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MSU president finalist refuses faculty's request for public Q&A

November 20, 2023
<p>University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz. Photo courtesy of UNC Health.</p>

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz. Photo courtesy of UNC Health.

Kevin Guskiewicz, the sole finalist for Michigan State University's presidency, has refused an offer to speak with leaders of the university's faculty before potentially being appointed president.

Last week, after his candidacy was revealed by a State News report, leaders of MSU's faculty senate sent a letter sent to the Board of Trustees pitching a 90-minute Zoom webinar with Guskiewicz where faculty could ask the newly-public candidate questions.

But, Guskiewicz — a neuroscientist and current chancellor of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill — has not committed to addressing the faculty.

"His schedule just didn't work, (the proposal) was kind of short notice," John Isaacson, the chair of Isaacson, Miller, the outside firm facilitating MSU's search, told The State News.

Isaacson said that he's talked through the proposed meeting with Guskiewicz, who said he "might do it, but it would be later."

Isaacson said Guskiewicz is committed to "engaging not just the faculty but every constituency" eventually, but likely not this week during ongoing deliberations over his candidacy.

It's unclear if or when MSU's board plans to make Guskiewicz a formal offer for the presidency. The board and university have declined to comment on the ongoing discussions.

Guskiewicz said in a statement to his campus last week that he is "weighing" the MSU job.

Asked if a formal offer has been made, Isaacson said "the first question is whether he's going to, well, we still have work to do."

"Let me put it like this, we haven't announced his appointment," Isaacson said.

He declined to comment further.

The MSU search that resulted in Guskiewicz's candidacy was conducted in complete secrecy. The board committed to only announcing a final choice, leaving the candidate and finalists out of public view.

However, Guskiewicz's identity was publicized by The State News last week.

This prompted the letter from faculty, which said the report's shattering of the search's secrecy "presents an opportunity for Spartans to engage with the potential president before a decision is made."

Jack Lipton, chair of MSU's faculty senate, said he and the other faculty members who authored the letter were "disappointed" by Guskiewicz's response. 

"He is now part of an open search rather than a closed search," Lipton said. "He now has an opportunity to answer some questions. We've offered a very structured webinar format ... It's not a difficult thing, it's not a 'gotcha' setup."

 Lipton also questioned Isaacson's explanation that Guskiewicz's schedule prohibited him from appearing.

"I don't know if it's really availability or if it's desire," Lipton said. "I would hope someone who wants to be a bold leader of this university would be willing to talk to us before he signs the piece of paper."

MSU's board was supportive of the proposal, Lipton said, but ultimately left the decision in Guskiewicz's hands.

Lipton speculated that Guskiewicz was "playing it safe," waiting to have a final offer before taking questions from the campus.

"The appearance is that he doesn't want to engage until he gets the job," Lipton said.

A Q&A with Guskiewicz after he's formally appointed wouldn't satisfy the faculty, Lipton said.

"It's a very different prospect at that point," Lipton said. "It seems like right now he could answer some questions and explain who he is, rather than waiting for an offer to appear. Because, once he has an offer, he's safe."

Isaacson rebuked the faculty frustrations, saying "the faculty are not a search committee, they're a faculty senate."

"(Guskiewicz) very much wants to engage with them eventually, if he chooses to join Michigan State," Isaacson said.

Guskiewicz was one of two finalists being considered by the board. The other, the University of Texas at San Antonio President Taylor Eighmy, withdrew from consideration last week after learning his identity would not remain secret.

The board has long committed to making the final decision by the Thanksgiving holiday this week. It's unclear if that's still their intention.

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