Thursday, February 2, 2023

Board actions are 'doing harm to campus, reputation of MSU,' provost says

October 5, 2022
Provost Teresa Woodruff welcomes the ASMSU 2022-23 assembly during their meeting on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2022 in the International Center at Michigan State University.
Provost Teresa Woodruff welcomes the ASMSU 2022-23 assembly during their meeting on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2022 in the International Center at Michigan State University. —
Photo by Chloe Trofatter | The State News

Outside legal counsel hired by the Board of Trustees is asking MSU faculty, executive administrators and internal legal counsel to help in their investigation of the departure of former Broad College of Business dean Sanjay Gupta. President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. and Provost Teresa Woodruff are concerned about the process and Woodruff asked the board to "halt the manner of its investigation."

In a redacted email from the outside legal counsel, Quinn Emanuel, an associate from the firm, said they are investigating circumstances including “disputes as to whether Dr. Gupta failed to comply with mandatory reporting obligations and disputes concerning the voluntary or involuntary nature of Dr. Gupta’s resignation.”

The associate asked someone from the university to meet with the firm to “learn more of the facts related to these issues.” 

University spokesperson Emily Guerrant declined to comment.

In a letter to the board, Woodruff said seven individuals were contacted by the firm in a similar way. Woodruff said the individuals contacted would have “limited knowledge on the matter” and the counsel should not depose these individuals.

Stanley sent a letter to board chairperson Dianne Byrum on Oct. 5 stating his concern with the ongoing external investigation. In reference to the firm’s outreach to university employees, Stanley said it is imperative that the current investigation by the Office of Institutional Equity, or OIE, not be impacted by the Quinn Emanuel review.

He also cited MSU's non-retaliation policy.

“Employees should not feel pressured or intimidated for fear of retaliation from the Board as part of this review process,” Stanley said in the letter.

Stanley said he doesn’t believe the external review is necessary because the university “made the right decision” regarding Gupta. Gupta's departure was previously referred to as a resignation according to various university sources.

He said the administration is cooperating with the firm but that he wants to ensure the current Title IX investigation is not influenced. According to his letter, any employees who choose to participate in the review will be offered legal counsel by the university.

In her letter, Woodruff said Gupta’s failure to comply with mandated reporting responsibilities is “not in dispute.” She said Gupta acknowledged that he did not report information to the OIE.

Woodruff asked the board to stop the manner of their investigation because it is not ordinary fact-finding. She also asked the board not to send legal inquiries directly to campus members.

“These aggressive and unparalleled actions are causing harm to individuals and creating a chilling effect over work that is difficult,” Woodruff said in the letter. “These actions by the Board of Trustees are doing harm to the campus, harm to the reputation of MSU and harm to the process you seek to improve.”

The chair and vice chair of the Faculty Senate and Steering Committee, Karen Kelly-Blake and Stephanie Anthony, stated “grave concern” over the outside counsel’s contact with faculty. The letter said the investigation is an overreach outside of the board’s purview that “denies the harm inflicted on the victim and seemingly provides cover and protection for Gupta.”

The statement asked the board to end the investigation and engage in professional development and board training.

“If the board cares anything about this university and the people who work here, it will cease and desist with this investigation, it will do the job it is charged to do, and it will abide by its code of conduct,” the letter said.

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