AP Interview: Next MSU president says healing is underway

Dr. Samuel Stanley Jr., smiles at a Michigan State University Board of Trustees meeting in East Lansing, Mich., Tuesday, May 28, 2019. Stanley, a medical researcher who has led Stony Brook University in New York for nearly a decade, was named Tuesday as the next president of Michigan State University in the wake of the most extensive sexual abuse scandal in sports history. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

MACKINAC ISLAND, Mich. (AP) — The next president of Michigan State University said healing is underway on campus following the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal, but he knows adequately addressing the fallout will be a critical part of his job.

Dr. Samuel Stanley, who was hired this past week and starts Aug. 1, said he “thought carefully” about the situation before accepting the position.

“I was impressed by what had been done in the past few months before I came — the apology that was made to survivors,” he told The Associated Press in an interview at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference, also noting progress toward compensating victims as part of a $500 million settlement. “I really felt as though I had a sense that there was healing beginning to take place on campus, and that was positive. I realize this is still going to be a critical component of my work with the board and with the institution as a whole to deal with. But I did think progress was being made going forward.”

Acting president Satish Udpa formally apologized in February, about a month after interim president John Engler was ousted for saying some victims enjoyed publicity from the Nassar scandal. While it was not the first time that a university official had apologized to victims, they were more receptive after a year of tumult with Engler —a lightning rod whose tenure included several missteps. He had taken over for long-time president Lou Anna Simon following her own resignation amid the scandal.

The 65-year-old Stanley, who has been president of Stony Brook University in New York for nearly a decade, must balance how to handle the Nassar crisis while also managing a 50,000-student Big Ten school with a nearly $1.4 billion general fund budget. He said he needs to learn more about Michigan State and plans to be primarily “internally focused” in the first few months, meeting early with sexual assault victims, students, faculty and staff, including senior leadership.

“What are the areas where they think they could excel? I want to know where they think we could better,” said Stanley, who met with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Sen. Gary Peters, alumni and others at the annual policy meeting.

His priorities, he said, include student success; growing sponsored research; increasing diversity, equity and inclusion; and economic development.

“Public universities, like leading research universities like Michigan State, really do have an obligation in the state to help push the state economy. That’s an important part of what we do,” he said, adding that Michigan State must do more than simply educate students. “Michigan State has another responsibility, and that is the research and scholarship that drives innovation, that can create companies, that can bring companies to the region because of the human capital we have at Michigan State University.”

Stanley previously was vice chancellor for research at Washington University in St. Louis, where he first did a fellowship in infectious diseases and became a professor. He and his wife, Dr. Ellen Li, a biomedical researcher and gastroenterologist, have four children.

He earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Chicago and his medical degree from Harvard. He will make a base salary of $800,000 annually, with the potential for up to a 20% performance bonus each year.

He will be the first president of Michigan State in decades without ties to the school. The search committee only considered external candidates.

Stanley said he is excited about the “scale and scope” of Michigan State, citing its agricultural, veterinary medicine, law and communications colleges along with a large business school. He is board chairman of Brookhaven Science Associates, which manages Brookhaven National Laboratory on behalf of the U.S. Department of Energy. He said the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams at Michigan State is a “game-changer.”

“I was so impressed by the potential and the opportunity at Michigan State University,” Stanley said. “I felt I owed it to myself to take on the challenge, because I thought the experience of leading the university could be extraordinarily impactful for me and hopefully for the school.”

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