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Locals Outraged Reprimand of EMU Prez Was Made Public, While Commentators in Academe Say: “Fire Her Now!”

by P.D. Lesko

Dr. Susan Martin, Provost and Senior Chancellor at the University of Tennessee, is probably wishing right about now her parents had chosen a different name. The other Dr. Susan Martin, the President of EMU, is presently embroiled in a scandal that, EMU insiders posit, may yet force her resignation. College trustees loathe negative publicity. The EMU president’s scandal was revealed on the heels of former FBI Director Louis Freeh’s Report which condemns former Penn State president Graham Spanier for attempting to cover up the Sandusky/Paterno scandal.

However, like Penn State’s protection of its football coaches and its football program, EMU President Susan Martin’s scandal—and the attempt to hush it up—should come as no surprise to anyone who has been paying attention to local politics.

This is how EMU was described by the news media in 2008, when Dr. Susan Martin (pictured right) was hired as the 22nd president: “Eastern Michigan University — an institution plagued in recent years by a series of presidential missteps, communication blunders and even tragedy – is scrambling to get back on its feet…But in recent years, the university has faced accusations that it’s too secretive and prone to scandal.”

A year after Dr. Martin took office, she hired disgraced former Ann Arbor City Council member Leigh Greden as her institution’s Director of Government Relations. According to 2007-2008 Freedom of Information Act requests filed by citizens and an Ann Arbor News piece published shortly before the paper closed in July 2009, Greden scripted debates via email, telling Council members what to say and when. He rigged votes. He shot off emails mocking the people on Council for whom he had little respect, including Ann Arbor mayor John Hieftje. Greden summed up Hieftje’s penchant for self-aggrandizing in a December 17, 2007 mid-Council meeting email titled: “The script is back….But short.” Greden writes an invented dialogue that includes this bit of actual insight and foreshadowing:

John Hieftje: “I call this meeting to order. I just returned from an important conference of Mayors in Oscoda. I was the only attendee. I gave a speech to myself praising Ann Arbor’s LED and rail programs. If the Mayor of Grand Rapids had been there, he would have praised me.”

The “script” leaves one wondering exactly what kinds of dialogues Leigh Greden must be inventing for Sue Martin.

Ward 4 Council member Margie Teall and Ward 2 Council member Tony Derezinski were also caught up in the City Council email scandal which triggered a lawsuit—eventually, settled out of court. While on Council, Greden worked part-time for Miller Canfield, a law firm that has its collective fingers in many of Ann Arbor’s real estate development pots and (though its political PAC) political campaigns, including Greden, Hieftje and many of Hieftje’s cronies on Council. It was speculated that when Greden lost his Council seat, he lost his usefulness at Miller Canfield and so he moved on to EMU, an institution plagued by scandal and where, obviously, his own poor judgement and scandal could be overlooked by a president whose own 2005 DUI had been overlooked by the Trustees who hired her. Both Greden and Martin were rewarded with positions of responsibility and six-figure salaries.

One year after Martin hired Greden (pictured left), she and Greden were “elected” to serve on the Board of Ann Arbor SPARK as members of the group’s executive committee, joining Paul Dimond, a real estate attorney employed by Miller Canfield.

Small town minds. Incestuous small town politics. Midwestern sensibilities. AnnArbor.com, a news blog that was new then, but whose reporting awards are now the subject of public protests and the butt of jokes.

Just months after Greden was booted by voters, in 2010, AnnArbor.com endorsed Margie Teall for office making no mention of her part in the unprecedented email scandal that triggered a lawsuit the city was forced to settle on behalf of taxpayers.

Former AnnArbor.com education reporter David Jesse jumped ship to the Detroit Free Press, along with several of his colleagues. A few days ago, Jesse broke the story about EMU President Dr. Susan Martin’s one-the-job, public, drunken altercation with a graduate of EMU. The piece, particularly in light of former FBI director Louis Freeh’s scathing report that blames Penn State’s Board of Trustees for their “inaction” and “lack of oversight” of former president Graham Spanier, is not only timely, it’s very important news.

In May 2012 EMU’s Board of Trustees sent a two-page formal letter of reprimand to Martin in which the group urges her to seek help for her drinking, and makes clear that should she have any further alcohol-related incidents, she will be dismissed. Jesse writes that “Martin disclosed the letter to the campus community this afternoon, four hours after the university fulfilled a Freedom of Information Act request by the Detroit Free Press for Martin’s personnel file. EMU was due to respond last week to the Free Press’ request but asked for a delay because of the holiday week.”

What Jesse did not reveal in his July 10, 2012 news scoop is just who at EMU tipped him to file a Freedom of Information Act request for Martin’s personnel folder. An EMU staffer who works in administration, and who asked not to be named, said, “I could give you a long list of suspects. Sue Martin isn’t exactly beloved by all.” Clearly, someone at EMU knew about the incident, the letter of reprimand, and obviously felt like the incident should not be hushed up.

The other interesting aspect to this story is that AnnArbor.com education reporter Kellie Woodhouse either was not tipped, or if she was acted slowly, or chose to ignore the tip. Only after Jesse’s story broke, did AnnArbor.com quickly post a piece linking to the letter of reprimand and David Jesse’s reporting. On July 12, 2012, Woodhouse posted a piece about a series of emails between Dr. Martin and the individual involved in the April 2012 altercation.

The comments in response to the July 10th and July 12th AnnArbor.com stories about Martin’s behavior are almost uniform in their outrage that the incident was made public. The first comment under the AnnArbor.com July 12, 2012 piece begins:

It appears that the only people who acted inappropriately here were the members of the Board of Reagents. Really a reprimand for an argument where the President is defending her self, reputation as well the University prior Board’s decisions and its reputation? That justifies a reprimand and public humiliation? That justifies all the personal assumptions being made about her drinking? Where are all the other prior incidents in her file that are alluded to in the reprimand? Her file says she is doing an excellent job…..

Another comment rips Woodhouse and the rest of the media who have, of course, picked up the story.

The EMU regents or whoever made this thing public are fools. Poor EMU covered up a rape and murder in a dorm room of one of its students by the hands of a stranger and typical thug who invest the campus area and now they make the current President the butt of jokes in all of academia in Michigan. They should of fired her if they wanted to go public with this. Murder and Rape are not to be kept secret but publicizing someone’s drinking is shameful in the context EMU did it. Just look at how the media swarms all over this. That includes you Kellie Woodhouse.

One regular AnnArbor.com commenter suggests the whole episode is even boring and not even worth reporting: “I almost fell asleep reading those emails, they were so dull. Could annarbor.com put this non-scandal to rest and start reporting actual news?”

Yet another comment compliments Martin.

A bit of a case of much ado about nothing, eh? I will never understand society’s perpensity to be be angry/hateful towards others, and it appears that this may be the case here. As a student at EMU, I have appreciated Dr. Martin’s work. I understand that a student’s perspective is often different than a staff member, the community of a board member, but if you will, I hope she stays.

Meanwhile, at The Chronicle of Higher Education, Martin’s Republican political connections, and participation on the Board of “job creation” boondoggle Ann Arbor SPARK mean nothing. Between 1981-1984, Martin was the deputy state treasurer for Bureau of Local Government Services, serving for Republican William Milliken. Former Ann Arbor City Administrator Roger Fraser just “retired” from the city and walked into the same position for Republican Governor Rick Snyder.

While that kind of political mojo is obviously buying Martin all kinds of sympathy locally, it means little on the national stage. Unlike the first comment in response to the Woodhouse piece at AnnArbor.com which supports Martin, the first comment in response to the short write-up in The Chronicle of Higher Education (CHE) sets the tone for the dozens that follow:

She is not the only such president around and should be getting the boot given her previous driving infraction and other alcohol-related incidents during her term as president of EMU (mentioned in the board’s letter, which can be found as a link from the Detroit Free Press article). One can be sympathetic to the difficulties of alcohol abusers, but they do not belong in responsible positions in which the lives of others and the fates of great institutions rely upon them. One wonders at the board’s judgment in retaining her.

Comment number two on CHE website points out the obvious connections between the national efforts to deal with alcohol abuse by students on college campuses nationwide (including EMU), and Martin’s scandal: “Not to mention being in a position which is supposed to set an example for the thousands of young adults for won she is in some way an authority figure.”

Subsequent comments slam the EMU Trustees:

If it is a repeated incident, it pretty much does.  This was not at a Christmas party, and she has a history. Besides that, get real. This is a college president who has publicly been told her drinking is a problem. How much more evidence do you need? You can also bet that there have been other incidents that have not been reported. These people are protected, and for a Board to go to these measures, it has to be serious. Unfortunately this Board never followed through, and for that they are hurting the University. They obviously are not professional.

Was that really the best EMU could do, hire a President with a DWI? It just amazes me. Then we have to be PC about her drinking problem when she is in charge of the lives of young people, as well as serving as a role model? I’m as liberal as most academics, but this is unacceptable.

Similarly, at InsideHigherEd.com, a short post about the incident earned similar comments, including this one:

Good grief. Who’s doing the presidential hiring at EMU? First John Fallon and his shenanigans and now this? I mean, yes, there’s a simple “human failings” factor to getting drunk and acting a fool, but it seems like there’s sort of a track record of poor decisions regarding leadership. If the criteria for determining what makes an ostensibly desirable chief executive are the same at EMU as they are at my institution, then I can understand how you end up with people like this, though.

In her letter to students, faculty and staff about the incident and the Trustees’ letter of reprimand, Martin writes: “As your President starting my fifth year, I made a vow to never cover up or hide anything.” Martin was asked if anything regarding the incident had been released to the public prior to the Free Press FOIA. She said, “No, but it is a personal matter and I needed time to digest that and consult with my team and decide how to move forward and how to share this information.”

Susan Martin subsequently agreed to donate her 2012 raise of about $9,000 to EMU’s alcohol educational fund, and plans to seek counseling. Should the furor over her hiring and reprimand not quickly die down, she may also be seeking a new job. 

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Short URL: http://www.a2politico.com/?p=14157

3 Comments for “Locals Outraged Reprimand of EMU Prez Was Made Public, While Commentators in Academe Say: “Fire Her Now!””

  1. [...] the top government relations job at the university whose president’s embarrassing behavior made the pages of The Chronicle of Higher Education after she was involved in a drunken dust up in public. Not only is the rejection of Leigh [...]

  2. lulugee – aa.com is the talk of the town tattler. It’s a British tabloid special this story in the sense that it’s so absurd that Martin got hired in the first place. I’m betting she gets fired. The Greden connection is spectacular. The regents hire her then she hires Greden. Then they both end up on the Spark Board. This is why I read A2Politico. Dots get connected that don’t get connected anywhere else – especially not in aa.com. Thanks!

  3. This is why we need a “talk of the town tattler” section in a printed newspaper. This story could have been perhaps the final in a long string of snortles about what Dr. Sue was wearing and how many martoonies it took before she giggled “whoopsie”. I can understand how people who have never heard any such stories before are ready to defend or repocket their stones for another, or another time. We really need a gossip column to keep in touch.

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