Friday, September 25, 2020

MSU diversity adviser Paulette Granberry Russell rescinds acceptance from California Polytechnic

July 9, 2020
<p>Senior Adviser to the President for Diversity Paulette Granberry Russell speaks at the Board of Trustees meeting on April 12, 2019, at the Hannah Administration Building.</p>

Senior Adviser to the President for Diversity Paulette Granberry Russell speaks at the Board of Trustees meeting on April 12, 2019, at the Hannah Administration Building.

Photo by Annie Barker | The State News

Paulette Granberry Russell has decided to rescind her acceptance for vice president of diversity and inclusion at California Polytechnic University, or Cal Poly, following petitions and letters of pushback from the community.

University President Jeffrey D. Armstrong informed The Cal Poly community in an email sent on Wednesday night.

Russell's last day at Michigan State is July 10, according to MSU spokesperson Emily Guerrant.

Members of the Cal Poly community started a petition demanding Armstrong rescind the offer and take adequate steps to conduct a new search for the post. It received over 11,500 signatures. This petition was also made in accordance with a letter from Cal Poly faculty and staff, which received over 3,000 signatures.

The concern from the Cal Poly community came from Russell's history as MSU's former Title IX coordinator and her role in the trial of ex-MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon, centered around accusations that Simon lied to police about knowledge in 2014 of Larry Nassar's sexual abuse.

"As the head of Michigan State University's Title IX office, Russell was in charge during one of the worst sex abuse scandals in American history, when MSU faculty member and doctor Larry Nassar sexually abused more than 250 women and girls over the course of twenty years," the letter said. "The choice of Russell is highly controversial, and we are disturbed at the irregularities in the hiring process that led to this outcome."

Russell worked as MSU’s Title IX coordinator from 1998 to 2015, at the time of the investigation. Prosecutors in the case relied on police records as well as handwritten notes between Russell and Simon, aiming to prove Simon attended a 2014 meeting with Russell to discuss a Title IX investigation about Nassar's abuse. 

During the trial, Russell said she was unable to recall what was discussed at the meeting and whether or not it occurred in person or by phone. Simon's charges were dismissed in May due to lack of evidence. 

"By all accounts, for years MSU maintained a culture hostile to complaints of sexual abuse, an environment in which Nassar’s victims were actively discouraged from pursuing formal allegations against him and in which widespread and shocking violations of the Clery Act occurred," the letter said. "As head of the Title IX office, Russell was at the top of that system. Her claim that she was unaware of what was going on—if true—would seem to be a powerful indictment of her ability to lead and to create a campus climate rooted in love, empathy, and respect."

Russell was set to start at Cal Poly on Aug. 31 as an emergency hire following the retirement of Jozi De Leon, Armstrong said. Armstrong's initial announcement did not include her experience as MSU Title IX coordinator.

According to Cal Poly's student newspaper Mustang News, Russell was a finalist for the vice president of diversity and inclusion in 2017 when De Leon was hired.

Former Honors College Dean Cynthia Jackson-Elmoore has recently accepted the post as Cal Poly's provost after serving as dean since 1994 and Armstrong worked at MSU from 2001 to 2011 as the dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Russell, Elmoore and Armstrong worked at MSU at the same time.

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