“YOU HAVE SAT TOO LONG HERE FOR ANY GOOD YOU HAVE BEEN
DOING. DEPART, I SAY, AND LET US HAVE DONE WITH YOU. IN THE
NAME OF GOD, GO.” — Oliver Cromwell to England’s Rump Parliament, 1653
— Member of Parliament Leo Amery, repeating Cromwell’s words to British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlin, 1940
— MP David Davis, again repeating Cromwell’s words to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, 2022
That often-repeated Cromwellian quotation of outrage toward inept public officials and institutions
likely finds a responsive audience here in Michigan today.
The hard truth is that Michigan State University’s Board of Trustees is dysfunctional.
Michiganders, be they MSU alumni or not, Spartan fans or not, are disgusted by the continued
turmoil on the banks of the Red Cedar.
Nine long years have passed since a 2014 Title IX complaint was filed launching an investigation
into what became the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal. Its fallout was devastating, it played a role
in the resignations of two Presidents — Lou Anna Simon and Samuel Stanley — and one
interim President, John Engler. Now, another sexual harassment scandal involving head football coach
Mel Tucker may bring down another interim President, Teresa Woodruff, who disclaimed any knowledge
of the details of the Tucker complaint until she read them in the pages of USA Today.
Some MSU Trustees say they were out of the loop. Other MSU Trustees, much like Woodruff,
said they deliberately avoided knowing the details of the Tucker complaint in order to maintain their
objectivity. The Board of Trustees has yet to collectively meet to discuss the Tucker matter.
Is this another example of speak no evil, hear no evil, see no evil?
The Board of Trustees has an Audit, Risk, and Compliance Committee (ARC). What has the
ARC Committee been doing since December 2022, when the complaint was first filed against Tucker?
What was the role of the ARC Committee and the Board when they hired outside legal counsel
to investigate the complaint? What was the role of the ARC Committee and the Board when that
outside report was received in July? Did the Board have any role in the decision to keep that outside report
under seal and, by doing so, ‘green light’ Tucker to coach the team in preseason camp and the
first two football games in September before the USA Today article was published, leading to
his suspension without pay and, ultimately, his being fired?
Did some, all, or none of the Trustees, breach their fiduciary duty to MSU and the people of the
state of Michigan as Board members?
Governor Whitmer, an MSU alumna, says she wants answers. She can if she has the will.
Remember, SPARTANS WILL is the theme of her alma mater’s promotional ad aired at halftime
during MSU football games.
Retired Lansing attorney Bob LaBrant, an expert in constitutional law, notes that Article V, Section 10, of the
1963 Michigan Constitution provides:
“The governor shall have the power and it shall be his duty to inquire into the condition and
administration of any public office and the acts of any public officer, elective or appointive. He
may remove or suspend from office for gross neglect of duty or for corrupt conduct in office, or
for any other misfeasance or malfeasance therein, any elective or appointive state officer,
except legislative or judicial, and shall report the reasons for such removal or suspension to the
Article 5, Section 10, has been codified into the Michigan Election Code. The statute (MCL
168.293) provides that a state university board member subject to removal be served with a
written notice of the charges against him and be afforded an opportunity for a public hearing
conducted personally by the governor.
Article V, Section 11, provides for provisional appointments to fill vacancies due to suspension:
“The governor may make provisional appointment to fill a vacancy occasioned by the
suspension of an appointed or elected officer, other than a legislative or judicial officer, until he
is reinstated or until the vacancy is filled in the manner prescribed by law or this constitution.”
Under the 1850 Constitution Governor John Rich in 1894 removed and replaced the Secretary of
State, state Treasurer, and state Land Commissioner. Why? Because those three officials at the time
acted as the Board of state Canvassers, which falsified the results of an 1893 state ballot question amending
the constitution to give state officers a hike in salary when, in fact, the proposal was actually
defeated. Those removals were upheld by the Michigan Supreme Court in Attorney General ex
rel. Rich v Jochim, 99 Mich 358 (1894).
Under the 1908 Constitution, Governor Alexander Groesbeck in 1926 removed the state
Superintendent of Public Instruction for accepting additional compensation beyond that of his
state salary. That removal was also upheld by the Michigan Supreme Court.
In December 2002, the month before Governor Engler’s term was to expire, he called a removal
hearing against John F. Kelly, a former four-term state senator, who in 1998 was elected to the
Wayne State University Board of Governors. Engler cited in his call for a removal hearing a
conflict-of-interest he saw with WSU governor Kelly serving at the same time as General
Counsel and Vice President at the Detroit Medical College (DMC), affiliated with Wayne State
Before the removal hearing was held, Governor Kelly took the hint and resigned from the
Wayne State University Board of Governors. Governor Engler named prominent Detroit attorney
Eugene Driker to replace Kelly on the WSU board.
Governor Whitmer has the power to investigate and hopefully uncover the underlying causes of
the Board of Trustees dysfunction. She also has the power to clean house, to suspend or remove
Trustees and name their replacements. She may find some, all, or none of the current Trustees
either neglected their clear duty as a Trustee or committed malfeasance or misfeasance.
Michigan’s 1963 Constitution enshrines partisan politics in the governance of the state’s Big
Three universities: the University of Michigan Board of Regents, Michigan State University Board
of Trustees, and Wayne State University Board of Governors.
UM and WSU have also experienced board dysfunction of their own this past decade with regard to
presidential replacements and the development of factions.
Each of the Big Three has an eight-member board, elected in staggered eight-year terms on a
partisan ballot. Those university governing boards have candidates nominated at state political
party conventions. Historically, major interest groups (e.g., organized labor, Farm Bureau, MEA,
Right to Life, abortion rights groups, LBGTQ organizations, etc.) in each party seek a say in who is
nominated for those boards. Generally, governing board elections are low key, with little campaign
spending because the party nominees for these educational governing boards have low name recognition
and win if their party’s candidate for president or governor carries the state.
Contrast the Big Three boards with the selection of members serving on the governing boards at the other
Michigan state universities such as Western Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Central Michigan,
Northern Michigan, Michigan Tech, Grand Valley, Saginaw Valley, and Lake Superior where
the governor appoints those members.
If the legislature can pass a joint resolution to place on the ballot a proposed amendment to the constitution
to modify a controversial issue like term limits and avoid a costly petition drive, perhaps a constitutional amendment
in this current climate of educational board disgust can be placed on the ballot with the necessary 2/3 vote
in the legislature to eliminate partisan educational governing board elections and replace them with a system used
in most other states. In almost all other states, flagship public universities are governed by board members appointed
by the governor, not by election. In fact, Michigan is the ONLY state that elects statewide the members of the governing
boards of its major research universities. Three states (Colorado, Nebraska, and Nevada) elect their governing boards
Maybe a more realistic alternative for reform of our dysfunctional Big Three boards would be to take advantage
of the flexibility written into Article 8, Section 5. Each board (U-M, MSU, and WSU) is required by the constitution
only to consist of eight members whose terms of office are eight years and SHALL BE ELECTED AS PROVIDED BY LAW
(meaning, by action of the legislature).
That means the legislature, with a simple majority vote in each chamber and with the signature of Governor Whitmer, can change Michigan’s election law to provide for nonpartisan elections or election of Big Three board members by districts. That’s not a stretch. We already have in place, by law, four Court of Appeals districts of nearly equal population drawn along county boundary lines. Those current districts could be used to amend the law to stagger the election of university board members so that each district could elect two UM, MSU and WSU board members allocated to it.
In 2008, then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm initiated removal proceedings against embattled Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. She held one hearing, after which Kilpatrick threw in the towel. Everyone cheered.
So, now, will Gov. Whitmer pull the trigger against the MSU board and then request the Democrat-controlled Legislature, perhaps with Republican help, to finish the job of fixing Michigan’s broken university board system?
Not a chance. Whitmer would never further humiliate her alma mater by taking removal action against the MSU board. She also wouldn’t want to deflect attention away from her aggressive but uncompleted legislative agenda. Besides, there’s the chance she might compromise any national aspirations she may have.
Also, Democrats have majority control of the MSU board and all of the other three statewide education panels — U-M, WSU and the state Board of Education — as they have for most of the past seven decades. No political party takes points off the board. Democratic lawmakers don’t want to end the careers of their statewide fellow elected officials. Even with Whitmer’s urging, majority Democrats in the legislature would balk.