Wayne State University’s next president should should continue the mission of the urban research institution, possess the skills of an academic administrator who is adept at handling business and politics and meet the expectations of the WSU community.
These are some of the early ideas cited by the WSU community of the qualities of the university’s next president, which the university will begin searching for now that President M. Roy Wilson announced he will not seek another contract when his expires at the end of 2022-23 school year.
Wilson, who made the announcement Monday in a letter to the university community, said during an interview that the president’s job is complex. A good leader would be genuine and share the values that he and the university have been aligned on such as diversity and equity, access to higher education, research and translation and public education, he said.
“My successor needs to be very community-oriented and at the same time be driven by academic excellence,” said Wilson, now serving his ninth year as WSU’s president. “They need to appreciate the value of research and promote it, and they need to appreciate the value of what an urban university is to its community and foster that relationship.”
Wilson, 68, became WSU’s 12th president in August 2013 and will complete a 10-year tenure at the helm of Michigan’s third largest public university next year. He currently earns $662,567, according to university spokesman Matt Lockwood.
After he steps down, Wilson will take a one-year sabbatical and then join the WSU faculty to teach and do research in his field of ophthalmology. He also plans to settle with his wife, Jacqueline, in Detroit, a place where he found a home after many years of not having one. He said he would also leverage his local and national contacts and mentor young people navigating academic careers, especially students of color.
Meanwhile, the WSU Board of Governors plans to launch a national search to find a successor this fall.
What others seek
Board President Mark Gaffney said he wasn’t sure what the qualities should be for the next president, but should be shaped by input from the Wayne State community.
“It’s up to the faculty and students and the administrators … because they are the university,” said Gaffney. “There will be a whole lot of people giving input on what the future ought to hold.”
He said it was not clear yet whether Wayne State would conduct an open search where finalists for the president’s job are interviewed publicly or a closed search, in which the board announces a president.
David Rosenberg, chair of WSU’s psychiatry department, said the next president should be someone who can build on the momentum laid by Wilson, whom he described as humble, inspirational, forward-thinking and transformational.
The next WSU leader could potentially be someone who has a background in medicine and diversity, like Wilson does, since Wayne State has a medical school which makes up a large part of the university and trains most of the physicians who practice locally and across Michigan, Rosenberg said.
“It’s someone like Wilson who would model that style of leadership, to challenge every assumption to really look to move Wayne State as a major community employer, resource here in the city of Detroit and take us to a national level,” said Rosenberg. “There are so many areas where we can serve as a national model …”
Fatima Hammoud, WSU’s student body vice president, said she would like to see WSU’s next president engage with students as much as Wilson does. She said she liked that he meets regularly with students, listens to their complaints and works to help connect them with resources for pursuing initiatives they wanted to undertake.
“I really liked that he had a connection with students,” said Hammoud, a master’s student in Wayne State’s Clinical Mental Health & Clinical Rehabilitation program. “It gives us a bridge between us and administration. Having a good relationship (with the next president) would mean they are not just there for the paycheck. They are there because they really do care about students.”
Ups, downs of tenure
Wilson’s tenure has been marked by many accomplishments but was also wracked by a split governing board for a few years.
Among Wilson’s accomplishments were improvements in student success, fundraising and diversity. Highlights of his tenure include Wayne State’s Pivotal Moments fundraising campaign raising $776.5 million, and an expansion of the campus footprint with additions and renovations to numerous buildings.
The Detroit News named Wilson a Michiganian of the Year in 2022 for dramatically improving graduation rates, especially among African-American students.
Bertram Marks, general counsel and co-founder of Detroit Equity, Inc., said he hopes Wayne State will bring in another president with similar leadership qualities that Wilson has demonstrated such as seeing the power the university has in helping move the community forward.
“I found Dr Wilson to be very engaged when it came to community concerns,” said Marks, who works with Detroit’s corporate community to increase the number of Detroit residents and people of color represented in the city’s workforce.
“Detroit has a lot of needs,” Marks continued. “A university with the reputation and the reach that Wayne State has has to be integral to solving some of Detroit’s problems. … It just matters that the (next) person is willing to engage and understand and really sees the university’s role as one intricate for helping resolve some of Detroit’s inequities. “
Marks said the next leader should be like Wilson, who is a part of and understands the community’s needs and is willing to listen and take advice when they don’t have the answer. He highlighted WSU’s program that offers free college to students from Detroit high schools that he believes is working toward eliminating inequities in Detroit, along with WSU’s Warrior Way Back program that clears university debts of students up to $1,500 to help them come back and finish their degrees.
“Those are the kinds of things that people in this city really need,” said Marks. “Roy Wilson’s leadership in that area and in the area of driving up the graduation and retention rates for African American Detroiters and other people of color, those sensitivities is what the university really needs.”
Two of the board members who were part of the faction that led to widespread infighting a few years ago and included Michael Busuito, Dana Thompson, Anil Kumar and former board member Sandra Hughes O’Brien said the elected leaders are more harmonious, think highly of Wilson and are looking forward to selecting the school’s 13th president.
Busuito said the next president should have skills that Wilson and other university presidents have in academics and administration. The next leader should also be schooled in politics and business.
“A larges university is like running a major city, wracked by politics,” said Busuito, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon. “Especially in the public universities that are still reliant on government subsidies, politics measures into the equation heavily.”
Kumar agreed that the board divisions have calmed and the board and Wilson have worked together to poise Wayne State for great success, especially in the medical school, due to “his leadership and our involvement that we look forward to Wayne State being a center point university in Michigan.”
He said the next president should continue on with the missions of Wayne State.
“Continuation working with the board, continuation with the mission of what Wayne State is all about — to be (accessible to) local Detroit students — and continuing our of mission to make WSU the best urban research center in the country and advance our medical school,” said Kumar, a urologist.
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