“EMU board warns school president to control her drinking or face termination”

I’m guessing most EMUTalk.org readers have heard about this already, but there’s quite the dust-up with EMU President Susan Martin over some cocktails (and something?) in Washington, D.C.  I heard about this first in an email from Martin, which I include in full after the break.  (Incidentally, I would have posted about this earlier today, but I was actually enjoying the out-of-doors and away from my computer.  Go figure that’s the day the shit hits the fan.  But I digress).

Anyway, after that email, I came across this Freep article, “EMU board warns school president to control her drinking or face termination.”  Yikes!  Here’s a couple of quotes:

Eastern Michigan University’s Board of Regents has told EMU President Susan Martin she needs to get a handle on her drinking in public or face termination.

In the letter, dated May 17, 2012, the board told Martin that an outburst at a recent event in Washington was inappropriate. There were also other unspecified incidents involving alcohol, the letter said.

“It is, however, incumbent on us to emphasize the severity of this incident and its potential impact on your role and symbol of the university,” said the letter, which was signed by Regents Roy Wilbanks, Francine Parker and Mike Morris. The trio make up the board’s executive committee.

If you haven’t yet, you’ve got to read that letter the BoR (Wilbanks, though I suppose the whole board since they all signed off on it) sent to Martin and put into her permanent file.  It’s linked in that passage above. Here’s a meaty quote that was also included in the Freep article:

“As you know, we have become aware of a recent incident in Washington, D.C. in which you conducted yourself in a way that was inappropriate for your position and reflected poorly on the University and you as its President. This incident involved the consumption of alcohol. You have acknowledged that you acted inappropriately and have apologized, but explained your conduct as the result of not having eaten and then consuming alcoholic beverages. Whatever the cause, such conduct and behavior must cease.

“As the President of a major university, when you appear in public at University functions or representing the University, you must conduct yourself at all times at the highest professional and social levels. Use of alcohol and the potential resulting conduct, including inappropriate comments about the University, its employees, its Board and the use of profanity is simply unacceptable.

“In addition to the conduct in Washington, D.C. and the prior incidents discussed with you, we are concerned that your misuse of alcohol could result in liability to the University in the use of your University supplied vehicle. If you are drinking, you must not drive any University supplied vehicle.”

In her email, Martin links to a PDF of the official response to this letter from the BoR. Here’s an excerpt of that:

As required by Michigan law, I request that this response be attached to the May 17, 2012 to me that is contained in my personnel file from the Board of Regents regarding the incident that took place on April 23, 2012 in Washington, D.C. I self-reported this incident to Chairman Wilbanks in person on April 27 that I lost my temper on with an alumni when our discussion turned to a particularly sad time in Eastern’s history.  As it turned out, we had misunderstood each other at the time and we apologized to each other in subsequent emails the next day for that misunderstanding.

It goes on from there.  Again, yikes.  And the Freep piece goes on to imply that they only reason we’re hearing about this because they did a FOIA request, and that forced Martin and the BoR to come out with all this.

For me, all of this raises more questions than answers.  What the hell happened at this D.C. event?  Who is this alumni, and what were they talking about, anyway?  Maybe Martin really was tanked up, but I don’t know, there’s something here that doesn’t seem quite right.  I can believe there were some cocktails involved (most functions involving alumni and administrators involve at least some alcohol), but I have a hard time that Martin was doing the Homer Simpson drunk dance implied in the Board of Regents letter.

I’m very curious what others out there in EMUTalk-land think, but I have a theory.  I’ll bet that Martin had an argument with a high-rolling/important alum about something touchy that pissed off Wilbanks et al.  Martin says it was a “particularly sad time in Eastern’s history,” so I’m going to guess they were talking about the Dickinson murder or maybe Fallon getting fired or something else like that.  Maybe the alum is a friend of Wilbanks and/or Fallon who was offended by something Martin said.  Anyway, Wilbanks decided that he needed set his president straight, and thus bringing up all of the drinky-drink stuff was there way of putting Martin in her place.  And maybe part of it (consciously or not) has something to do with the fact that Martin is a woman.

Or not.  Maybe she really was out of control.

But like I said, this effort by Martin to clear the air and the original BoR letter raises more questions than answers.

Here’s Martin’s email today:

To Students, Faculty and Staff:

As your President starting my fifth year, I made a vow to never cover up or hide anything.

In April, I had a disagreement with an alumni member following an alumni reception in Washington, D.C. about Eastern’s past.  I lost my temper and made inappropriate remarks for which I apologized. I also reported this incident to the Chair of the Board of Regents and apologized for being “unpresidential.”  As a result, the Board placed a formal reprimand in my personnel file and I have provided a statement in response. I made a mistake and I apologize to you for it. I have assured the Board – and want to assure you – that this will not occur again. I own the incident and have great confidence in the Board’s judgment. Together, we have accomplished many positive initiatives and I look forward to continuing to work jointly on behalf of our students, faculty and staff.

In the spirit of full disclosure, the link below includes the letter from the Board and my response statement. It also includes a copy of my driving record, which includes an operating while impaired violation that occurred in 2005, and which the Board was fully aware of prior to hiring me as President. www.emich.edu/president/information

The role of the President is extremely demanding and challenging and my conduct must always be a role model for our students 24/7.  I will always work as hard as I can to lift Eastern up and make it shine. I hold myself to a high standard and will always be up front and honest with you.  We have accomplished much together here at Eastern and I look forward to a bright future for this campus. In four years, we have increased enrollment, improved campus safety, improved retention, increased the number of graduates, invested $200 million in campus facilities, hired 120 faculty, increased financial aid significantly while holding tuition low, and completed the Invest Inspire campaign with $56 million.

I love Eastern and am deeply committed to its success.


Susan W. Martin


Statement from Board of Regents Chair Roy Wilbanks:

This was a matter the Regents addressed promptly and appropriately with full transparency. EMU will continue to focus on enhancing academic quality, increasing enrollment and increasing student credit hour production. We are also focusing and investing resources in campus renovations and increasing private support to the university. That has been and will continue to be the focus of the university. We will continue to move forward. And to that end, the chair is supportive of the president.


Roy E. Wilbanks

Chair, Board of Regents


14 thoughts on ““EMU board warns school president to control her drinking or face termination”

  1. annarbor.com names the alumnus and states the argument was over…the mascot. You know, that “big controversy” of changing in 1991 from a nondescript line art of a head of a Huron to Swoop the bland generic Eagle.

    The alumnus didn’t see to think it was a big deal and stated he saw her have 1 glass of wine with him. He claimed “I did not witness any heavy drinking. I did not witness any spectacles.”
    So…if Martin volunteered to report the incident to the regents, as well as making her driving record known prior to employment…the alumnus is not mad…what’s the big deal? One other article I read noted “profanity” but no details. The details on the whole thing are a bit fuzzy so it’s hard to say. I don’t see why the Regents saw fit to mention her driving record prior to her time at EMU.

    I honestly don’t give a rat’s ass about the mascot either way…or the fact I used profanity like “ass” in this post, but I kind of dig the 1st Amendment for all of us, including President Martin.


  2. A University president getting into a verbal allocation with an alumnus (especially at a school like EMU, where so many alumni are disconnected from their alma mater) seems shocking and completely unacceptable to me.

    Regardless, if you read the “reprimand” from the Board of Regents, you can read between the lines. There’s clearly a “pattern” here (as referenced in the “reprimand” — “prior incidents”) and the Board is just being diligent should anything else happen in the future.

    I don’t understand why she felt the need to “respond” to the “reprimand” — she made a mistake at work (which she admits) and her employer absolutely has the right to document it. Submitting a poorly written “response,” where she dodges accountability, seems to raise more questions.

    The section regarding her “workload” has absolutely no bearing on the incident. If the pressure is getting to her, perhaps she should make note of the saying that “if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”


    • My read on the “workload” section of her letter is that she was not offering her workload as an excuse for whatever indiscretion she may have committed. She’s responding to the Board’s assertion that she has a health (alcohol) problem by pointing out that there’s no way she could have kept up the workload she has over the last four years if she had such a problem.

      She’s pointing to her workload as evidence that the Board’s assumption is incorrect.


  3. For me, this doesn’t add up. As an outside observer with no dog in the fight (I think the change was poorly handled and a bad decision, I think the Eagle is a terrible mascot for EMU, but I also recognize that another change might alienate the last 20 years of graduates), it seems to me that since President Martin arrived, the university has done much more to welcome Huron-era alumni, including encouraging people to wear Huron apparel on campus and to sporting events. After reading the comments in AnnArbor.com from the alumnus involved, it makes me wonder if someone who witnessed the exchange dislikes Martin and was hoping to get her fired.


  4. Okay, so let me get this straight, according to the AANews, President Martin was seen at a function having a glass of wine and daring to disagree with some Huron-loving alum. She may have used a 4-letter word at some point during the exchange.

    Is that it?!

    The BoR put an official reprimand in her file for this?!

    You’ve got to be kidding me!

    I can’t help but think that if President Martin were a fellow good ol’ boy this would be a non-issue. She wasn’t acting “un-presidential,” she was acting in a way someone of Wilkbanks’ generation would see as “unladylike.”

    President Martin is an accomplished woman and an adult. She should be able to drink a glass of wine in public and she should be able to disagree with an alum, a donor, a member of the Board of Regents or whoever without being reprimanded like a child.

    Am I missing something here?

    Unless there’s an awful lot going on here we don’t know about (drunken orgies in Welch Hall after hours, a president who squanders millions of dollars on a lavish home, a president who covers up a murder) this is ridiculous.

    And, p.s. the fact Wilkbanks uses the phrases “enhancing academic quality” and “increasing student credit hour production” in the same sentence proves he knows nothing about running a university. “Increasing credit hour production” means raising student to professor ratios (ie. cramming more and more students into classes), which is the opposite of “enhancing academic quality.”


    • Woohoo! “drunken orgies in Welch Hall after hours.” Woohoo! I assume that is because this is a “dry” campus. The orgy part is just a bonus. That must be the “Eastern Mystique.”


  5. Best conspiracy theory I’ve heard is that with Wilbanks’ term expiring in December he’s got his eyes on the EMU presidency.


  6. Having read about that unfairly ousted (and then reinstated) president from University of Virginia, I can’t but help consider conspiracies. From a student perspective, without knowing more about these “prior incidents”, I’m more embarrassed to see her forced to put this letter in her file, and make it public, than I am over the idea of her drinking and having a disagreement with a former student. Weird priorities.


  7. Infamous- as to why Martin responded, I don’t blame her and it’s within her legal right. Faculty also have the right to respond to allegations or disciplinary actions. Again, we don’t know the whole story, but if the “prior incidentS” (plural implication) really are about her 2005 driving (aka…a singular incident) then the Regents letter is misleading.


  8. You know what would disconnect me from my Alma Mater? Evidence that the buffoons running the joint cared more about football and mascots, than about education. You know, as in “education first?” Anybody remember that?


  9. I have one simple question; If the 2005 DWI infraction was made public during the public interviews of the candidates, how many of you would have wanted Dr. Martin as the next president of EMU? The same vigor that was used to discredit Dr. Burnley was not on display when it came to Dr. Martin. Rather interesting huh!


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