Address to WSU Board of Governors 9/23

(author – Fran Shor; posted by Art Myatt)

Thank you for the opportunity to address this body. My name is Francis Shor and I am an Emeritus Professor in History at WSU. During my forty years as a faculty member here, I believe I only addressed the Board once – in 2007 when it was considering eliminating the special degree-granting program for working adults in which I taught. Unfortunately, the Board ratified, by a 6-2 vote, the very shortsighted proposal of the Administration. In the immediate aftermath, the university began losing students, ours included, and became a less accessible institution of higher learning for working adults and, also, African-Americans who had constituted a majority of students in our program and who we graduated at a much higher percentage than their younger cohorts in the traditional undergraduate programs at WSU.

However, I am not here to rehash an old mistake, but to address what is potentially a new mistake, albeit on the surface not as consequential.

As a retiree and less directly affected by decision-making at Wayne State, my appearance here today reflects the concerns I have as a member of the extended university community, a citizen of Michigan, and a candidate for the Board of Governors.

The proposal to raise the President’s salary to $522,000, which I understand requires a vote of the Board, requires a serious review of some of the following problems I wish to bring to the Board’s attention. My opposition to the President’s raise is not based on any animus towards the President who I believe is acting with honorable intentions to make WSU a better institution. However, I believe that the examples I will shortly cite call into question both his leadership and managerial style, a style too much in evidence in higher education as it has become increasingly corporate in its orientation.

While we all recognize how declining state support has especially hurt Wayne State, this is not the only explanation for what have been unconscionable increases in tuition, such that the sons and daughters of Michigan working families are either priced out of WSU or take on additional debt burdens to graduate with a WSU degree.

In particular, while President Wilson did not initiate the massive increase in administration positions and salary, he has done nothing to curb such administrative excess. For example, in the Medical School there are 11 Associate Deans getting a total salary of 3 million dollars. Other Administrators in the Medical School “double dip” by being part of the University Physician Group, including one Dean who receives $355,682 from UPG in addition to a WSU salary of $423,908. Maybe these outrageous salaries and redundancies account for the terrible hemorrhaging of losses from the Med School.

But it isn’t just the Medical School where salaries and positions expand almost exponentially. When a new administrative position is created, like the Associate Provost for Teaching and Learning, that person turns around and hires an Associate Director and Assistant Director. Surely, there are better, more efficient, and less bureaucratic ways to run Wayne State.

Another concern, compounded by this Administration because of its initial lack of transparency, is the Illitch School of Business. It’s still unclear what role the Board had in fully vetting this business traction. One call hardly call it a gift when the university has to raise an addition $25 million dollars to move away from campus and onto land given to the Illitches and for which they get a tax write off, make special financial concessions about timetables, and, most egregiously, surrender curricular decision-making, something which should be under the purview of the faculty.

There are numerous other issues that underscore the reason a raise is not warranted- from the continuing problems of recruitment and retention of African-American faculty and students to top-down decision making about curriculum changes, eg the math requirement.

One final point that I believe has largely gone unnoticed but raises a serious question about the concern for the health and safety of the campus community has to do with lead in the water pipes and fountains. While the university did testing in the aftermath of the tragedy in Flint, it is my understanding that the methodology used to determine the lead content in WSU water underwent the same unscientific and discredited approach used by the state’s Department of Environmental Quality.

All of these examples and more that I could cite speak to a level of mismanagement and even corporate arrogance. Indeed, I would recommend that the Board not only consider refusing to raise President Wilson’s salary but look carefully into cutting excessive salaries and administrative redundancies throughout the university. The money saved could then be used to lift the financial holds on too many seniors needing to graduate and to bulk up the financial aid for the neediest students.

Ultimately, the Board has the opportunity and responsibility to act not as a corporate board that rewards its CEO irrespective of performance, but to uphold the trust that the citizens of Michigan have placed in this body that, in the words of the Board of Governors charter, “universities remain responsible to the public at large.”

Thank you.

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