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Let’s not let the WSU Board of Governors kerfuffle set a precedent for board behavior

April 23rd, 2019

Because my blog is due a few weeks prior to publication, I can only hope that the ugliness of the Wayne State University Board of Governors schism has diminished by the time you are reading this. Still, I am compelled to comment on what has disintegrated into personal name calling and the appearance of grandstanding by some board members. Lost in all this seems to be an understanding of the mission and values of a university and the role of its board of governors.

While I don’t want to get involved here in the discussion on whether University boards of governors should be appointed or elected, the fact of the matter is that as it stands now, board members are elected by Michigan residents. Hence, the board’s constituents are not just the students, faculty and employees of the university, but the entire state. As taxpayers, we all contribute to Michigan’s public institutions of higher learning and should rightly expect that BOG’s have education and the state’s best interests at heart. That’s not what I’m seeing on the current board.

The key responsibilities of the Wayne State University Board of Governors, as stated on their website include, “…choosing the university presidents, supervising the control and direction of university funds, setting tuition and other fiscal policies, determining compensation for services and conferring degrees.” Fair enough. The board is within its defined bounds to look at how money is being spent when it comes to financial considerations of aligning the medical school with a health system for the purposes of education. But I fear the education component is being lost, as voices raise with what has become the “look at me” approach so popular in politics today.  I find it disturbing to see physicians, long and rightfully held in the highest regard of all the professions, drawing attention to themselves in this manner, rather than the board’s collective responsibilities.   

It’s difficult to assess the board’s role without considering it within the context of the University’s values, which include:

  • Collaboration: ‘When we work together, drawing upon various talents and perspectives, we achieve better results.”
  • Integrity: “We keep our word, live up to our commitments and are accountable to ourselves and each other.”
  • Innovation: “We are unafraid to try new things and learn by both failure and success.”

I’m seeing some inconsistencies here – are you?  

Is it an old-fashioned notion that we as a board, a committee, an association, a profession of healthcare providers and administrators, or a community group can respectfully collaborate and ask, “What can I do? How can I make a difference? How can we establish a productive and respectful dialogue that leads to positive action? How can we better our community?”

I believe we need support in this current situation (and similar ones that may arise) from our state medical societies to help us shift gears from reverse to forward. These are powerful bodies of very smart people who wield impressive influence within the medical profession and with the graduate medical education of our state’s medical students.

There’s the word again! Funny how ‘education’ keeps popping up in this conversation. Have we lost sight of it in our quest to point fingers and our talk of big hospital deals, affiliations and failures?  Boards of governors for Michigan universities that have a medical school, or a school of osteopathic medicine, need to remember their role encompasses all schools, including liberal arts, sciences and engineering.

Can we right this ship and get all boards of governors focused on doing the right thing – even when they don’t agree on every detail? Let’s not let the WSU Board of Governors kerfuffle set a precedent for board behavior.  

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