The MSU Faculty Senate held a special meeting on Sept. 13 to discuss the recent news of the Board of Trustees and its discussion of President Samuel L. Stanley Jr.’s contract. Stanley and Provost Teresa Woodruff made their first public remarks addressing the situation at this meeting.
At the beginning of his remarks, Stanley said amid this “moment of uncertainty” his number one priority “remains the health and safety of our community and fostering a culture of accountability.” Stanley said these issues became important to him during his first weeks at MSU, in which he received reports on the university’s response to the Nassar case.
“The summary stated that the fundamental failure of the institution and its most senior leadership had been failure to report and failure to act on reports of sexual misconduct and relationship violence,” Stanley said. “The report identified individuals who had failed to report and called upon me to take action. And I did.”
Stanley said he was not surprised that the resignation of former Broad College of Business dean Sanjay Gupta was controversial among members of campus as it was reported that the decision followed concerns related to Title IX. He was surprised that the Board of Trustees hired outside legal counsel to review the decision, he said. Stanley reiterated his support for Woodruff’s decision to implement the leadership change.
The president thanked the faculty senate for their efforts to make sure administration, faculty and staff “maintain their autonomy” in making decisions related to Title IX and making sure Title IX processes and individual outcomes are not subject to Board of Trustees appeals.
“As Barbara Schneider at the AAU said eloquently yesterday, micromanagement and partisan politics have no place on a healthy university board,” Stanley said.
Acknowledging news stories that reported a Title IX compliance certificate for 2021 may have been misleading and falsely filed, Stanley defended his compliance with the process.
“I faithfully complied with the state of Michigan certification process the last two years and reviewed all of the Title IX reports that were required,” Stanley said. “Contrary to information previously provided to me, in June of this year, I was notified that some of our board members may not have actually complied with their part of the state requirement in 2021. We asked for an internal audit and review of the situation which raised questions about our compliance and made it clear that we can improve the processes by which the reviews were taking place. External consultants are now helping us improve the process and keep us in compliance. We have been taking this issue very seriously.”
In response to a proposed resolution to hold the board accountable, Trustee Rema Vassar said there has not been a board action taken regarding Stanley’s contract. Vassar said retirement was discussed with Stanley by “the whole board.”
Vassar said the only person who was fundamentally opposed to Stanley’s retirement was Board Chair Dianne Byrum, though she still was a part of the discussion.
“The rest of the board thought this was the best idea,” Vassar said.
Trustee Renee Knake-Jefferson also attended the meeting and said she understood the faculty senate’s confusion and concern.
“I agree with you completely that the Board of Trustees should be operating from a governance standpoint and not getting involved in the day-to-day management of affairs,” Knake Jefferson said. “And to the extent, it seems that the board is not clear on that or that you have understood the board’s role in that otherwise, I hope that you will look carefully at what each individual trustee is doing.”
In regards to concerns that the board overstepped in their review of Gupta’s resignation, Knake Jefferson said she saw it as a governance matter.
“I don’t see that as us intervening to necessarily change the outcome,” Knake Jefferson said.
So far, only trustees Vassar, Byrum, Dan Kelly and Melanie Foster have released statements correcting previous reporting or expressing thoughts about Stanley's performance as president.
In Woodruff’s remarks, she addressed the context of the case surrounding Gupta. She said one reason the Council of Deans, Faculty Senate and Board of Trustees unanimously implemented the RVSM Task Force was to provide transparency and communication for employee misconduct cases.
“I come before you to provide that transparency to the extent that I am permitted while respecting the integrity of our policies and processes,” Woodruff said.
In a meeting with Woodruff and the Interim Associate Provost and Associate Vice President for Faculty and Academic Staff Affairs Ann Austin, Gupta acknowledged his awareness of the actions that had been taken and gave his oral resignation, Woodruff said.
“Dr. Gupta failed in his mandated reporting responsibility,” Woodruff said. “Additionally, he failed to act in a timely and reasonable manner to protect students and uphold our values. The culture that we seek is one in which the well-being and safety of everyone is managed in an immediate, cooperative and trauma-informed way.”
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Woodruff said university policies and procedures were all duly followed.
“The work was deliberative and neither capricious nor malicious,” Woodruff said. “I stand by this course of action today.”
At the end of her remarks, Woodruff acknowledged counter-narratives that have come out defending Gupta and RVSM survivors at MSU. She reiterated the defense of her decision regarding Gupta.
“They are part of a human response that says, ‘This can’t be true about my friends, my colleagues, my leaders,’ and this is what makes the work so difficult,” Woodruff said. “But MSU has many survivors, courageous survivors. I hear the voices of those who do not have defenders in their network, for those who have been demeaned, touched, made to feel an object removed of their dignity, or a moment of celebration and subjected to the haunting worries of identity and worth. Did we have a deliberative process? Did we act in the faithful execution of the university values? Yes. And yes again.”
This is a developing story. Stay with The State News for more information.
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