Change Coming at the Top at Several Michigan Universities

Change Coming at the Top at Several Michigan Universities
August 26, 2013/Detroit Free Press

by David Jesse

It doesn’t take M. Roy Wilson long to cover the stretch of Wayne State University’s campus between his on-campus apartment and his office in the administration building. Both are in the far northern end of the Midtown Detroit campus.

But WSU’s new president is taking in a much broader view of the campus. As Wilson heads to meeting after meeting with the university’s deans, he’s walking to their offices scattered across campus, even when he headed over to the medical school, which is off the main campus.

“I’ve been stopping as I walk, talking to faculty, students,” Wilson, who was selected as WSU’s 12th president in June, told the Free Press. “I’ve been building in extra time to make sure I can do it. It’s a good way for me to see the campus.”

As students begin to fill WSU’s campus in preparation for Wednesday’s start of classes, Wilson has had a month jump on the freshmen in terms of getting to know a new place. He has been holding two-hour-long briefings with administrators to catch up on key issues.

The challenge Wilson faces — trying to get a grasp of the history and concerns of an university while trying to keep the current school year running — is one that’s going to be repeated at multiple Michigan higher education institutions this year and next as a wave of university presidents leave and their replacements arrive.

On the way out, or already gone, are the chiefs at the University of Michigan, Oakland University, Saginaw Valley State University and the University of Michigan-Flint.

“We’re losing a lot of experience,” said Michael Boulus, the executive director of the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan. “They all left their marks on their institutions. There’s a lot of institutional memory leaving.

“We pride ourselves on our cohesiveness and sense of camaraderie. With this many new people coming in, we will have to work to continue that.”

The longest-tenured president leaving is Eric Gilbertson, who has been the president at SVSU since August 1989. He said this summer he would step down when his successor was named. A search is under way.

Also gone is Gary Russi, who left his job leading OU amid controversy over his wife, who was fired as the women’s basketball coach. An interim president has been appointed for this school year.

Ruth Person, the chancellor at U-M Flint, will leave in August 2014.

Mary Sue Coleman, the president at the University of Michigan, is to depart at the end of this school year. A search is under way for her replacement.

Whomever replaces them will have to not only learn their own university, but also develop relationships with Gov. Rick Snyder and state legislators, who set state aid amounts.

“Successful presidents can’t be one-dimensional,” Boulus said. “They have to develop relationships with all their constituents.”

In that way, Wilson has a leg up.

Before coming to WSU, Wilson was the deputy director for strategic scientific planning and program coordination at the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities of the National Institutes of Health.

He also held administrative positions at several other colleges and universities and is a noted researcher.

When he got on campus, he sent a template to administrators, seeking answers to some common questions, including asking them what kept them up late at night.

“They all said they can’t continue to keep cutting,” Wilson said. “All of them are stepping up to find alternative sources of funding. The deans are doing a lot of that fund-raising, more than normal.”

Wilson said the days of just hacking 5% off everybody’s budget across the board are gone.

“We have to become much more strategic” in what they fund and what they cut, he said.

He said he’s also going to be fund-raising and having conversations with state legislators about funding models. He said he supports performance-based funding, but has concerns about which measures the state uses.

Because the state relies heavily on the six-year graduation rate and similar statistics, WSU has been hammered in the last several rounds of funding, getting the least amount of performance funding of the state’s universities.

He’d like to see WSU stay committed to its dual missions of being an open-access university and a major research university.

He said he supports the toughening of admission standards that has occurred in the last year.

“We want to make sure we don’t turn our backs on those who are coming here while working and taking a longer time to graduate,” he said.

He already has lofty goals.

“I hope we become the pre-eminent urban research university (in the nation),” he said. “It’s going to take resources to accomplish that so we can attract the very best faculty and retain the very good faculty we already have here.”

Contact David Jesse: 313-222-8851 or

Posted on Tuesday, August 27, 2013 (Archive on Wednesday, November 11, 2015)
Posted by rcline  Contributed by rcline