were at.”
Some representatives were concerned with calling for any resignations because there could be consequences.
Even if the bill was amended to exclude explicit names, Vice President for Internal Administration Katherine Rifiotis said there has been concern about whether phone calls, meetings and proposals in coordination with the administration would be compromised if ASMSU voted “no confidence.”
At ASMSU’s Feb. 15 meeting, Mosallam said if ASMSU were to call for his and the rest of the trustees’ resignations, he would respect the decision.
“It would not affect my relationship with any of your leadership or any of your board. This is not the time for us to cut down dialogue,” Mosallam said during the meeting. “You have that right and don’t ever think that you have to hold back on that because it’s going to affect how you interface with the board. So if you feel strongly about taking that position, then you do it, you take it. And everybody will deal with it.”
Another consequence considered during the discussion was that if the trustees were to resign, Gov. Rick Snyder would have to appoint new trustees.
College of Nursing Representative Megan Walsh said she “doesn’t want the governor handpicking our future.”
College of Communication Arts and Science Representative Maysa Sitar agreed.
“I feel like this bill is a short-term, jerk reaction rather than a long-term solution,” Sitar said. “I don’t want Snyder appointing our trustees, and this isn’t a political thing, this because he’s Republican or Democrat, this is because I don’t believe a single person should bypass the entire electoral process. Second, I don’t feel like we have enough data on what the students want us to do.”
Some representatives were concerned with whether or not calling for resignations would be effective.
Last month, ASMSU voted on a bill that specifically excluded the call for the resignation of former President Lou Anna K. Simon and instead called for the administration to “take responsibility” for mishandling ex-MSU and USA Gymanstics doctor Larry Nassar’s actions.
“Calling for resignations, or any action we can take to ‘condemn the Board of Trustees’ in any wording isn’t really effective right now, because that’s basically what we did a month ago,” College of Music Representative Isaiah Hawkins, who made the motion to table the bill, said.
And some representatives were concerned with calling for any resignations, because on Feb. 7, ASMSU held a discussion about how they were going to work with Engler moving forward.
College of Agricultural and Natural Resources Representative Sergei Kelley said he would rather have cooperation, because the bill could hurt ties with the administration and cause discourse.
“So this bill, it goes against what we’ve been saying, what we’ve been trying to promote as a body,” Kelley said. “We’ve been talking about working with the current administration, working with students, letting their voices be heard, advocating for them, taking their voices to the highest levels. We have been more of a body looking to work with the Board of Trustees so something like this, out of the blue, goes against that.”
At the meeting where Horne introduced the bill, he said ASMSU would give the board two weeks to make the changes students want.
Now, Horne said nothing will change, and said he is disappointed in the decision ASMSU made.
“Personally, I’ve had enough of watching this play out,” Residential College in the Arts and Humanities Representative Brittany Wise said. “The people that I’ve talked to in my college and out of my college have had enough of watching this play out. How much longer do we need to let people let this play out? … We need to let students know that we’re listening, and that we hear them and we support them. Because if we don’t say it, nobody else is going to.”
Though the bill has no chance of being re-introduced, a bill with similar language can still be rewritten.
Along with the discussion over this bill, ASMSU passed a bill that will “advocate for a constitutional amendment to be added to Michigan’s constitution which reserves at least one voting position on Michigan State University’s Board of Trustees for a current Michigan State University student.”
With concerns over communication and transparency from the MSU administration, Vice President for Governmental Affairs Tyler VanHuyse, who penned the bill, said this will allow for more student input.
“If we have a student voice on the board, it will force them (the trustees) to really move with the times and actually react to what the current needs of the university are, because we change out our entire population roughly every four years,” College of Agricultural and Natural Resources Representative Josh Prusik said. “Somebody that’s been around for 30 years is not in touch with the needs of students.”
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