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Faculty, student leaders plan involvement in presidential search

February 9, 2023
<p>Upward Bound Director and Program Coordinator Dr. Stephanie Anthony lines up the honorees for a processional to start the reception on April 30, 2018 at the MSU Union Ballroom. The Upward Bound program helps prepare seniors to become first-generation college students.</p>

Upward Bound Director and Program Coordinator Dr. Stephanie Anthony lines up the honorees for a processional to start the reception on April 30, 2018 at the MSU Union Ballroom. The Upward Bound program helps prepare seniors to become first-generation college students.

Photo by Annie Barker | The State News

Faculty and student leaders began formal discussions on their involvement in the presidential search. Thursday, the rough ideas and suggestions were presented in a “vibe check” to the Board of Trustees.

Stephanie Anthony, the steering committee vice-chair who attended Thursday’s closed-session meeting with the board, said the board is looking to receive a written proposal by April. Following the proposal, the board will begin formally assembling a search committee.

Anthony said the board did not provide a target size for the search committee — an issue discussed by faculty and students at a steering committee meeting Tuesday.

The steering committee debated which campus groups should be involved in the presidential search. The groups discussed included tenure track faculty, fixed-term faculty, health professional faculty, librarians, academic staff, academic specialists and more.

But, as the drafted search committee was created and debated, a concern was raised that giving representation to all the possible groups at MSU could create a committee too large to function.

Many steering committee members felt it would be ideal for each group to elect its own representation, but were unsure of how groups without organized bodies like the faculty senate would do so.

Interim-provost Thomas Jeitschko said if each individual group picked its own representation, the diversity of backgrounds and experiences in the final group couldn’t be considered or controlled.

Draft committees created in the steering committee meeting contained up to 25 members. With eight faculty representatives, four undergraduate students and two grad students.

The last five of presidential search committees have ranged from 12 to twenty members.

The most recent search committee, which found former-president Samuel L. Stanley Jr. in 2019, had 19 members.

2019 committee make-up:

- Four trustees
- One former trustee
- One MSU clerical/technical staff union representative
- Two notable alumni
- One dean
- Eight professors
- One undergraduate student
- One graduate student

Distinguished Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics Megan Donahue said she worried about making ambitious proposals, given the non-binding nature of the faculty and students' suggestions. 

She imagined a situation where groups spent time and resources selecting many candidates, only to have the picks “torched” by the board. She suggested a small group of multifaceted picks to “bulletproof” it from board scrutiny.

In response, steering committee chair Karen Kelly-Blake said, “you’re probably right, Megan, but I'm not sure there's any way to bulletproof it, especially when we're talking about the Michigan State University Board of Trustees.”

The role of board members on the presidential search committee was also much debated. Four board members will sit on whatever form the committee takes. Faculty leaders questioned if the board should have voting roles — or be on the committee at all.

In other university processes, like allocation of tenure, the final decision-maker doesn’t sit on the committee evaluating candidates. So, as one faculty member put it, “why are trustees on the search committee if they are the final decision makers?”

Faculty members worried about board members acting as both members of the committee, the liaisons between the committee and the board and the final decision makers. They feared board members playing so many roles in the process would negate any potential influence of the faculty, students and staff on the committee.

Anthony said the faculty members brought the idea of trustees being non-voting or non-existent members of the search committee to the board Thursday, and that the board said they would take it under review.

“I have no way of knowing what they will do,” Anthony said. “But, I know that we said ‘this is what we'd like,’ and nobody threw up. It was still positive. For me, I take it as a positive sign at this point in time. I think that some positivity is good for all of us right about now.”

Trustee Dennis Denno, who was sworn in this January and has been selected by board chair Rema Vassar to lead the search committee, was unavailable for comment.

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