Lone board member who opposed $25,000 bonus to WSU president speaks out

President M. Roy Wilson (center) and
President M. Roy Wilson (center) has a laugh with Board of Governors Vice Chairman Paul Massaron (right). Photo by Steve Neavling.

Dana Thompson, the only member of the Board of Governors to vote against a $25,000 bonus to Wayne State University President M. Roy Wilson on Friday, criticized the administration for tuition increases, a lack of transparency and the failure to present a serious and realistic plan to reverse the steep decline in black undergraduate enrollment.

The Board of Governors voted 7-1 to boost Wilson’s salary to $522,000, just three months after hiking tuition by 4.2%. Wayne State has increased tuition 152% since 2003, while spending tens of millions of dollars on new building projects and cosmetic improvements.

Board of Governors member Dana Thompson.
Board of Governors member Dana Thompson.

“I voted against giving Wayne State University President Roy Wilson a $25,000 bonus because of the lack of transparency of Roy and his administration on a number of issues including the recent suspension of the math requirement,” Thompson, an attorney and University of Michigan law professor, said in a lengthy public statement about her vote on the bonus, which is posted in full below. “Furthermore, he received a 3 percent raise in his salary.

“In addition, giving him a bonus after voting to increase tuition on students, further pricing them out of the university, is the wrong message to send to students that we serve on behalf of taxpayers.”

wayne-state-board-of-governors_6469Thompson, who was elected in 2014 and replaced Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, has emerged as a critical and vocal member of the WSU Board of Governors. She was one of two board members to vote against the tuition increase in June.

Five board members – Gary Pollard, Paul Massaron, Kim Trent, Diane Dunaskiss and Sandra Hughes O’Brien – came out as assured backers of the administration, pledging their allegiance to Wilson at the public board meeting. All five, who voted to increase tuition, strongly defended the $25,000 bonus, saying President Wilson has been a strong leader, creating community partnerships for new projects.

Board of Governors member Kim Trent.
Board of Governors member Kim Trent.

Trent, who spoke recently to Muckraker in a two-hour interview (the content of which will be highlighted in a coming series), claimed during the board meeting that the tuition increase was necessary “to keep the lights on” at the university, and that it’s “important … for university presidents to be eligible for incentive payments.”

“That is one of the few levers that we have to express out satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the president’s performance, key goals and objectives. By any fair measure, he has earned his bonus,” said Trent, a political activist in the Michigan Democratic Party.

O’Brien, who received a $123,000 payout after she was was fired from the Detroit Public Lighting Authority as general counsel, is fourth vice chair of the Michigan Democratic Party.

The Democratic Party has long made college affordability a platform issue, and it was on the agenda at the recent Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, where Hillary Clinton was nominated.

The Michigan Democratic Party in Lansing endorses candidates who claim to fight for college affordability and reducing tuition. This year it has nominated former Michigan AFL-CIO leader Mark Gaffney and Wayne County Community College District downtown campus Vice President Yvette Anderson as their nominees for the WSU board to replace Pollard and Massaron, who are leaving end of this year.

The Republicans have nominated Michael Busuito and Kim Semina for the Wayne State Board, and Muckraker will do a profile on both the Democratic and Republican nominees about the issues they support, including college affordability.

Board of Governors Vice Chairman Paul Massaron.
Board of Governors Vice Chairman Paul Massaron.

During Friday’s board meeting, Massaron, vice chairman of the Board of Governors, angrily attacked Motor City Muckraker’s reports on secret meetingsblack enrollment declines and a risky deal with billionaire Mike Ilitch to build a new business school near his tax-funded Red Wings arena.

Massaron, who served on the board for 16 years and was around during serious problems facing the university, including the near demise of the medical school, said the reports were “filled with what I believe to be inaccurate and unfounded accusations,” but he failed to give a credible example of erroneous reporting and insisted the board did nothing wrong by voting behind closed doors in a secret meeting that was never made public.

Massaron also defended Jacqueline Wilson, wife of the president, denying reports that Wayne State Police Chief Tony Holt has been driving her around town to social events. Jacqueline Wilson has taken a visible role in the public university, running its HIGH (Helping Individuals Go Higher) program and engaging in fundraising. Muckraker is filing a Freedom of Information Act request for the finances of the program.

Massaron has never responded to our email requests and phone calls for interviews to answer questions about issues being raised in our continued investigation.

A review of board meeting records shows that board members have rarely scrutinized spending at the university over the past two years, even after two top rating agencies downgraded Wayne State’s outlook to “negative” because of declining cash reserves.

Thompson said the administration must strictly adhere to the standards of protocol and accountability in running the university because the board has a constitutional and fiduciary obligation it must fulfill in a public university.

“There is a culture at Wayne State University that enables the administration to act as if the Board of Governors reports to them,” Thompson said. “Because of this culture Wilson and his administration officials, some of whom are making over $200,000 in annual salary, sometimes don’t demonstrate any sense of urgency when Board members request information.

“I was not elected to this Board to enable this kind of culture in a public university.  This culture has to change in 2017. In the coming year I intend to continue to ask the tough questions.”

Minister Malik Shabazz
Minister Malik Shabazz

During Friday’s meeting, Minister Malik Shabazz, a community activist, urged the board to vote against the bonus until tuition hikes end and black enrollment, which has plummeted nearly 50% since 2009, begins to increase.

“To raise tuition says we’re not trying to recruit Detroiters. That’s clearly what that says to us,” Shabazz told the board, saying the increased cost of enrollment is making it exceedingly difficult for disadvantaged students to afford tuition. “It’s the wrong time for a $25,000 bonus.”

Shabazz added, “Dr. Wilson, why don’t you donate to Black Lives Matter, and if that’s too far, Detroit Public Schools?”

While board members responded that black enrollment is up in graduate programs, they did not comment on the rapid enrollment decline in the much larger undergraduate programs.

mj_marquita_chamblee_021015_081_
Marquita Chamblee, the chief diversity officer for Wayne State University.

Marquita Chamblee, the chief diversity officer for Wayne State, earlier on Friday admitted in a board meeting that more needs to be done to increase black enrollment and diversity among professors.

“I think we will see an upswing (in black enrollment) over time, but we still have a lot to do,” Chamblee said. “It’s really going to take a village.”

Fran Shor, who is running for a seat on the Board of Governors on the Green Party ticket, told board members that President Wilson has failed to reduce “excessive salaries and administrative redundancies throughout the university.”

“Ultimately, the board has the opportunity and responsibility to act not as a corporate board that rewards its CEO irrespective of performance, but to uphold the trust that the citizens of Michigan have placed in this body that, in the words of the Board of Governors charter, ‘universities remain responsible to the public at large'” Shor said.

Editor’s note: Mucraker will fact-check board member Massaron’s false assertions about our reports at the board meeting in an upcoming profile about him as one of the longest serving members of the Wayne State Board of Governors.

Here is Thompson’s full statement:

On Friday, September 23, 2016, as a member of the Wayne State University Board of Governors, I voted against giving Wayne State University President Roy Wilson a $25,000 bonus because of the lack of transparency of Roy and his administration on a number of issues including the recent suspension of the math requirement. Furthermore, he received a 3 percent raise in his salary.

In addition, giving him a bonus after voting to increase tuition on students, further pricing them out of the university, is the wrong message to send to students that we serve on behalf of taxpayers.

What is also troubling is that the administration does not seem to have a ready and realistic plan in place to address the serious decline in Black undergraduate enrollment. It appears as if the administration picks and chooses what to highlight and celebrate while failing to develop a full plan to address the deeper structural issues of the university like Black undergraduate enrollment and retention.

I’m glad to see that diversity is beginning to improve again at the medical school and that we have 104 more students at the university.  But Wilson needs to hunker down and get to work with a sense of urgency to address the declining Black undergraduate enrollment which has gone from 30% of the total undergraduate population in 2010 to 19% of the total undergraduate population in 2015.

The recent suspension of the math requirement without the Board’s knowledge is a complete disregard of the Board’s role, and I did not buy Wilson’s explanation that the outgoing provost made this major academic decision without his knowledge.

There is a culture at Wayne State University that enables the administration to act as if the Board of Governors reports to them. Because of this culture Wilson, and his administration officials, some of whom are making over $200,000 in annual salary, sometimes don’t demonstrate any sense of urgency when Board members request information.

I was not elected to this Board to enable this kind of culture in a public university. This culture has to change in 2017.  In the coming year I intend to continue to ask the tough questions.

When Congresswoman Debbie Dingell asked me to run for this office, I went on a listening tour in the community and got an earful of what Wayne State isn’t doing and about the concerns about diversity, affordability and access at the university.

The Board gave Roy Wilson an opportunity to serve as president of Wayne State University.  This is a major urban institution that any academic leader would find it an honor to serve.  This opportunity means that he and his administration must at all times demonstrate transparency and accountability and show respect for the constitutionally empowered role of the Board.

Steve Neavling

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.