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Presidential search comes to an end, board and community react to new president

May 28, 2019
MSU president designee Samuel L. Stanley Jr. speaks during a press conference at the Hannah Administration Building on May 28, 2019.
MSU president designee Samuel L. Stanley Jr. speaks during a press conference at the Hannah Administration Building on May 28, 2019. —
Photo by Matt Zubik | The State News

About a year after the MSU Board of Trustees announced they were going to hold a presidential search following ex-MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon's resignation in light of the university's handling of Larry Nassar's sexual abuse, the university announced that its next president is going to be Samuel Stanley Jr. — Stony Brook University's president for nearly 10 years.

At a special board meeting held Tuesday morning, the Board of Trustees and presidential search committee announced that Stanley was the finalist for the position of MSU's 21st president and the board unanimously voted to approve him.

Dianne Byrum, chair of the Board of Trustees and co-chair of the presidential search committee, started off the meeting by thanking Acting President Satish Udpa for his dedication to the university and the presidential search committee for working alongside the board to find the university's new president.

"In this search for a president, our stated goal was that we wanted to identify the best person possible to lead Michigan State University," Byrum said.

According to the MSU President's Employment Contract, Stanley's base salary will be $800,000.

Board members and search committee members discuss Stanley's credentials

Before the board officially voted to approve Stanley as president, some of the presidential search committee members spoke about the presidential search process and Stanley's qualifications.

Stanley became Stony Brook University's fifth president in July of 2009. Before that, he was appointed vice chancellor for research at Washington University.

He has a Bachelor of Arts degree in biological sciences from the University of Chicago, a medical degree from Harvard Medical School and completed a resident-physician training at Massachusetts General Hospital. He also went to Washington University in St. Louis for a fellowship in infectious diseases and eventually became a professor in the Departments of Medicine and Molecular Microbiology, according to his biography.

Former Associated Students of Michigan State University (ASMSU) President Katherine "Cookie" Rifiotis — who graduated in May — discussed her experience being on the search committee.

In addition to the over 20 input sessions held by the search committee and the opportunity to submit input online — meant to gain community input about the qualities and qualifications they wanted in the university's next president — Rifiotis also held over 10 student listening sessions across the colleges in partnership with ASMSU student representatives and deans.

"These sessions furthered my ability to convey the student voice," Rifiotis said. "Throughout these past months, the members of the search committee truly empowered me to speak up and represent Michigan State students to the fullest."

Rifiotis said committee members ensured that student needs were prioritized in the search process.

She said Stanley's accomplishments with student success impressed her. She said he has a proven record of "prioritizing student input and fostering good relationships with student leaders to address pressing needs around the campus community."

"Most importantly, he truly grasps what it means to foster accountability and work to earn the trust of a community," she said. "Understanding that integrity and other institutional values must emanate from the top."

Rifiotis said one of the first priorities Stanley outlined when asked about his plans if he were to become president of MSU was to focus on healing through listening and being an accessible and available president in the community.

"I am confident that Dr. Stanley is the leader we need to heal and to build a better MSU," she said. "I look forward for our community to embrace him."

Members of the search committee and Board of Trustees said Stanley is committed to diversity and inclusion, gender equality and student success.

"I stand here today saying, 'goal accomplished,'" Byrum said. "Dr. Stanley has received the unanimous support of the Board of Trustees and additionally has the full support from the search committee."

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Stanley talks at press conference

Stanley spoke and answered questions from the press after the board meeting. He started off his speech by thanking the Board of Trustees for their support.

He said he believes the board and search committee "so ably represented the Spartan community."

"The questions during the process were thorough, comprehensive and incredibly informed," Stanley said. "They ... were sternly advocates for Michigan State University, as well. One of the things I found most desirable about coming here was meeting the faculty, students and staff, and seeing how much they love this institution and how much they care about it and how much they want it to succeed."

Stanley said he is going to live near MSU's campus and is eager to listen and learn about the community.

"Know this: I'm committed to being a great listener. I'm committed to learning from you," he said. "I have a lot to live up to, but I will do my best to be the president that Michigan State needs."

In response to being asked about how closely he followed the news surrounding the university in light of Nassar's abuse, Stanley said he saw a terrible tragedy and a betrayal of trust. He said he might not have followed the news as closely as those who were in the community, but he looks forward to meeting with the survivors.

"How do they (survivors) believe we're doing? How is the university progressing," he said. "I know there's been a number of important steps taken by the university to help improve its policies and procedures."

He said changing the culture on campus is important to him. He said it's important to have a culture that encourages people to report sexual assault and helps to prevent sexual assault.

Stanley also said he believes earning trust and being accountable as a leader is important for changing the campus culture and making the university safer. He said he thinks diversity and inclusion also play a role in improving the campus climate.

When asked about the Michigan Attorney General's investigation into MSU's handling of reports against Nassar's abuse and the university allegedly blocking the investigation by not releasing certain documents, Stanley said he has not been briefed on the information regarding the investigation.

Byrum said the board has made it clear they are not waiving attorney-client privilege in relation to the documents.

"Dr. Stanley is coming in and this is a new chapter in the history of Michigan State University," Byrum said.

Reclaim MSU reacts to end of presidential search, presidential announcement

Byrum and Foster released a presidential search timeline in August of 2018.

Once community input sessions concluded, the search became closed to the public.

Although the candidate portion of the presidential search was closed to the public, Byrum said the input sessions held in the fall of 2018 allowed for the community to be included in the search process.

Byrum said the parameters the search committee set from the beginning were that they would consider both internal and external candidates. She said it was clear from the input sessions that the community wanted an external candidate, so the committee focused primarily on external candidates.

She said all candidates considered were from outside of the university.

Student and faculty group Reclaim MSU and others have been outspoken about the closed presidential search.

Anna Pegler-Gordon, Reclaim MSU member and a professor in the James Madison College at MSU, said she is still concerned about a lack of transparency among the university administration.

"The Board of Trustees' idea of what transparency is and the definition of transparency are not really the same thing," Pegler-Gordon said. "They seem to think that if they dictate to you and tell you what they're doing when they dictate to you, that is transparency."

Pegler-Gordon said she was also concerned about Stanley not being educated on the Attorney General's investigation — an investigation she believes is a critical part of the healing process.

She said she doesn't know if Stanley is actually going to implement the changes he said he's going to.

"He (Stanley) mentioned ASMSU's very good letter to the presidential search candidates," she said. "Reclaim MSU had a letter to the presidential candidates, in which we urged them to build trust and create culture change right from the beginning by being open, even if the board didn't require them to publicly declare themselves to the community, to actually meet the community during the search process. He didn't mention that."

Moving forward, Reclaim MSU said they will continue to attend board meetings and call for transparency if things at the university don't change.


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