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MSU Trustee Nancy Schlichting talks LGBT leadership at community forum

April 11, 2019
MSU trustee Nancy Schlichting speaks about her experiences as a member of the LGBTQ community at the MSU Union on April 10, 2019.
MSU trustee Nancy Schlichting speaks about her experiences as a member of the LGBTQ community at the MSU Union on April 10, 2019. —
Photo by Matt Zubik | The State News

Being a Michigan State Trustee is far from Nancy Schlichting's first foray into leadership.

Schlichting, a former Henry Ford Health System CEO of 14 years, has served on the boards of more than 80 organizations throughout her career. A gay woman, Schlichting has broken barriers her entire life, most recently having become MSU's first openly LGBT trustee.

"I think it's made me who I am," Schlichting said. "I think probably if I weren't, I don't know that I would be as open and accepting of all people, and I wouldn't have gone through some of the stuff I've gone through. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger."

Schlichting spoke to a group of interested students and community members Wednesday afternoon at the MSU Union at an event titled "LGBT Leadership with Nancy Schlichting." There, she shared stories of her struggles with being open with her identity and how setbacks she's faced set her up to become a better leader.

"I think people that have been through things and have had to prove themselves sometimes had to be perfect," Schlichting said. "That was my problem. I thought I had to be perfect in order to get ahead because I had this thing that could've dragged me down: That's being gay, and being a woman."

After speaking on her career and her journey with her sexuality, she spent more than an hour fielding questions from the audience.

When asked about transparency in the MSU presidential search process, Schlichting said having a closed search is necessary to attract the right candidates, having been a candidate in similar situations before.

If the search were open, most applicants would be those who are currently not employed in leadership positions, Schlichting said.

"You don't want the people that got fired," Schlichting said.

She acknowledged the lack of transparency is an issue of trust, but vouched for the quality of the candidates she's seen. The most important trait she's looking for in a new president is humility, Schlichting said.

"It feels like people aren't listening the way they should," Schlicting said about the current culture at MSU.

Schlichting said she enjoyed her conversation with the students and hopes to be able to do something similar again soon.

"I was very honored," Schlichting said. "It's always delightful to have a chance to talk with young people, because they are our future and we have so many talented people at MSU. I'm really pleased that I had a chance to share some of my lessons learned as well as challenges along the way."

Social relations and policy senior Colin Wiebrecht was one of two student organizers of the event. Wiebrecht first reached out to Schlichting when she was appointed, sharing his excitement that MSU had its first openly LGBT Trustee and asking if she wanted to speak with students about her experiences.

"Even though the turnout was a little small, it was a very intimate setting," Wiebrecht said.

Wiebrecht said he was grateful Schlichting expressed confidence in the presidential search process.

"I do support transparency, but given the fact that it doesn't look like that's happening, it's nice to know at least the people that are in charge of making the final decision have some confidence in (the presidential search), particularly the ones that I have a lot of trust in," Wiebrecht said.

Schlicting was appointed to the MSU Board of Trustees by former Gov. Rick Snyder in December 2018 following the resignation of former Trustee George Perles.

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