State officials are asking the Wayne State Board of Governors for a decision they haven’t been able to agree upon for almost six months.
In ongoing private talks, the BOG is attempting to create a code of conduct in lieu of an upcoming progress examination from the Higher Learning Commission, the university’s accreditation agency.
The HLC gave the board until March 24 to report its progress toward adopting the code, among other requests.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and other state officials publicly urged the board to pass a code of conduct in a letter delivered Feb. 26. State officials recommend the board pass a code at the March 20 meeting, ahead of the HLC’s evaluation.
“We strongly urge you to adopt one code of conduct, acceptable to the Higher Learning Commission at your next meeting. Discuss it. Refine it. Let every member's voice be heard. But please adopt it and commit yourself to it,” the letter reads.
In a series of private meetings, the board has been developing a code of conduct, according to BOG Chair Marilyn Kelly and Sandra Hughes O’Brien. However, neither party was able to guarantee a March 20 code of conduct.
“We’ll do our very best,” said Governor Kelly, who publicly thanked Whitmer for the letter in a statement.
The board remains divided.
Governors O’Brien, Michael Busuito, Dana Thompson and Anil Kumar still favor the removal of President M Roy Wilson. Governors Kelly, Bryan Barnhill and Mark Gaffney are supportive of Wilson. Governor Shirley Stancato, a newcomer serving the remainder of former chair Kim Trent’s term, has not yet made her views public.
“Stancato has been a very calming source,” O’Brien said. “Nobody is yelling at each other. This isn’t a repeat of what was happening last year.”
Since January, the board has been working through drafts during bylaw subcommittee meetings, Kelly and O’Brien said. The anti-Wilson governors rejected the original proposed code of conduct at the September and December meetings. That code of conduct lacked input from the anti-Wilson members, O’Brien said. At the Jan. 30 meeting, it didn’t make the agenda.
“We didn’t put it on the agenda because we don’t have the votes to pass it,” Kelly said. “So we’ve been working hard in committee to see if we can come to an agreement on provisions.”
There are key provisions in the code that the board is still working to reach a compromise. The current draft has paragraphs that “some of us see as stifling our First Amendment speech” in what they’re allowed to say about President Wilson, said O’Brien.
Another source of contention was the proposed rule, “whereby the board would take action against a member who violated it. A penalty provision,” Kelly said.
However, the board agreed to remove that measure in February, according to O’Brien.
“There is no warfare between us,” O’Brien said. “We already are working. We have productive sessions. It might have been better for (state officials) to reach out to us first.”
Jack Thomas is a correspondent for The South End. He can be reached at email@example.com
Cover photo by Jonathan Deschaine.