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What MSU's past tells us about finding a new president

October 17, 2022
<p>Former MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon (center) holds her face during the continuation of her preliminary exam July 12, 2019.</p>

Former MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon (center) holds her face during the continuation of her preliminary exam July 12, 2019.

Michigan State University President Samuel L. Stanley Jr.’s resignation makes him the third MSU president since 2018 to resign from the role.

Stanley announced his resignation as president effective 90 days from Oct. 13 — making his official resignation effective Jan. 11, 2023. The heads-up on his departure could change the dynamic of the search. However, it remains unsure when we will see a new permanent hire. 

According to a statement sent to The State News, the MSU Board of Trustees has committed to a smooth transition in university leadership.

“The MSU Board of Trustees is unified in its commitment to having an orderly and smooth transition in university leadership and in its commitment to academic freedom, and to working with university leadership toward the goals outlined in the MSU Strategic Plan 2030," the statement said.

It will immediately seek an interim president with the intent to reach out to the MSU community.

MSU faculty senate released a statement Sunday stating MSU’s ability to attract quality candidates for the presidency is threatened every day by the trustees' behavior and hope they will make a good interim selection.

"The trustees have an opportunity to ease tensions by working with faculty, students, and staff to identify an interim president quickly and collaboratively," the statement said.

The institution and situation can vary for a high-profile executive search, but the length of a search typically is less than a year.

What a presidential search looked like last time

In terms of an average university president search, the governing board will first appoint an acting or interim president during the search period for the permanent president. 

A search committee containing figures from the university will be announced and they will hire a firm to begin the search. The firm’s role is, essentially, to facilitate the search and market the position to their business contacts  and others in the industry.

During this time, typically the committee and firm will host open interviews and meetings with members of the community, faculty, staff and students. They then work together to narrow finalists through interviews. 

Once they select a finalist, or finalists, the selection is presented to the university board to vote on and approve.

Last time around, MSU was in a highly public and hostile situation as they searched for a replacement for former president Lou Anna K. Simon, who resigned in January 2018 following the sentencing of ex-MSU doctor and convicted child molester Larry Nassar. 

At that point, the search was expected to be lengthy, as MSU had not conducted a presidential search in 25 years. 

Former governor John Engler was appointed interim president by the board a week after Simon's departure, despite public pushback.

The search timeline was announced in June 2018, five months after Simon’s resignation, and the committee was announced in August. 

Search committee co-chairs trustees Dianne Byrum and Melanie Foster also announced they would be conducting a“closed search,” which raised concerns from the public. The biggest difference between a closed and open search is that the public does not know who the candidates are as the search is going on.

The committee of 19 included four trustees, one graduate student and one undergraduate student – among many others from different backgrounds.

Input sessions with the community began in September 2018 to gain community perspectives on what they needed to look for in presidential candidates and what would be included in the job description. Interviews with candidates began in February 2019 and were concluded in May.

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Stanley was announced as the final candidate in June 2019 and assumed his post in August 2019.

The Board of Trustees announced the initial search timeline nearly a year before Stanley’s selection. Although the individual aspects didn’t exactly follow the intended timeline, the board said from the beginning the final selection would be announced in June 2019, and it was. 

What the current timeline looks like

No timeline has been announced yet for the upcoming search. Differently from Simon's departure, Stanley’s resignation gives the board 90 days to find an interim president. 

According to a statement from the board, they are immediately seeking an interim president with outreach to students, faculty, staff and alumni.

"It is our intent to engage in thoughtful deliberation and to make a decision as soon as possible," the statement read. The Board’s expectation is President Stanley will remain in his position for the next 90-days and would help the Board make sure steady leadership is in place while a presidential search gets underway."

They will provide more information when available.

When Simon resigned, an interim president was not ready and then-vice president and secretary of the board — and later athletic director Bill Beekman – had to step in as acting president while the board found an official interim. 

With Stanley’s resignation, the board has received negative pushback again, but this time for opposite reasons as it reportedly pressured Stanley out of his role. 

Reports claimed the board asked Stanley to resign at the beginning of September, leading to confusion amongst the community. 

Faculty Senate and the Associated Students of Michigan State University passed resolutions in September asking for transparency from the board, and later voted no confidence in them.

Faculty senate wrote a statement on Stanley's departure holding the board accountable for the recent controversies.

"The institution’s future depends on selecting an interim leader with substantial academic credentials, a commitment to teaching and research, and the trust of the Spartan community," they wrote. "We will hold fast to our principles and demand that the board respects the essential academic freedoms that have made research universities like MSU sources of immense intellectual value for the world’s great democracies."

The pressure is different for the board now, without the national spotlight of the Nassar scandal but with distrust from the community.

If it follows a similar model as before, a new president could be seen in nine to 12 months. Ultimately, the Board of Trustees will determine how it chooses to run the search for Stanley’s successor.

The State News recently compiled a timeline leading up to Stanley’s resignation.

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