When Wayne State University announced in June the suspension of math as a general education requirement, the elected Board of Governors learned about the crucial change from the media.
That’s because President M. Roy Wilson and his administration failed to notify the board and made the decision without a public meeting earlier this year. By doing so, students, faculty and the Board of Governors were deprived of the right to express concerns about the new development.
This is just the latest example of Wilson’s administration taking actions without the approval of the board, which is fully empowered under the Michigan Constitution to make policy and budgetary decisions, including the appointment of a president. His administration also refused to comment for this story, through communications director Matt Lockwood. The practice of not responding to issues raised in our investigation has become routine for Wayne State University.
Two of the eight board members who responded to our questions about the suspension of the math requirement said a public vote is required to change the curriculum.
“The Board didn’t consider the suspension of the math requirement before it was suspended,” said board member Dana Thompson, an attorney and University of Michigan law professor. “The Administration’s suspension of this requirement without informing the Board was a total disregard of the Board’s role.”
Board member Kim Trent, who defends the president and the administration, agreed that a vote is necessary, but insisted it wasn’t a problem in this case because the math requirement was temporarily suspended.
“It doesn’t have enforcement because the board has to vote on it,” Trent said. “Our understanding is that because this was a pilot program, it didn’t need board approval.”
During a recent two-hour Motor City Mucraker interview that touched on a wide range of issues about the university as part of our investigations, Trent defended the president, saying the provost made the decision without Wilson’s knowledge – a claim that is suspect based on emails sent by the president himself to faculty members.
“The suspension of our math requirement and the ongoing discussion of our core curriculum are all aimed at creating clear academic pathways that support the differentiated needs of our students and enhance student success,” Wilson wrote in the email, noting that his daughter is not required to take math at the University of Southern California. “In the end, this will strengthen the value of a Wayne State degree.”
Wilson also charged that the media “erroneously conflated that decision” on math, a position the administration is now taking on unfavorable coverage of its actions. Some media that receive advertising dollars from the university have often served as the mouthpiece for the administration whenever it rolls out new plans, serving it to the public without scrutiny.
But Thompson doesn’t buy the claim that the math requirement was suspended without the president’s knowledge.
“I am not convinced with Roy’s explanation that the previous provost made this major academic decision without consulting him,” said Thompson, one of two board members who voted against a 4.2% tuition increase in June.
Since her election to the Board of Governors in 2014 succeeding Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, Thompson has been a critical voice on the Board, making her position known on major issues facing the public university as reported by several media, including WXYZ-Channel 7.
The math requirement remains an ongoing issue the university will continue to deal with, and former student Shane Dignan said he’s disappointed with the administration’s handling of it.
“I think that dropping the math requirement altogether and refusing to address it publicly is a joke,” he said, adding that the decision “cheapens the appearance of any academic achievement earned at that institution, and I believe any Wayne State student with a vested interest in his/her academic reputation would agree.”
Wilson has come under fire recently for spending millions of dollars on cosmetic changes at the university while supporting a tuition increase. Two top rating agencies downgraded the university’s outlook to “negative” because of declining enrollment and dwindling cash reserves.
Despite that, the Board of Governors met secretly to give Wilson a $25,000 raise, increasing his base salary to $522,000. By contrast, former President Allan Gilmour received a $400,000 salary in 2011.
Here’s how the suspension of the math requirement works: Each undergraduate program is allowed to suspend math as a requirement or change which math classes are required. The suspension is supposed to stay in effect until 2018, or until the university adopts a new general education program.
The next Board of Governors meeting is Sept. 23. But the board doesn’t make it easy for taxpayers, students and concerned members of the community to speak at public meetings. To address the board, the public must fill out a written request and send it to the university via postal mail. Most public universities in Michigan allow the public to speak by signing up at the meeting or filling out an online form.
Wayne State’s Board of Governors also limits public comment on one issue to 15 minutes – no matter how many people want to speak.
This is part of Motor City Muckraker’s ongoing series about Wayne State University’s spending decisions at a time when enrollment is declining and tuition is increasing.
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Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.