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Michigan State's provost hiring decision faces backlash during Board of Trustees meeting

May 15, 2020
Michigan State's Board of Trustees hold a virtual meeting on Zoom on May 15, 2020.
Michigan State's Board of Trustees hold a virtual meeting on Zoom on May 15, 2020. —
Photo by Karly Graham | The State News

Teresa Woodruff is Michigan State University's next provost and executive vice president for academic affairs after she was approved Friday during a virtual Board of Trustees meeting.

Despite unanimous support from the board, Woodruff faced backlash throughout the meeting based on her tenure as dean of The Graduate School at Northwestern University.

On behalf of the Asian Pacific American Student Organization, social relations and policy junior Jonathan Suan spoke against Woodruff's hiring and her questionable history regarding diversity, equity and inclusion.

He referenced a town hall that took place at Northwestern University in March held by a coalition of students of marginalized identities at the university's Graduate School. The town hall followed a letter with requests for change, including a call to remove Woodruff from her position as dean, according to The Daily Northwestern.

"Last time I spoke to all of you today — President Stanley, Trustees Brianna Scott and Kelly Tebay — you three have expressed willingness to support Asian students surrounding racism, surrounding the coronavirus. Ever since then, me and my organization have been holding this administration accountable for supporting other marginalized groups, as well as our own," Saun said. "However, the appointment of Teresa Woodruff is clearly against this promise."

During his public comment, Suan quoted two different letters written by the Northwestern Graduate Workers Union and MSU's Black Faculty, Staff and Administrators Association, or BFSAA, and said he believes Woodruff does not support underrepresented communities.

"I am highly disappointed with this administration's decision," he said. "Woodruff has shown to be clearly against the interests of queer students, non-white students and students with disabilities at Northwestern University, and I have no confidence that she will be any better here at Michigan State."

BFSAA President Eunice Foster also spoke during the meeting on behalf of the organization, reiterating the thoughts originally addressed to President Samuel L. Stanley. She also spoke on behalf of the Coalition of Racial and Ethnic Minorities, or CoREM.

"Our organizations have empowered themselves to speak on behalf of matters that harm the well-being of our people and which subsequently harm MSU and deter it from becoming all that it can be," Foster said.

She mentioned concerns that BFSAA and CoREM shared, including Woodruff having just three years of administrative experience and a petition at Northwestern University signed by more than 350 graduate students calling for Woodruff's removal.

"Dr. Woodruff's work with women is commendable, but her work with students of color and the other marginalized groups suggests that she has much work to do in these areas, and these are areas at which MSU is lacking," Foster said.

Foster said having an explanation from Stanley regarding his selection should have been granted to the campus community and to different organizations he had met with prior to the issues coming to light, and that his failure to do so is something he should recognize.

"We too, are MSU," Foster said. "We deserve transparency, honesty and truth regarding the road ahead."

During the Trustee comments portion of the meeting, Trustee Brian Mosallam responded to the comments made by Suan and Foster, offering his support.

"Your words definitely resonated, and now that we're here we need to welcome Teresa with open arms," Mosallam said. "It's very critical that she sits down with you, Dr. Foster, and you, Jonathan, and all the different members of CoREM and we work together collaboratively to move this university forward."

During a press conference that followed the meeting, Stanley reiterated his support for Woodruff and confidence in his selection.

"I certainly appreciate the fact that there's concerns about this choice I think a lot of the criticism is on me, and ... if people want to criticize that decision, I think that's my decision." Stanley said. "I think it's unfair in a lot of ways to criticize Dr. Woodruff in terms of qualifications because I do think they qualify her."

During the press conference, Stanley said he had previously been made aware of the allegations made against Woodruff concerning diversity, equity and inclusion.

"I was aware, it came toward the end of the process, but I was aware of it," Stanley said.

He said he spoke to Jonathan Holloway, who was Northwestern University's provost prior to being appointed as president of Rutgers University.

Stanley said Holloway explained it as a complex situation and that Northwestern University had to make difficult decisions for budget cuts, larger than what MSU is currently proposing, in response to lost revenue due to COVID-19.

As MSU experienced multiple racist events throughout the last academic year, and Stanley spoke to the additional actions he has taken to encourage a more diverse, equitable campus.

"(Woodruff) recognizes that Michigan State University — with some of the history and some of the incidents we've talked about — this is an issue that's really important to people," Stanley said. "So I think she's really committed to working with the DIE strategic planning committee, working with the CDO and working with me to push this forward at Michigan State."

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