MSU Academic Governance Update from Dr. Karen Kelly-Blake

October 20, 2022

Dear Faculty and Academic Staff, 

Like many of you, I was disheartened to learn of President Stanley’s resignation, and I wish him all the best in his next endeavors.  

Current events have been deflating for many of us, and I write today to assure you that no matter how this situation unfolds, the Faculty Senate leadership is resolved to engage in the hard and necessary work of academic governance—defending academic freedom, pushing for greater transparency, and ensuring that MSU upholds its mission.  

What’s Happening 

The last several weeks have been frustrating and disorienting due to the lack of available information. It is difficult to follow various media reports and try to piece together conflicting statements describing palace intrigue; you shouldn’t have to do that just to understand the health of your workplace. Faculty Senator and University Committee on Academic Governance Jack Lipton has created a helpful video laying out his understanding of the situation and his view of why the stakes are so high. 

For those who would benefit from a more cursory overview, I offer the following:  

  • For reasons that vary from trustee to trustee, a majority of the Board of Trustees wanted President Stanley to retire before his contract expired in 2024. When news of discussions to that effect leaked to the press on September 11 (and when the press somewhat misleadingly said that the trustees had told Stanley to resign or be fired within days), much of the MSU community was left confused and worried.
  • Rather than having an open conversation with the community about the situation, members of the Board of Trustees prioritized their personal interests and selectively made individual comments to the press. Media reports indicated that the board’s dissatisfaction with Stanley stemmed from his support of the provost forcing a popular dean to resign for failing to comply with mandatory RVSM reporting requirements and for failing to take appropriate administrative actions after learning of an RVSM incident involving a subordinate. Other media reports cited an issue related to Title IX certifications to the state of Michigan; the details are complex, but suffice it to say that it is difficult to imagine how the behavior described could warrant a president’s early departure. 
  • Although the trustees have never said that the matter involving a dean’s forced resignation is what led to the uncertain terms of the president’s employment, an investigation into the circumstances by an outside law firm was announced in an unsigned statement from “an overwhelming majority of the board members” on August 30. 
  • On September 13, Faculty Senate passed two resolutions by wide margins that called for the board to be more transparent, to refrain from inappropriate involvement in academic management, and to undergo professional development with a governance firm. One resolution began as a vote of no confidence, but the Faculty Senate amended it to give the Board of Trustees a chance to realize they were inflicting harm on the university and to reverse course. 
  • In the month that followed, the trustees continued fighting with one another, embarrassing themselves and our institution in the press, and failing to ease tensions due to their own dysfunction. Furthermore, the board refused to end its investigation into the administration’s decision-making on the ex-dean's resignation despite repeated urging from students, faculty leaders, and the administration. 
  • In a bold act of courage, the Associated Students of Michigan State University voted no confidence in the Board of Trustees on October 6 by a vote of 21 to 0, citing the board’s chaotic approach to governance and inappropriate involvement in academic personnel decisions. 
  • On October 11, Faculty Senate voted no confidence in the Board of Trustees 55 to 4 for similar reasons, emphasizing that the investigation into the provost’s decision on the forced resignation of a dean was outside the trustees’ role; rather than engage with Faculty Senate on the substance of the issue, the Board of Trustees sent a bizarre, unsigned document (which was not on letterhead or otherwise identifiable as an official communication) to all faculty and staff mere minutes before the Faculty Senate meeting began. In that document, written by the board’s outside legal counsel, the board asserted expansive authority over the governance of the institution and dismissed the idea of ending the investigation. This same legal counsel directly contacted faculty, executive administrators, and general counsel staff for lengthy interviews regarding the resignation of Dr. Gupta. This is unacceptable; external legal counsel must first contact university general counsel before contacting university employees.  
  • It isn't exactly clear what led President Stanley to share on October 13 that he would resign 90 days later, but in his video announcement, he said that he, “like the Michigan State University Faculty Senate and Associated Students of Michigan State University, [had] lost confidence in the current Board of Trustees” and could not “continue to serve this board as constituted.” It took the board nearly five hours to issue a perfunctory, three-sentence response that was sorely lacking in substance. 
  • On Tuesday, October 18, the University Council (which is composed of the Faculty Senate, deans, high-level administrators, and both undergraduate and graduate student representatives) voted no confidence in the Board of Trustees by a vote of 85 to 6, making it clear that virtually every group of stakeholders in our academic community condemns the trustees’ actions. 

Why It Matters 

The Michigan State University Board of Trustees has continued to destabilize the university through its lack of transparency, failed leadership, continued gross overreach, and violation of its own code of ethics. This chaos will be detrimental to the university’s ability to attract quality candidates for the presidency, as well as future faculty, staff, and students. The trustees are actively endangering Michigan State University’s accreditation, bond rating, and efforts to attract excellent personnel. The reputation of the university, which had already been tainted enough, is once again marred by failures in leadership at the highest level: the Board of Trustees. 

If we do not stand up to a board that believes it can involve itself in academic management with impunity and assert expansive authority over the governance of MSU, then we risk broader and deeper encroachment into the belly of this university. To keep the academy free, we must resist the board’s actions and continue to hold them accountable. 

What’s Next 

  • The Academic Congress, which is composed of nearly 3,500 voting-eligible faculty and academic staff, will be next to consider a vote of no confidence in the Board of Trustees. A Qualtrics ballot will be distributed to eligible voters this afternoon, and it will remain open until October 27 at 5:00 p.m. ET.
  • The five at-large members of the Steering Committee met with the Board of Trustees and other faculty leaders last night to discuss the characteristics and qualities we believe the interim president must have to successfully guide this institution through what will likely be a long presidential search. We welcome the opportunity and expect to collaborate in this process. The board is finalizing its process, and the trustees indicated that they expect to identify an interim president between October 28 and Thanksgiving. They plan to meet on Monday, October 24 to firm up their planning. If you have any thoughts on the desired qualifications of an interim president, please email them to before 6:00 p.m. ET on Friday, October 21.  
  • Michiganders will elect two members of the Board of Trustees next month, but the trustees are not the only reason to get out and vote on November 8! I strongly encourage everyone to cast ballots in this momentous election, as does the University Council, which passed a resolution introduced by ASMSU leadership encouraging Spartans to vote. We are fortunate to have a satellite office of the East Lansing City Clerk located on campus from October 10 until Election on November 8; please be aware of this unique and convenient option. More information on voting and other resources can be found at 
  • We will continue with the work of academic governance. The Faculty Senate will be holding a meeting on November 15, and the University Council on November 22. Once agendas have been developed, they will be sent to you alongside an invitation to watch those meetings via livestream. 
  • Finally, the Center for Higher and Adult Education will be hosting a teach-in about academic governance on Friday, October 21 from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. ET. I recommend that everyone attend and learn more about academic governance, whether in person or by livestream. Additional information about the event, including a list of speakers, can be found here.  

Final Comments 

These are indeed challenging times, and the path forward may seem unclear. But we know our path forward—it is to engage in robust academic governance. And as we continue to call on the trustees to do their work and only their work, I trust that you will continue to do your work: focusing on educational continuity, expanding our understanding of the world through cutting-edge research, and teaching students to be rigorous scholars and engaged global citizens. We must stand amid the storm. This is the work we must do. 

Best regards,

Dr. Karen Kelly-Blake
Chair | Faculty Senate and University Steering Committee
Associate Director of Academic Programming and Associate Professor | Center for Bioethics and Social Justice
Associate Professor | Department of Medicine | College of Human Medicine