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The future for the MSU Board of Trustees

The Larry Nassar trials are over and the final round of sentencing hearings begin this week in Eaton County. More and more attention now is turning to East Lansing and how the top echelons at Michigan State University allowed an environment for this abuse to happen and continue.

And because the MSU Board of Trustees is elected statewide, the university’s handling of the situation is going to be a political issue in the 2018 elections.

Most state university boards in Michigan are appointed by the governor but not Michigan State, the University of Michigan, and Wayne State University. These boards are chosen by voters in statewide elections.

In fact, elected university boards are a rarity across the country.

It is no doubt that come November the horrific stories of Nassar’s abuse will cloud the ballot.

Two Republican MSU board members have already announced they will not seek reelection this year. Whoever runs for those open seats will have to answer questions about how they would have handled the Nassar controversy and future culture change at MSU.

Candidates for the board tend to be who you might expect: loyal alumni with a lot of school spirit, political connections, and, usually, money to finance their own campaigns. But, that will not cut it now.

The current board has been blasted for its seemingly cold, slow, and often tone deaf response to victims and the public. That will not work in 2018.

The statements we heard from the women who testified at the sentencing were powerful calls for change at MSU. Could we see one of the survivors harness that power and make their own run for the MSU board?

Certainly, there’s talk in both Republican and Democratic circles that a survivor should be on the ballot. That would both send a message and be the right recipe for pushing that culture shift at the university.  

And that message could resonate up and down the ballot. MSU’s handling of what one trustee glibly called “that Nassar thing” will have ramifications that go from the top of the ballot all the way down.


Zoe Clark is Michigan Radio’s Political Director. In this role, Clark guides coverage of the state Capitol, elections, and policy debates.
Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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