Wayne State University’s board dysfunction has led to an ongoing public battle among the university’s eight-member board of governors.
Wayne State University and the Detroit Jewish community have had a long and mutually beneficial relationship. For Jewish immigrants, their children and grandchildren, Wayne was the affordable, high-quality pathway to achieving the American Dream. Virtually every Detroit-area Jewish family included at least one member who earned a Wayne degree.
In return, the Jewish community has provided Wayne with supportive and generous alumni, contributing philanthropic dollars to assist students with scholarships, faculty with grants for their research and endowments for entire program centers. Sixteen of the school’s buildings carry the names of prominent Jewish Detroiters.
Therefore, the ongoing public battle among the university’s eight-member board of governors — with half of its members aligned with its President, M. Roy Wilson, and half seeking his ouster — is disheartening and an embarrassing case study in dysfunctional board governance. The board’s polarization is reflective of our poisoned political climate, where being willing to disagree without being disagreeable has been eclipsed by certitude that one side — your side — is the sole possessor of truth.
Candidates to the Wayne State University Board of Governors are selected by their political parties at nominating conventions for inclusion on the statewide ticket. They are listed “down ballot,” where name recognition is almost non-existent. It is not a place where any Wayne governor can claim to represent the “will of the people.” Many candidates selected by their nominating conventions to serve on Wayne’s board have excellent credentials and a sincere interest in the school. However, others are chosen for purely political considerations, including as consolation prizes for being passed over for other positions.
The result? A university growing in stature and impact — locally and nationally — being compromised by board members entrusted with its mission. Is there room for disagreement and debate about President Wilson’s tenure? Absolutely. Has he come up short of expectations in some areas of his job description and exceeded them on others? Likely. But publicly claiming he is unfit to serve? Publicly professing that he is unable to execute the ideals and the will of four of the eight board members and must be removed from his office now?
Would it be any wonder that students will be reluctant to enroll at Wayne? That candidates for faculty appointments will be less likely to accept them? That legislators in Lansing will use this to justify Wayne receiving an even smaller share of the higher education allocation pie?
It should be no surprise that “relationship counseling” among board members has been unsuccessful. Ultimately, the balance of power on the board may have to wait until the November 2020 election. Two governors have terms that expire in December of 2020. Would it be too much to ask the political parties to nominate candidates for the Wayne board in a more thoughtful manner?
Meanwhile, the current board and administration should receive some assigned reading … Dale Carnegie’s Abraham Lincoln-influenced classic How to Win Friends and Influence People. His “don’t criticize, condemn or complain” mantra sounds so innocent these days, but remains timeless advice. Board members who truly have the best interests of Wayne and its students at heart would be wise to embrace it, and the humbleness that it requires.