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Wayne State University president M. Roy Wilson will step down next summer

M. Roy Wilson will step down as president of Wayne State University at the end of July 2023. He told Bridge he still wants to tackle a few projects in the year he has left but declined to name them. (Shutterstock photo by Susan Montgomery)

  • M. Roy Wilson will step down as Wayne State University president at the end of July 2023 after 10 years 
  • Wilson is credited with significantly improving the school’s graduation rate 
  • He has faced sharp criticism from some board members in the past

Wayne State University President M. Roy Wilson will step down from his role next summer, the university announced Monday. 

Wilson has been the president since August 2013 and his contract will expire next July 31. 

In an email to university employees Monday, Wilson wrote that “while my energy and passion for academic leadership is as strong as ever, I realize that 10 of those (30) years will have been at Wayne State, and that seems like an optimum duration — long enough to accomplish most goals and short enough to not tempt complacency — to serve as university president.”  

He said he does not intend to retire and is “excited about adding several interesting and productive chapters” to his career, according to the email. 

During Wilson’s time at the helm, the university has improved its six-year graduation rate. Wilson told Bridge Michigan in an interview Monday he is also proud of many real estate projects including the new basketball arena, renovations to the student center and building new student housing

“[A] year is a long time,” he said. “And I think that Wayne State in a year is going to be in (an) even stronger position than it is now. And I'm looking forward to tackling some of these big projects over the year.”

Wilson said he still has projects he wants to achieve before leaving but did not provide details on what those would be. He said the university faces three major challenges that he and the next president will need to address: 

  • Changing medical landscape: Wilson pointed to hospital systems becoming larger through mergers while smaller hospitals are closing and there are staffing shortages at the Detroit Medical Center. He said the university will need to be strategic in ensuring the medical school thrives as the medical field changes. 
  • Declining college enrollment: With Michigan having fewer high school graduates overall than before, Michigan’s public universities find themselves in a more competitive market. Wilson said he believes the university has several unique things to offer including an urban research environment and access to professional programs.
  • Financial stability: Wilson said the university’s endowment is somewhere over $500 million and the university should aim to double that amount. 

Board member Bryan Barnhill told Bridge he is “saddened” to hear Wilson won’t pursue a contract extension.

“I would say we're on a course toward addressing the graduation rate gaps between students of color and also low-income students,” Barnhill said. “That work must continue. It's near and dear to the university administration as well as all the board members.”

For students who entered Wayne State University in Fall 2015, Black or African American students had a six-year graduation rate of 34.6 percent whereas white students had a 54.6 percent six-year graduation rate.

Barnhill and Board Chair Mark Gaffney told Bridge that a big priority is ensuring financial stability and that the state provides enough funding for the university.

“I think that state government has always understood the importance of higher education,” Gaffney said. “But I think that the importance of funding it has been a second question for the legislature and previous governors. This governor has been good and helpful to us.”

Wilson has faced criticism from some members of the eight-member Board of Governors. There was tension in fall 2018 when the board was discussing its medical school partnerships and then in November 2019, four board members voted to to fire Wilson during a subcommittee meeting but Wilson and other board members said the vote wasn’t valid. Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office weighed in and ultimately, Wilson stayed

Board member Michael Busuito has previously been critical of Wilson, but told Bridge Monday that over the last couple years Wilson has “been a pleasure to work with.” 

Busuito said he understands that the role of a president is tough and acknowledged reporting that demonstrates college presidents are staying in their roles for less time. He said he hopes  the university prioritizes preserving the medical school’s reputation. 

“We had our turbulent times,” he said. “It's not a secret. It was in the press. But you know, he adapted, we adapted and we came together. And it's been for the good of the university and I think his heart’s in whatever's best for the university.”

Like Busuito, Vice Chair Shirley Stancato said it is important the next leader understands the prominent role the medical school plays in the university. She also said the law and pharmacy schools are important too. 

She said she wants to ensure the school stays committed to student social mobility and serving local students as well. 

“I think a lot of universities, if you look around Detroit, have eyed Detroit as a good place to be ーto get students ーand so our role has to continue to be that university that attracts first generation college students.”

Gaffney said he isn’t sure when the university will begin its search for a new president but the process will begin “soon is all I know.” 

Barnhill said he is “open to a diverse set of experiences and backgrounds” in finding a successor to Wilson, but he also wants to know what administration, faculty and students want in their next president.

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