Michigan State president resigns, saying he lost confidence in trustees

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Dive Brief:

  • Dr. Samuel Stanley resigned as Michigan State University’s president Thursday, culminating a month-long drama that saw some trustees trying to force him out early as chief executive of the prominent public institution. 
  • Stanley said in a video message he lost confidence in the trustee board, which he and faculty alleged had overstepped into academic affairs. The university’s faculty senate this week voted no confidence in the board, citing an investigation trustees began into the handling of sexual misconduct reports.
  • His resignation is effective Jan. 11. Stanley, who was hired in 2019, will become the third Michigan State president to depart in about four years as the university reels from the sting of a major sexual abuse scandal.

Dive Insight:

Michigan State still feels the fallout of the Larry Nassar case, in which the former sports doctor was convicted several years ago of sexually assaulting dozens of gymnasts and other athletes. 

The scandal toppled two Michigan State presidents: Lou Anna Simon, who resigned in 2018 amid accusations officials knew of Nassar’s abuse but did not do enough to stop it, and John Engler, a former Michigan governor who was serving on an interim basis but stepped down early after making insensitive remarks about survivors of Nassar’s crimes.

Simon also faced criminal charges for allegedly lying to investigators, though they were eventually dropped. 

Michigan’s Legislature also acted, requiring a public college’s president or chancellor, as well as one member of its governing board, to review all reports of sexual misconduct that involve an employee and certify them to the state. 

The campaign by some Michigan State trustees to oust Stanley centered on this certification. Those board members alleged Stanley falsely confirmed sexual misconduct reports to the state last year before the panel could review them. 

Stanley pushed back on this accusation, maintaining he correctly assessed and signed the documents, only for some trustees to fail in their part of the process. 

The board had also hired an outside law firm to investigate the recent departure of Sanjay Gupta, the university’s former business school dean, who allegedly failed to report another university official getting drunk at a party and inappropriately touching at least one student. Gupta was forced to resign. 

Tensions mounted between the academic wing of the university and trustees, with the faculty senate this week saying the board’s actions “continued to destabilize the university.” The senate’s no-confidence measure passed with an overwhelming 55-4 vote, though it’s largely symbolic, as the body has no power to kick out the state-elected trustees. 

The trustee board in a written statement Thursday pledged to “work cooperatively” with Stanley during the transition.

“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 statement said.

Stanley will not receive any compensation after he departs, nor will he join the faculty ranks — even though his contract allows him to become a faculty member, Michigan State spokesperson Dan Olsen said in an email. 

In the video message, Stanley applauded progress the university made in the past several years, including “sweeping changes” to Title IX processes that center on minimizing trauma to sexual abuse survivors. Title IX is the law banning sex-based discrimination, including sexual violence, in federally funded schools. 

Michigan State entered into an agreement with the U.S. Department of Education in 2019 to overhaul its Title IX procedures, such as by employing a consultant for three academic years to monitor the processes. 

Stanley expressed optimism about students and employees maintaining “the fundamentals” of campus values and took a jab at trustees, saying “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.”

Prior to arriving at Michigan State in 2019, Stanley was president of Stony Brook University, in Long Island. He signed a contract in 2021 that raised his annual salary to $960,000. His contract expired in 2024.

This brief has been updated with a comment from the Michigan State University board of trustees.

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