Wayne State University President Mr. Roy Wilson will step down from the Detroit university when his contract runs out at the end of next school year, he announced Monday.
Wilson has led the school for nine years. He told the campus community he doesn’t intend to seek a new contract when his current contract expires on July 31, 2023.
“I’ve reflected deeply on this decision and have had many conversations with family, friends and colleagues,” he wrote. “I believe that the time is right for a leadership transition. On a personal level, at the conclusion of my current contract, I will have served as college dean or university chancellor or president for 30 years. And while my energy and passion for academic leadership is as strong as ever, I realize that 10 of those years will have been at Wayne State, and that seems like an optimum duration — long enough to accomplish most goals and short enough to not tempt complacency — to serve as university president.”
He said he doesn’t intend to retire and will pursue other “chapters” in his life.
“After leading multiple institutions, I had come to realize that a leader is most effective when they find their voice,” he said. “For that reason, nine years ago, I sought to lead a university with institutional attributes — public, urban, diverse, very high research and inextricably connected to its community — that closely aligned with my personal values. I knew when I first stepped on campus and explored the surrounding community that Wayne State was just such a university. Wayne State gave me my voice, and I am deeply appreciative.”
In an interview with the Free Press after the announcement, he said he’s at a natural stopping point.
“Ten years is long enough to get most things done,” he said. “I feel like most of my goals have gotten done.”
That doesn’t mean he intends to coast for the next year.
“A year is still a long time,” he said. “A year from now Wayne State will be in an even stronger position. I’ve got some big things in mind that I think we can accomplish in a year.”
Details of a search for a replacement have not been announced.
“The impact of President Wilson’s transformative leadership will be felt for years to come,” said Board of Governors Chair Mark Gaffney in a news release. “He has led our campus in putting students and their success above all else, furthering the university’s role in providing life-changing opportunities for all students to earn a college degree. We are grateful for his years of service and commitment.”
Wilson came to Wayne State in the summer of 2013 to take over for Allan Gilmour, who had been an interim president and then permanent president following a lengthy and distinguished business career. Gilmour had put out several fires at the school and stabilized it. Board members said Wilson’s job when he came in was to grow the school.
Wilson had been the deputy director for strategic scientific planning and program coordination at the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities before starting at Wayne State. He had worked in leadership posts at several universities and medical schools in his career as well.
He is an ophthalmologist. He received his bachelor’s degree from Allegheny College, a master’s in epidemiology from the University of California, Los Angeles, and a medical degree from Harvard Medical School. He was a professor at several schools and was named a top doctor in America more than a dozen times.
He told the Free Press he intends to take a sabbatical year offered to him by Wayne State in his contract and retrain as an ophthalmologist, including doing some clinical work. He also wants to work with younger faculty and students to help those interested in academic leadership navigate the academic ladder.
He intends to stay in Detroit. He currently lives in university-owned property, so part of his plan is to buy a house in Detroit.
During his tenure at Wayne State, Wilson grew the graduation rate and shrunk the gap between graduation rates for students of color and white students. He also grew the campus itself. During his tenure, the university built the WSU Fieldhouse in partnership with the Detroit Pistons, the state-of-the-art STEM Innovation and Learning Center, the Mike Ilitch School of Business, completed renovation majors of the Student Center Building, added campus housing , started the renovation of State Hall and the soon-to-be-completed Hilberry Gateway Performance Arts Complex.
“Everything is on a high note,” he said, highlighting those accomplishments, including being able to use the pandemic to make sure the classrooms in the to-be-renovated State Hall supported hybrid learning.
He also said upgrading the athletics facilities set up Wayne State well for down the road.
“If we want to, we aren’t limited by our facilities to go Division I,” he said. “That’s a conversation that still needs to be had, but we aren’t limited.”
He also went through a period of controversy in 2018 and 2019 when the board split in the middle over his performance. Board members tried to fire Wilson and to get him to quit. The infighting included several board members suing their fellow board members over alleged Open Meeting Act violations. Several of the anti-Wilson board members lost re-election to the board and Wilson remained.
Contact David Jesse: 313-222-8851 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @reporterdavidj. Subscribe to the Detroit Free Press.