Eastern Michigan University President Susan Martin sent an email July 10 to EMU students, faculty and staff outlining events surrounding a letter of reprimand the Board of Regents added to her personnel file in May, which was prompted by an alcohol-related disagreement with an EMU alumnus in Washington, D.C.
Martin was in D.C. April 23 at a conference sponsored by the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, and afterward went out to a bar with some of the conference attendees.
In her July 6 letter to the regents responding to the conduct censuring Martin wrote, “I lost my temper with an [alumnus] when our discussion turned to a particularly sad time in Eastern’s history.”
When asked if that “sad time” was in anyway related to former EMU President John Fallon, Martin said, “It was part of the past, before I came.”
In 2008, Martin became EMU’s first female president by replacing Fallon, who was fired in 2007 in relation to university administrators suppressing information regarding the December 2006 rape and murder of EMU student Laura Dickinson.
In March, Fallon was hired as Ball State University’s associate vice president for economic development and community engagement.
The Detroit Free Press reported the conversation involving the disagreement between Martin and the head of EMU’s Washington, D.C. alumni chapter Mike Ferens, did touch upon Fallon’s hiring at BSU, according to documents in Martin’s personnel file.
In an email to Ferens the morning after the argument Martin said, “[Ball State’s] recent hire of Fallon reignited a lot of media coverage of the murder at Eastern so I am a little hypersensitive,” reported the Free Press.
Martin’s letter to the regents said she and Ferens had subsequent email contact the day after the incident, and came to the conclusion there was a misunderstanding and both parties apologized.
Martin also said she reported the incident to Board of Regents Chairman Roy Wilbanks April 27, because she felt her sharp and angry response to Ferens was “unpresidential.”
When asked why there was such a lengthy time gap between the May 17 reprimand letter and the July 10 disclosure, Martin said it was a personal matter and she and her leadership team needed time to reflect on the best way to handle the information, and get it out to the public in a positive manner.
“From mid-May till the board adopts the budget in late June we’re working pretty intensely on the budget, so my personal situation was not a primary concern. Now that that’s successfully completed and we have our budget done we can turn back to other matters like this, and take a look at how to try best handle it for the university,” Martin said.
The Free Press had submitted a Freedom of Information Act requesting Martin’s personnel file June 14, but only received the documents four hours before Martin sent out the July 10 email disclosing the reprimand.
Martin explained her conduct in D.C. to the regents as being the result of being at an event all day, not having eaten and then consuming alcohol.
The board responded to her reasoning in the reprimand letter, “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.”
Martin declined to comment on what “prior incidents” the letter referred to, according to the Free Press.
The reprimand letter went on to say the regents want Martin to be successful as the university’s president, but urged her to seek professional counseling and assistance.
“You must deal with this issue immediately. If there are any further incidents, you will leave us no alternative but to recommend to the board that your employment be terminated.”
In her response letter to the regents, Martin wrote, “I lead a very intense and highly visible life … I could not perform these duties and handle the rigors of this position if I had a serious health issue of any type as suggested by the May 17, letter.”
Martin also disclosed in the campus email that she was cited for driving while impaired in 2005, which the board was aware of prior to her hiring in 2008, and that is the only alcohol-related citation she has received.
Martin also said in the email the role of president is extremely demanding and challenging, but that she has great confidence in the board’s judgment in this matter.
“I’d just like to say I made a mistake and I apologize to the campus. I always want to be a role model for our students around the clock, and I promise them that I will be that person and their president,” Martin said.
EMU’s Vice President of Communications and Public Affairs Walter Kraft said Martin trusts the boards’ judgment and plans to heed their recommendation to seek counseling, but Martin maintains she doesn’t have a drinking problem.
Kraft also said Martin plans to donate her 2012 raise of $8,764 to EMU’s Snow Health Center to fund student wellness education programs, which will include issues such as medical amnesty and substance and alcohol abuse.
Board of Regents Chairman Roy Wilbanks released what the board said will be its only statement on the matter at this time:
“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.”