I worked hard for my degree. But I won’t attend MSU graduation today.

Bonnie McGill is graduating from Michigan State University with a Ph.D. in agricultural ecosystem ecology. She can be followed on twitter @BonnSci and on her blog https://bonniem.weebly.com/blog

An open letter to Michigan State University Interim President John Engler and Board of Trustees (Brian Breslin, Joel Ferguson, Dianne Byrum, Melanie Foster, Dan Kelly, Mitch Lyons, Brian Mosallam and George Perles):

I will graduate today with a Ph.D. from the MSU Department of Integrative Biology. As do all who earn a doctoral degree, I have given my blood, sweat and tears these last six years to become an expert at what I love to do: science. People will no longer refer to me as Miss or Ms.; I’m a Dr. now.

Even though this is a tremendous achievement for me I am boycotting commencement, and I’d like to tell you why.

In 2015 I experienced sexual harassment at MSU, went through the OIE (Office for Inclusion and Equity) investigation process, and dealt with significant tension in the workplace as a result. It was clear to me how administrators (not those in my department) prioritized the institution’s reputation above the people they claim to serve.

I was enraged to see this pattern unfold again for the survivors of Dr. Larry Nassar’s abuse. Speaking truth to power always comes at a cost for survivors ‒ in the currency of reliving trauma, often only to be disbelieved.


Much of the Nassar tragedy could have been prevented, especially if MSU administrators and staff had believed the victims who came forward decades ago. In the aftermath of the survivors’ testimony in Lansing this January, the board ignored input from students and faculty, and secretly chose a former Michigan governor with a record of covering up sexual abuse of women prisoners to serve as our interim president. Again, you did not listen.

So listen now.

“MSU is full of scholars doing rigorous, socially relevant and groundbreaking research. This work ‒ not sports or profits ‒ is at the core of MSU’s value to society.”

You and I clearly have very different perspectives on what makes MSU great. While the board was busy worrying about the MSU brand, my fellow MSU scientists and I were busy working on local and global issues like climate change, water and food security and environmental justice. While the board and then-President Lou Anna Simon were busy ignoring the stories of Nassar victims and perpetuating a culture that enabled Nassar, we were busy empowering K-12 students and teachers with science.

MSU is full of scholars doing rigorous, socially relevant and groundbreaking research. This work ‒ not sports or profits ‒ is at the core of MSU’s value to society. I suspect the late U.S. Sen. Justin Morrill, namesake of the Morrill Land-Grant Colleges Act of 1862, would agree.

So today, instead of shaking your hand, I’d rather be doing what my colleagues and I do every Friday: doing science that will hopefully make a difference in the world. I hope that in the coming months, you will listen to survivors, students and faculty. I hope that as a result, you take decisive action to make the MSU environment safe, inclusive and accountable in a way that enables our education, research and outreach programs to continue to flourish.

I hope that your actions in the coming months will make the 2019 Ph.D. graduates once again proud to walk across the stage and shake hands with the president of MSU.

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Fri, 05/04/2018 - 8:59am

Congrats on your graduation, its quite the accomplishment regardless of what school you attend. I am personally walking across the stage because I'm proud of MYSELF. It's unfortunate this article isn't more specific about what you would like to see happen in the future to make MSU a safe environment. I'd love to hear ideas as I'm sure others would as well.

All the best,
A proud Spartan.

Fri, 05/04/2018 - 9:34am

Thank you Dr. McGill for your courage and willingness to speak truth to power. MSU has NO leadership right now. I have been contacting board members directly for the last several months concerned with how all of this has been handled and not gotten a response. I finally sent my concerns to the general email and got an automated response.

Please know you did what you could, in the right way and move on. This is a deep systemic issue that will be with MSU for years to come. The old "systems" in this country are crumbling before our eyes, which they need to do. New standards are being set by courageous women like yourself willing to speak up. Each generation has contributed to this quest and I thank you for what you have done.

Fri, 05/04/2018 - 2:05pm

Why do you think the other attendees care or even missed you? I skipped my MSU grad ceremony too ... just because I don't like those things and didn't feel any real need for it, only I didn't try to make anything out of it. What's the difference?

Sat, 05/05/2018 - 11:24pm

Dr. McGill had a relevant point to be made by opting out of the ceremony; you didn’t. Respect her journey; address her point: MSU needs to take sexual harassment seriously and there is a continuing perception that it isn’t.

Sun, 05/06/2018 - 12:51pm

Matt this is not about you

Brian Mackie
Mon, 05/07/2018 - 11:09am

Dr. McGill,
Congratulations to you on this achievement. I am sorry that you experienced harassment and that you were not given the support you deserved after doing everything right. Coursework, researching and writing should have been the hardest part of this journey.
TheTrustees and two presidents are ethical infants who have disgraced themselves, but they cannot diminish what you have accomplished. The pain caused by these people will live on, true, but, ultimately, they cannot bring down a great institution. Good people like you will not let that happen.