Walking into room 401 of the Hannah Administration Building, the Board of Trustees carried the weight of no-confidence votes from faculty organizations, student organizations and even the president of the university. Some trustees said they haven’t been able to sleep.
Trustee Brianna Scott called President Samuel L. Stanley Jr.’s resignation “collateral damage” from ongoing miscommunication and distrust within the board. Board chair Dianne Byrum said she would not be rerunning for chair in 2023. Trustee Rema Vassar even announced she'll be canceling the board's annual holiday party.
This was the first public meeting since Stanley's resignation. Prior to speaking to the community, the trustees have argued about failures with Title IX compliance and disagreed about what should be discussed with the media. They have struggled to communicate and have been unable to present a unified front.
In anger and in tears, trustees revealed their personal opinions on the departure of the former dean of the Broad College of Business, Title IX compliance issues and the inner workings of the board.
“In my professional life, I’ve never had … where I can’t trust the people that are sitting next to me,” Scott said.
Title IX compliance
The board voted unanimously to release the final investigation report of the 2021 Title IX compliance certification.
Title IX requires that, annually, the president and a board member review all Title IX reports involving alleged sexual misconduct of university employees during the fiscal year. MSU’s 2021 compliance certification came under scrutiny in September, with the board claiming the fault fell on Stanley and Stanley blaming the board.
An internal audit was conducted and released to the public on Sept. 13. The board also hired an external counsel to investigate the certification process. The firm has completed the investigation and the report will be released when it is finished.
Vice Chair Dan Kelly said his frustrations with the certification process did not begin with this investigation and have been going on for over two years.
“This was not a fishing expedition,” Kelly said. “This was not a witch hunt. This was something that, quite frankly, I didn’t want to have to get into. This was not only a legitimate lookback, this was a necessary lookback.”
Trustee Pat O’Keefe said there have been multiple requests for a mechanism to include the board’s review in Title IX reports, with no action.
“This deficiency falls to the president who is solely responsible for Title IX certification,” O’Keefe said.
O’Keefe said the reviews are designed to fix a problem in the certification process and mitigate future damage. He said the Title IX department deserves better.
Inside the board
News articles and leaks to the press have been at the center of board controversy since a Sept. 11 article where an anonymous source alleged Stanley was given an ultimatum by the board to retire or be fired, which was later found to be inaccurate. Since then, board members have criticized the administration and each other through individual press releases.
Trustee Kelly Tebay said the culture of using the media to communicate with each other is “embarrassing.” Tebay and Scott were the only two trustees who did not release any public statements or speak independently to the press.
Scott stated her concern for the board’s disconnected public appearance. She said she was frustrated and felt like she wanted to “break free.”
“Once again, here we are, that we’re not really speaking with one voice,” Scott said. “We’re going to have a whole bunch of voices and statements out there.”
Tearing up, Scott said she wants to see the board be better than it is but can’t trust her colleagues.
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Former Dean Gupta
The former Dean of the Broad College of Business Sanjay Gupta left the position in mid-August. His departure was linked to failure in mandated reporting responsibilities. The board hired external legal counsel on Sept. 31 to investigate the Title IX Office and the circumstances surrounding the departure.
Scott said she was apologetic for letting personal feelings get in the way of the greater good of the university. She said she was upset and confused when she learned about Gupta’s departure partially because of her “affiliation and love” for Broad.
“I did have concerns about the motivations, the speed at which the decisions were made, the fact that we, as a Board of Trustees, are not engaged or even told about what was going before decisions were made,” Scott said. “Part of my concern, which led me to agree to the Quinn Emanuel investigation, had to do with some of the backdrop concerns related to who it was.”
Scott said she was able to think more deeply when a conversation about the investigation led to Trustee Renee Knake Jefferson “pounding on the table saying, ‘this is out of our authority.’” She said Knake Jefferson made it clear what the board’s confines are.
“I made a mistake,” Scott said. “I made a decision that I probably never should have made, what started a whole domino effect that got us to where we are today.”
In contrast to Scott, O’Keefe passionately defended the investigation. O’Keefe called the review a “symptom of a major problem” within the Title IX department.
“You criticize the board for not doing an independent investigation during Nassar,” O’Keefe said. “Now you’re criticizing the board for doing an independent review, the processes and procedures regarding the very controls that are in place to remove the sexual transgression at the university.”
O’Keefe said Broad College students and the advisory board have supported the investigation.
“Not one of these constituencies have asked for reinstatement, but they understand governance and oversight of the board,” O’Keefe said.
Knake Jefferson said she supported Provost Teresa Woodruff in Gupta's departure and has not attempted to override decisions that belong to the administration.
“I have complied with my obligations as a trustee, sometimes in intense conversations with the board and the administration,” Knake Jefferson said. “I have not interfered with administrative decisions.”
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