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MSU trustees hope to choose new president by June 2019

Maya Goldman
Trustees stressed the importance of listening to students and faculty during the presidential search process, but wouldn't listen to a question from MSU student Mackenzie Mrla.

The Michigan State University Board of Trustees announced today they hope to select the university’s next president in June 2019.

Former president Lou Anna Simonresigned in January as the Larry Nassar abuse scandal exploded. The school is currently run by Interim President John Engler, who hasnot been a popular figure among survivors of Nassar’s abuse. Engler is not expected to participate in any part of the search for the next leader.

Trustees Dianne Byrum and Melanie Foster, who will lead the search, unveiled their timeline at a press conference Wednesday morning. They say the search will begin in July with “listening sessions” hosted by the trustees to hear what students, faculty, and other MSU community members want in a new president. Those will run until October.

“I think it’s really important we do the listening sessions well,” Byrum said. “We want to get as many of these listening sessions in as we possibly can with the broadest group of individuals.”

In August, the university will establish a search committee of roughly 15 people who represent various parts of the community. A professional search firm will also be hired in September.

After initial help from the search committee, the trustees will conduct final interviews between February and May 2019. University of Virginia president Teresa Sullivan, an MSU alumnus, will advise the entire process.

Foster said there are many details of the search that are not yet in the timeline. Those will emerge as the trustees work with Sullivan and hear from the campus community.

Byrum added, “But we felt it was important to share now what we did have, so that people could start planning and so that they would at least have some of their questions answered.”

However, MSU faculty and students at the press conference were upset that they had not been included in discussions prior to the press conference. MSU professor Andaluna Borcila told Byrum and Foster that she was frustrated with the trustees’ lack of communication with the university community in general.

“As an MSU faculty, it is discouraging that news about what is happening at this university is happening not from the Board of Trustees but from the Board of Trustees’ meetings with the media, and we constantly find out about this from the media,” Borcila said.

Shortly after Borcila's comments, Byrum and Foster skipped a second question from MSU student Mackenzie Mrla, instead asking if there were any more inquiries from the press. When there weren’t any, they ended the conference without answering Mrla’s question.

“They say they want to listen to us, but they won’t even answer my question. I think that kinda says a lot about them right there,” Mrla said after the conference.

Katie Paulot, also an MSU student, said she was angered by the trustee’s decision not to take Mrla’s question, but not surprised. She’s worried it’s a sign that they won’t take the listening sessions seriously.

“The narrative is still the same,” Paulot said. “They’re gonna preach inclusivity, they want us to be involved, they want to listen to it, but they shut us down. That’s what they’ve been doing for months.”

Still, Byrum and Foster emphasized that the board is committed to learning from the community in the next year and will not take their comments — or the selection of a new president — lightly.

Maya Goldman is a newsroom intern for Michigan Radio. She is currently a student at the University of Michigan, where she studies anthropology and writing. During the school year, Maya also works as a senior news editor and podcast producer for The Michigan Daily.
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