We Need More Public Accountability for Our Universities

By Denzel McCampbell

The list of absolute failures that have come out of Michigan State University with Larry Nassar and the overall culture of not taking sexual assault and violence serious on campus is long. From personnel to administration, and up to the Board of Trustees, the number of officials who have disgraced and disrespected the MSU community and broader public of Michigan continues to add up.

Many are rightfully calling for the entire Board of Trustees to resign. Their lack of oversight of having a finger on what was happening at the university they have been entrusted in governing and their tone-deaf support for an embattled university president should be enough. However, their unanimous appointment of former Governor John Engler, who was hell-bent on destroying public education during his tenure as governor and blocked women who were incarcerated from taking action when they alleged they had been sexually assaulted by male guards, puts the cherry on top of this ouster cake.

What baffles me though, is that some members of Michigan Legislature, a candidate for governor, and the media are using this as an opportunity to try to strip the public of having a say on what’s happening at our public institutions by advocating these governing boards be appointed by the governor instead of the current system of being elected statewide. It’s a continuation of the conservative assault on having a real democracy and providing ways for everyone to participate in our government.

We’ve seen how appointments by current Governor Rick Snyder have proven to be deadly and devastating already through emergency management in Flint, Detroit, and other communities (mostly communities of color). How can we depend on this appointment process to be fair, and lift up people who will be mindful and inclusive of marginalized communities? We can’t.

Instead of moving the selection of governing boards out of hands of voters, we should be strengthening representation and the process. We have an opportunity to remove the influx of money in politics and the well-connected out of the mix. We should explore solutions to increase the representation of these boards, including geographically, by race, gender, and experiences. We should seek campaign finance reform to remove the influence of money and instead publicly finance these races to ensure a fair playing field, especially for grassroots candidates who come from marginalized communities.

We are at a pivotal time to ensure our premier universities have governing boards that seek true accountability and aren’t afraid to speak out or make tough decisions. Instead of stripping away the role that Michigan voters have in this, we should work to ensure that democracy is a true pillar.