JAMIE LaREAU

Barra's commencement speech is still on, as it should be

Jamie LaReau is a reporter for Automotive News and formerly covered General Motors.Jamie LaReau is a reporter for Automotive News and formerly covered General Motors.
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As a graduate of Michigan State University, it is rare that I cheer for the University of Michigan. But today, I salute U-M for standing by the decision to keep General Motors CEO Mary Barra as the scheduled speaker to deliver Saturday’s commencement address.

That decision comes despite pressure from two U-M groups demanding the school rescind Barra’s invitation. They cited as their reason her leadership in the delayed recall of 2.6 million GM small cars with defective ignition switches, which are tied to at least 13 deaths.

The school did not knuckle under.

According to the Ann Arbor News, school spokesman Rick Fitzgerald says the university is “honored to have Mary Barra” and looks “forward to hearing her remarks on Saturday.”

It’s a wise decision. After all, since when is a person guilty until proved innocent in this country? It is supposed to be the other way around.

Mary Barra has inherited a serious crisis in which any GM employees who are found responsible should be held accountable.

But there has been no evidence showing that Barra is one of those people.

Consider the fact that the recalled cars in this matter date to the 2003-07 era, when Rick Wagoner was GM’s CEO. Following Wagoner’s departure in 2009, there were three other CEOs -- Fritz Henderson, Ed Whitacre and Dan Akerson -- before Barra took the helm this January. It was shortly thereafter when the delayed recall and all its trappings came to light.

The key consideration is that the actual act of sweeping this problem under the rug happened years earlier under the watch of one of those four men.

That doesn’t mean one of those four had knowledge or was involved in it either. That’s why there are several investigations, including GM’s own, aimed at unearthing who is to blame for ignoring such a serious defect and delaying its fix.

When you consider what Barra’s been through these past four months and what she still faces in terms of repairing GM’s reputation, winning back consumer trust and uncovering the truth behind one of the most serious vehicle recalls in recent history and rectifying it, Barra is actually the perfect person to give young adults advice on navigating the tough real world.

You can reach Jamie LaReau at jlareau@crain.com. -- Follow Jamie on Twitter

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