Leaders from across the Detroit area and the Wayne State University community, including former Board of Governors, community members, students and alumni, gathered Tuesday morning at Walker-Miller Energy Services in the New Center Area to urge the Wayne State University Board of Governors to end its ongoing feud with President M. Roy Wilson.
The group, whose message largely supported Wilson, feels the infighting has threatened the university’s reputation and future. Wayne State University is one of the fastest-improving university in the nation among public universities with more than 10,000 students and its graduation rates have nearly doubled between 2011 and 2017. Many feel it is because of Wilson’s leadership, becoming president in 2013.
“Sadly, at a time when the university’s leader should be taking a victory lap, a faction of Wayne State’s Board of Governors continue to threaten the institution’s reputation with public and bitter attacks on the university’s president, and their fellow board members,” said Gerald Smith, a community activist and former WSU lecturer. “We are not here to take sides. We are simply here to ask the board to work together to resolve their differences in a way that does not continue to embarrass this important institution.”
The group, which included former Detroit Mayor Dennis W. Archer, came together after several actions by a small group of the Wayne State Board of Governors created a rift at the university. One instance included several board members feeling slighted by the Heart of Detroit Tuition Pledge, after they were informed of it hours before its unveiling. Months of infighting hit its peak with an attempt earlier this month to fire Wilson by the four board members who have been battling him. The chair of the board, Kim Trent, and others said it was not a formal meeting, so no vote was taken.
“As chair of the search committee for Dr. Wilson, I want to say how disappointed I am in some of the board members,” said former governor Gary Pollard at the press conference. “Dr. Wilson’s accomplishments to this point are exactly why he was recruited to come to Wayne State and no one would want to come to this university after this kind of disruption.”
Pollard began his speech by reading an email from one of the larger donors to Wayne State, Mort Harris, who donated $10 million in 2017 to assist students in attending medical school at Wayne State.
“He is a wonderful asset for the university and deserves the thanks and support of the Board of Governors and the broader community,” Harris’ email said of Wilson.
With Wayne State being in the middle of a city that is 80 percent Black and serves nearly 4,000 Black students, Jeremiah Wheeler, president of the Black Student Union at Wayne State, said there are more pressing issues the board needs to be focusing on.
“It’s really unproductive to have conversations like this and divisiveness at our university,” he said. “We have other things that deserve attention, and this is elementary politics. We need to be focused more on the students and how our lives and experiences can be bettered at Wayne State.”
Kamilia Landrum works across the street from Walker-Miller Energy Services as the executive director of the Detroit Branch NAACP and said she is concerned about the board’s action at the university. She received her master’s degree from Wayne State in 2015.
“We have seen a divided Detroit. We have seen divided institutions,” Landrum said. “We know what the outcome is. We also have seen a unified Detroit and we have seen unified institutions, and we know what that outcome is. Let us stand together and support our president, Roy Wilson. Let us stand together and protect our Wayne State University. Let us stand together in unity.”