Senate blocks two of Gov. Whitmer’s university trustee appointments
The Michigan Senate rejected the governor’s appointments to two public universities' boards of trustees Thursday.
The vote kicked off a tense round of floor speeches and the announcement of a resolution to censure a Republican member.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced the appointment of former professor Michael Ryan to the Ferris State board and former state Rep. Jon Hoadley to the Western Michigan University board earlier this year.
But the Michigan Constitution requires the advice and consent of the Senate.
Senator Aric Nesbitt (R-Lawton) said he opposed Hoadley’s appointment because he is a graduate student at WMU.
“The operations of the university in terms of the multi-million dollars that they operate, in terms of the education of students and the goals of that, that I just don’t think grad students should be on the board as they’re making these decisions of hiring, firing, student acceptance et cetera,” Nesbitt told reporters after the vote.
But Democrats pointed to a 1999 opinion from then-Attorney General Jennifer Granholm that said serving on a governing board while a student is not a conflict of interest.
They accused Republicans of denying qualified candidates for reasons that don’t hold up to scrutiny.
Multiple senators questioned if Hoadley’s history as an openly gay former lawmaker had anything to do with the vote.
“I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up the fact that this is the second appointee of the governor to a university board of an openly gay person who is being rejected. Two now. Back-to-back,” Sen. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield) said on the Senate floor.
Nesbitt refuted that, saying he wouldn’t have opposed Hoadley if he wasn’t a student.
Others, like Sen. Sean McCann (D-Kalamazoo), questioned whether Hoadley got a fair shot at gaining Senate approval, noting his history in the Kalamazoo region.
“Despite all this, we are here today considering his rejection from appointment to the board with him not even having had the benefit of a hearing at Advice and Consent and for other supposed reasons that appear to be a very thin premise at best,” McCann said.
Nesbitt, who chairs the Senate Advice and Consent Committee, said the appointees had ample opportunity to reach out to lawmakers.
“I know both of them had plenty of opportunities over the last two months to talk to any number of members of the Senate and to be able to reach out and sit down. And, in fact, some of the nominees did do that quite a bit,” Nesbitt said.
In a Twitter post after the vote, Hoadley said the decision to oust him without including him in the debate was "counter to the spirit of open debate and study that is a hallmark for higher education institutions."
Hoadley was sworn into his role as a WMU trustee on March 17. The school did not return a phone call asking for clarification on what happens next for his post.
Meanwhile, the Michigan Education Association and Ferris Faculty Association weighed in Thursday about the Senate’s decision on Ryan.
“It is unconscionable that Senate Republicans would reject Gov. Whitmer’s appointment of Dr. Michael Ryan to the Ferris State Board of Trustees, especially given Dr. Ryan’s unmatched qualifications and his exemplary record of service to the university, students, families and the Big Rapids community,” FSU Faculty Association President Charles Bacon said in a joint press release with the MEA.
In explaining his opposition to Ryan’s appointment, Nesbitt accused him of pushing for financially harmful policies at the school.
“I think he’s toxic on the board,” Nesbitt said.
He did not provide details to support his accusations, and Ryan was not called to speak.
Speaking from the floor after the vote, Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich alleged his Republican colleagues of acting as though “there are two classes of people” in the Senate.
He tied the rejection of Ryan and Hoadley to the lack of Senate repercussions for Sen. John Bizon (R-Battle Creek), who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault and battery earlier this year but remained in office. That charge stemmed from allegations that he inappropriately touched a nurse at an urgent care where Bizon was being seen.
“I’ve given you enough time to do the right thing. Today we wait no longer,” Ananich said.
He introduced a resolution, SR 127, accusing Bizon of failing “to meet the high standards of conduct expected of his office by the people of Michigan.”
Senate Republican communications has said the resolution will be referred to the appropriate committee.