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Report: Two MSU trustees should be referred to Governor for possible removal

"Spartan Pride" fence in the snow near the MSU football stadium.
Emma Winowiecki
Michigan Radio

A law firm retained to investigate misconduct claims against members of Michigan State University's Board of Trustees has recommended that Governor Gretchen Whitmer consider removing two of them.

MSU retained the Washington, D.C., law firm Miller and Chevalier to look into allegations against Board Chair Rema Vassar. Those allegations first came to light in a letter written and made public by another trustee, Brianna Scott.

The firm substantiated some of Scott’s claims. They include finding that Vassar inappropriately accepted a private jet ride and courtside basketball tickets from a prominent MSU donor, and that she exceeded her role as trustee by leading settlement talks with former MSU Broad School of Business Dean Sanjay Gupta, who was forced out over alleged Title IX and other misconduct allegations.

The report also independently found multiple instances of misconduct by Trustee Dennis Denno. It found that Denno interfered with the writing of a report that investigated MSU’s response to last year’s on-campus mass shooting, among other things.

The report also found that both trustees had a pattern of retaliating against MSU employees who upset them, including former MSU Interim President Teresa Woodruff and Faculty Senate President Jack Lipton, and generally “have engaged in conduct that exceeds the scope of their authority.”

“The identified conduct has created fissures that have weakened the governance structure of the University and encouraged and created openings for members of the MSU community to also circumvent the Administration and reporting protocols, by leveraging individual Board members to act on their behalf,” the report found.

The report also found that by releasing her letter containing the allegations publicly, Scott also violated the Board’s code of ethics, but recommended the lesser disciplinary measure of censure by her colleagues.

In a statement cited by The Detroit News, Vassar’s attorney, Kevin O’Shea, said that Vassar “disagrees that she engaged in any inappropriate behavior, so she doesn’t believe there’s any basis to refer the matter to the Governor."

"Even if the report’s findings were accepted, it still wouldn’t warrant removal," O'Shea told the News. "Moreover, the report specifically identifies the recommended 'corrective action' as the referral itself: There’s no recommendation that the Governor take any action other than a review."

The Governor is allowed to remove elected university board trustees if they’re credibly accused of misconduct.

In a statement issued by MSU, Board of Trustees Vice Chair Dan Kelly said the Board has received the report, and “is reviewing the findings carefully. The board takes our responsibility and governance seriously and is committed to upholding our code of ethics.”

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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