Thursday, September 16, 2021

Trustee members concerned over athletic director search process

September 1, 2021
<p>Trustee Renee Knake listens at the Board of Trustees meeting on Dec. 13.</p>

Trustee Renee Knake listens at the Board of Trustees meeting on Dec. 13.

Photo by Annie Barker | The State News

The Board of Trustees held a special meeting Wednesday at 12 p.m. to offically and unanimously appoint Alan Haller as the new athletic director. Amid the praise and congratulations from trustee members, concerns were brought up about the hiring process.

In trustee Renee Knake's statement to the board, she congratulated Haller while also speaking out about her perspective on the hiring process.

"I care deeply about Michigan State University and I want to help usher in a new era of equity in the treatment of women and minorities," Knake said. "From my view, this search process regardably lacked the openness and public transparency."

Knake said she and others, including Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, previously called for transparency. She believes Benson's view as the chair of the governor's task force on women in sports is valuable to their shared concerns.

"As trustees, we have an obligation to expose practices that risk discriminatory or biased treatment even when unintentional," Knake said. "And I'm worried here that the lack of transparency may only further perpetuate concerns and misperceptions about the institution's commitment to the improved treatment of women."

Trustee and Board Vice Chair Dan Kelly expressed agreement to some of her comments, but supported the idea that the process resulted in the best candidate. Trustee member Rema Vassar empathized with Knake.

"As a Black woman faculty member, I understand and empathize with your experiences and I could just see the pain in your voice as you recounted them for us," Vassar said. "Thank you for your bravery in speaking out regarding your convictions and your principles. Values are super important and you continue to persist in displaying them with openness and I appreciate you."

Vassar also hopes to see change in the hiring processes in the future.

"We'll work to make change," Vassar said. "It's not lost on me that the last five folks appointed and voted to this board ran or were appointed for change. This process was one wrought with the growing pains necessary to facilitate transformative change."

Knake said this issue is personal to her, as she was appointed while the board was in crisis during the Larry Nassar scandal. She said part of her role was to help advance MSU from the previous lack of transparency.

She also reminded the board of other instances of inequity at MSU, including the results from the 2019 climate survey on relationship violence and sexual misconduct.

As a female faculty member, Knake said she experienced discrimination herself, such as a lower salary than her male counterparts.

"Equitable treatment for women and minorities is at the core of who I am as a scholar and a member of this community," Knake said.

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