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MSU President Samuel Stanley resigns, citing board meddling

 Samuel Stanley Jr.
Michigan State University President Samuel Stanley Jr. is resigning after weeks of conflict with the Board of Trustees. Stanley started as president in August 2019. (University Communications at Michigan State University)
  • Stanley and the board have been at odds over the resignation of a business school dean and disputes over Title IX certification reports 
  • Stanley said he, like faculty and student government groups, no longer has confidence in the board  
  • He is the third MSU president in five years to leave for issues related to the school’s handling of sexual misconduct cases

Michigan State University President Samuel Stanley Jr. is resigning, saying in a YouTube video posted Thursday that he had “lost confidence” in MSU’s Board of Trustees. He accused trustees of micromanaging his day-to-day leadership of the school. 

Stanley said his resignation was “not an easy decision.”

“But I, like the Michigan State University Faculty Senate, and Associated Students of Michigan State University, have lost confidence in the action of the current Board of Trustees. And I cannot in good conscience continue to serve this board as constituted.”

Stanley and the Board of Trustees have been at odds in recent months over issues related to Title IX compliance and the forced resignation of the business school dean, which Stanley had a role in. 

"The actions of the campus over the past month have shown the world that Michigan State University will not accept micromanagement by board members of the operations of this great institution, and that we will hold individuals, no matter what their rank, accountable for their actions," he said. 

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Stanley said he delivered the board a 90-day notice of his intent to resign, in keeping with the terms of his contract.

His contract allows him to return to faculty as a tenured member of the College of Human Medicine. School spokesperson Emily Gerkin Guerrant told Bridge Michigan that Stanley is awaiting a response from the board. 

Thursday afternoon, trustees released a short statement saying it “appreciates” Stanley’s service.

“President Stanley arrived at a difficult time and provided steady leadership to guide us forward while the entire world was experiencing severe disruption and uncertainty. The Board of Trustees will work cooperatively with President Stanley during this transition and more details will be shared with the campus community as information is available.”

The statement did not address the president's criticism of trustees. 

Stanley is the third MSU president to be forced from office because of Title IX-related sexual-misconduct issues in the last five years. Tension with a faction of the board had been brewing for weeks, and erupted into public view in September, exposing division among the trustees. 

Some board members accused the president of fumbling the certification process for Title IX reports to the state, an issue of critical importance on the East Lansing campus following its mishandling of the Larry Nassar sexual assault scandal. Nassar was sent to prison in 2018

In the aftermath of Nassar’s prosecution, the state began requiring Michigan university presidents or chancellors to sign a form annually certifying that they, along with at least one university board member, reviewed all Title IX reports involving sex-based misconduct allegations. 

One trustee accused Stanley of signing the form without properly confirming a full review was conducted. 

Stanley insists he fulfilled his Title IX obligations but acknowledged he had recently learned someone on the board may not have fully complied with their 2021 requirements.

On Sept. 30, the board released an audit finding the school’s process of reviewing Title IX information had  “weaknesses” and provided several recommendations on how to improve processes. The copy of the audit redacted names of people involved in the Title IX compliance process.

Stanley re-certified to the state that the university had met its requirements for fiscal year 2021 “out of an abundance of caution,” the board said in a statement that accompanied the audit release. 

The board has also questioned how Stanley and Provost Teresa Woodruff handled the sudden departure this summer of business school dean Sanjay Gupta. The university said Gupta resigned, but board Vice Chair Dan Kelly said Gupta was removed, a decision “implemented by the provost of the university with the support of the president.”

Crain’s Detroit Business reported at the time that Gupta’s departure was related to an alleged incident in which a business school faculty leader was intoxicated at a party for MBA students and inappropriately danced and touched some students. The report said Gupta was notified of the incident but did not report it, as required. 

The board has hired an outside firm to investigate how the university handled the issue. Last week, Woodruff, the provost, sent a sharply worded letter criticizing the firm’s handling of the investigation. 

“These aggressive and unparalleled actions are causing harm to individuals and creating a chilling effect over work that is difficult,” the letter said. Woodruff also said the board’s actions were harming the reputation of MSU. 

The Faculty Senate, by a 55-4 vote, stated Tuesday it had “no confidence in the board of trustees. (Though The Detroit Free Press reported that several business school professors said they support the board’s decision to hire an outside firm to investigate Gupta’s departure.) 

The Associated Students of Michigan State University, the undergraduate student government organization, likewise released a vote of no-confidence against the board. Both the faculty and student organizations have criticized the board for not being more transparent about their oversight of Stanley’s performance. 

Stanley has been MSU president since August 2019. 

Longtime university president Lou Anna K. Simon resigned in January 2018 after mounting criticism of how she handled the Nassar scandal. A year later, former Republican Gov. John Engler resigned from the interim president position at MSU after facing strong criticism for his handling of the Nassar scandal and his treatment of some Nassar victims.

Satish Udpa served as acting president for the university between Engler’s and Stanley’s terms.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a two-time MSU graduate, said Thursday that Stanley has been “wonderful to work with.”

“I'm concerned about it, both as a Spartan and as the governor of the state,” she told reporters at a campaign event. “They're going to need to have great leadership. I thought, I thought they had great leadership. And now, obviously, there will be a change there, but I'll be watching very closely. I'm concerned about it.”

In the nearly five-minute video posted to social media, Stanley listed several accomplishments during his tenure, including managing the COVID-19 crisis on campus, the opening of the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams, increased donations at the University and the administration’s progress on diversity matters and issues related to sexual misconduct.

Michigan State University has an enrollment of about 50,000 students this fall.

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