Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Trustees, public address leadership issues at Board of Trustees meeting

February 11, 2022
<p>Members of the Battle for MSU Swim and Dive stand in support of their fellow student speaker at the Board of Trustees meeting on Feb. 11.</p>

Members of the Battle for MSU Swim and Dive stand in support of their fellow student speaker at the Board of Trustees meeting on Feb. 11.

Photo by Morgan Womack | The State News

A variety of different voices advocating for campus-wide causes filled room 401 of the Hannah Administration building during the Board of Trustees meeting on Feb. 11. MSU's COVID-19 policies, like the vaccine mandate, were a concern for a public commenter and trustee member Pat O'Keefe.

"What is the purpose of such unnecessary coercion on employees, who just want healthy babies, have studied the risk and don't want or need the risk of side effects on the vaccine?" O'Keefe said.

O'Keefe also asserted the vaccine can be unsafe for women's reproductive health and does not think the mandate should be enforced. President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. addressed O'Keefe's comments after the meeting using his expertise in infectious diseases.

"I think that those comments are really in contradiction to what sciences and medical practice have established," Stanley said. "These vaccines are extraordinarily safe and effective ... I dismiss the challenge that any policies at this university are made because we want to be enthralled to any federal agency. They're made based on the health and safety of the people on campus."

MSU parent Brenda Ammon spoke during the public comments section about an issue with her son who was suspended for non-compliance with the COVID-19 directives. She said her son got sick and didn't realize he didn't have to wait 60 days to get the vaccine and in December, his credits were taken from him and he was suspended. She said her son is now vaccinated and she hopes he can return with his credits.

"If we're about student success, I would think that we could review the situation," Ammon said. "Other kids have been given grace and I would like Samuel to have grace."

After the revisions to the Discipline and Dismissal of Tenured Faculty for Cause were approved by the board, trustee members expressed their support for continued steps toward diversity and advocacy.

"Our strategic plan, across the whole spectrum of planning, centers diversity throughout it," Trustee member Rema Vassar said during her comment. "Every vision, objective goal, every decision has diversity within it. MSU as a land grant institution has decided that's important. As a member of a minoritized group, several minoritized groups actually, I notice diversity."

Trustee member Renee Knake Jefferson thanked the task force for working quickly on the revisions to the policy.

"This will be transformative ... in helping to remove a culture of siloing that is not just about reporting and the process that we handle discipline and sanction review here, but will also impact many other cultural dynamics and how this campus works together in the future," Knake said.

Faculty liaison Karen Kelly-Blake acknowledged the productivity of meetings with members of the administration.

"We feel that our conversations have been productive and that we can achieve a collaborative solution," Kelly-Blake said. "When we include the people affected by decisions and decision-making, then we can move the needle forward as clearly exemplified by the discipline sanctions policy."

Trustee member Brianna Scott expressed her support for staff during her comment. She also recognized the burnout that faculty might be experiencing during the pandemic.

"We are so very appreciative of every single one of you," Scott said. "We talked yesterday about even doing something that we can to show our appreciation to our faculty. I hope that, as colleagues, we continue that conversation and don't just do nothing because we want to celebrate you all."

President Kate Birdsall of the Union of Non-Tenure Track Faculty, or UNTF, spoke to the board about contract changes this new year. She discussed the collective bargaining agreement with the university and a salary proposal in the best interest of the UNTF's members. She also said the union has a high turnover rate as a result of a lack of human resources work from the university.

"We believe in point one: of the mission of this university which is to provide outstanding education to promising, qualified students in order to prepare them to contribute fully to society," Birdsall said. "We believe. Unfortunately, we aren't sure that Michigan State believes in us."

MSU alumnus Kyle Shumaker addressed the board over a phone call to express his concerns with an ethics complaint. He requested that a member of the board schedule a meeting with him to discuss and review his complaint as a follow-up.

"If you happen to see room for improvements in this timeline and procedure, I hope you will join me in demanding change," Shumaker said.

Members from MSU Sunrise came to the meeting to endorse fossil fuel divestment. Other advocates, like Cate Dombrowski from Students Against Gun Violence spoke during public comments about the firearm policy, asking for change and tighter restrictions. She compared MSU to other schools around the state that have adjusted their firearms policy.

"We're just asking you to have a shred of courage and follow in their footsteps," Dombrowski said. "Students deserve to live, learn and work on a safe and fear-free campus."

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Trustee member Kelly Tebay spoke in support of the revisions to the firearms policy during her comment.

"I already told my colleagues yesterday I am 100% in support of changing this policy and so I will continue to work with each and every one of you to help get seven more votes to change this policy," Tebay said.

Monopolizing the seats in the audience were members of Battle for MSU Swim and Dive, a group supporting reinstatement of the team. Seven supporters spoke to the board about the morals of the team, their own personal stories and the athletics budget.

"Do you know what that feels like?" Former swim and dive team member Sophia Balow said. "To sit at the IM West pool every day as a lifeguard, staring at our record board, our signs and our locker room knowing what could've been. To be met with the completely unsympathetic administration who offers empty promises."

Trustee members, like Dan Kelly responded during their comments with apologies to the team.

"It's very difficult to make comments as board members with regard to public comment, and in particular with regard to the swim and dive program and its supporters," Kelly said. "First of all, there is litigation out there but more importantly, I don't want to create false hope. But, I will say this: the board is certainly listening."

The board has met with members from Battle for MSU Swim and Dive to discuss their concerns.

"Why not reinstate swimming and diving?" Former swim and dive team member Travis Nitkiewicz said. "You, the Board of Trustees, have this power. We are still here. We're ready to swim. We just need you to make it happen. Do the right thing. Let's make Spartan athletics whole again."

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