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MSU removes emeritus title from two professors after sexual harassment inquiry

July 16, 2021
<p>Olds Hall on Michigan State University&#x27;s campus on April 13, 2022. </p>

Olds Hall on Michigan State University's campus on April 13, 2022.

Photo by Jillian Felton | The State News

Two retired emeritus professors at Michigan State University who were previously found to have violated policies on sexual misconduct have had their honorary titles removed.

According to an investigation conducted by the Lansing State Journal, Thomas Vogel, a former professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, and Charles Steinfield, a former professor in the Department of Media and Information, were stripped of their emeritus titles following a recommendation by the university committee on faculty affairs.

Both revocations were then approved by President Samuel Stanley. All findings written in the investigation were confirmed by MSU Deputy Spokesperson Dan Olsen in January.

“While these revocations may not undo the harm caused by these two individuals, our actions make clear that even retired faculty can and will be held accountable for violating university policy while at Michigan State University when new evidence is brought forward,” Olsen said in a statement. 

A previous investigation by the LSJ found that Vogel and Steinfield were among at least four retired professors that were allowed to keep their emeritus status despite their transgressions. Vogel held emeritus status prior to being found in violation of sexual misconduct policies by the Office of Institutional Equity, while Steinfield was given the emeritus title several years after being punished for sexual misconduct.

According to the LSJ investigation, two other professors emeritus also were found in violation of these policies: James Kielbaso, a professor emeritus in the Department of Forestry, and William Latta, an emeritus assistant vice president for operations. Both still retain their titles.

Before June 2019, faculty and academic staff received emeritus titles automatically upon retirement.

Steinfield was informed in February that the university was considering the revocation of his professor emeritus status. Vogel was informed in March.

In letters to both men dated May 5, 2021, Provost Teresa Woodruff said that “...the matter is of sufficient seriousness to warrant the revocation of your Professor Emeritus status.”

Woodruff said that the emeritus status had been revoked pursuant to the emeritus policy in the faculty handbook, which states that emeritus status may be revoked in circumstances in which behavior occurring or discovered after one is awarded emeritus status is deemed to be “substantially inconsistent with the behavior expected of Michigan State University faculty, academic staff, and administrative staff.”

The ability of the Provost to the President to recommend revocation of emeritus title, after approval by the University Committee for Faculty Affairs, was added to the emeritus policy in February 2020. This is the policy Woodruff used in her letters to Vogel and Steinfield. 

This revision was included in a letter sent out from President Stanley and other administrators in January of this year. The letter, sent to MSU faculty, staff, and students, described actions taken over the last three years to prevent instances of relationship violence and sexual misconduct from happening.

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