The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Michigan Deserves Answers
As the collective outrage inevitably begins to wane in the aftermath of MSU’s botched efforts to effectively address campus sexual assault, there remain serious questions about who will be selected to lead MSU as the permanent MSU president and how that person will lead.
Michigan’s citizens need answers about how survivors will be made whole, what efforts will be championed to ensure a safe campus and accountable leadership and what MSU will look like in 5 years. Interim leadership – by its nature – is temporary and is not well positioned for compensating survivors, healing a divided campus and leading a strategy to restore trust with Michigan’s citizens. There needs to be a tough conversation about securing a permanent president at MSU, how that individual will engage with the campus community and what sort of future that individual will chart. It is time to begin that discussion.
Having this discussion and getting this decision right is of utmost importance, especially given the increasingly complicated nature of MSU’s budget and the ramifications that any permanent President’s budgetary priorities will place on survivors, the MSU community and Michigan’s taxpayers.
Some background: the university has always been on the short end of the stick when it comes to federal and state appropriations, historically receiving approximately $3,200/pupil less than WSU, $2,400/pupil less than U of M and $3,600/pupil less than its Big 10 peers (MSU Office of Planning and Budgets, 2017-18 Budget Development Presentation, Page 4). Correcting this discrepancy is long overdue, but MSU shouldn’t expect to receive a cent more from state or federal sources to make up this difference until it has earned back the public trust that has been broken. Attempting to derail a long overdue package of bills aimed at addressing systemic sexual violence with threats of tax and/or tuition increases does not help MSU’s case in correcting this deficiency.
Irrespective of the costly legal maneuvers pursued by MSU, costs to respond to, fulfill and process survivor claims will be in the hundreds of millions; costs to develop and implement programs to ensure MSU is the national leader in sexual assault awareness, prevention and response will be in the tens of millions; costs to restore a sense of safety and trust in administration will be still more millions. These costs will be necessary for doing right by the many leadership at MSU has wronged, healing a divided campus and restoring public confidence in the university.
As a former MSU campus leader and liaison to the MSU Board of Trustees, I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to leadership styles and how they use budgets to advance their priorities.
“As a business leader who relies on MSU talent, as a MSU alumnus who wants to see integrity restored to MSU and as a Michigan citizen who has to justify yet another reputational hit to our state, I am acutely aware of need to get this hire right; I am deeply concerned about the lack of discussion regarding what this process looks like and when it will happen.”
The good leaders are courageous. They scour a budget: looking across discretionary line items for waste, questioning third-party contracts, postponing costly construction projects, nixing vanity projects and leveraging sacred cows – such as investment returns on MSU’s $3.0 billion endowment and its $130 million/year athletics budget – for additional resources. They invest in their students, faculty and staff; recognizing that they are the central assets to the vitality of the campus community, the quality of an MSU education and the value of an MSU degree. They have a robust feedback loop with students, faculty and staff, leaving their door open to constructive criticism and critique. They use this feedback loop to advance a vision that is inclusive, meaningful and clear.
The bad leaders are indifferent. They leave the budgeting to the accountants and offer little in terms of vision or direction. Their sole purpose: self preservation. Their mantra: delegation and deference. Their output: mediocrity.
The ugly leaders are rabid cost cutters. They hide behind promises of low tuition and excuses of decreased state appropriations to hack away at core programs, services and commitments. The systematic outsourcing that left Michigan state and local governments dealing with poor services and unsubstantiated savings will extend to MSU, with lucrative contracts to operate on-campus housing, food services, physical plants and parking services offered to political insiders; the meager wage increases enjoyed by faculty and educators, who are already amongst the lowest paid in the Big 10 (MSU Office of Planning and Budgets, Budget Planning April 2017, page 15-17) easy targets for a symbolic haircut; long overdue investments in student support services, student life and programs to protect the vulnerable and empower those who have been silenced pushed down the road until business conditions improve. The output: a university whose purpose is to enrich the well-connected few, whose future reeks of mediocrity and whose fundamental flaws remain unfixed.
As a business leader who relies on MSU talent, as a MSU alumnus who wants to see integrity restored to MSU and as a Michigan citizen who has to justify yet another reputational hit to our state, I am acutely aware of need to get this hire right; I am deeply concerned about the lack of discussion regarding what this process looks like and when it will happen. Michigan’s citizens have an opportunity to identify and recruit a courageous leader for MSU who will make the hard decisions necessary to support survivors and set a sorely needed new vision for MSU. Now, more than ever, MSU needs a President that is good. We have had enough of the bad and the ugly.