WSW: The Optics And Urgency Of MSU's Scandal

Feb 15, 2018

Credit Branislav Ondrasik / Wikimedia Commons

Former state House Speaker Chuck Perricone says perception is reality in politics and in any crisis. He says that’s why Michigan State University trustees should step aside – at least for now.

Perricone proposed his idea in Dome Magazine. He is owner and publisher of Dome, but has never written a column before now. Perricone calls for the board to “suspend themselves” at least temporarily. He says they should step aside, pending the investigation, and let Governor Snyder appoint interim trustees.

Perricone says he knows some of the people on board – including Republican board chairman Brian Breslin and Democrat Dianne Byrum. She served in the Legislature in the 1990’s when Perricone, a Republican, was representing the Kalamazoo area. Perricone says they are both fine people, and he’s sure that neither of them knowingly did anything inappropriate. But he says it’s important for the sake of “optics” that trustees “take themselves out of the game.”

Trustees can be removed from office. There have been suggestions that Governor Snyder take them off the board, they could also be impeached by the Legislature, or recalled by voters. Perricone says all of those options would take time when Michigan State needs to move quickly. Perricone says in making interim appointments to the board Snyder should seek recommendations from interim Michigan State University president John Engler and Jim Blanchard, whose law firm is representing MSU in federal investigations. They are both Michigan State graduates and former governors. Engler is a Republican and Blanchard a Democrat. 

"Right now the house is burning down, and we've got to put out the fire."

Perricone says there has to be trust in the people appointed to the board. He says the current trustees are there because they won campaigns. Perricone says what Michigan State needs is people who have been through trials. But he is “on the fence” on whether members of the governing boards at Michigan State, Wayne State and the University of Michigan should be elected. However Perricone says that’s a different question “Right now the house is burning down, and we’ve got to put out the fire.”

Two trustees up for election this year – board chairman Brian Breslin and Mitch Lyons, have said they will not be seeking another term. Perricone says the people running for the two seats should be ready for much greater scrutiny than a candidate normally receives for a seat on a university board. “More than there has ever been.” But he says “that’s okay.” Perricone says the public has that right and should exercise it. He says the newly elected trustees should be seated after the November election even if trustees do step aside temporarily, and investigations are still ongoing.