Friday, March 24, 2023

Woodruff recommends replacement; steering committee calls O'Keefe comments 'inappropriate'

November 2, 2022
<p>Provost Teresa Woodruff at the Board of Trustees special meeting on Oct. 31, 2022. Provost Woodruff was appointed as Interim President replacing President Samuel L. Stanley Jr, following his resignation on Oct. 12, 2022.</p>

Provost Teresa Woodruff at the Board of Trustees special meeting on Oct. 31, 2022. Provost Woodruff was appointed as Interim President replacing President Samuel L. Stanley Jr, following his resignation on Oct. 12, 2022.

Photo by Devin Anderson-Torrez | The State News

At the Steering Committee meeting on Nov. 1, the committee received and discussed Provost Teresa Woodruff’s recommendation for provost and responded to comments made by Trustee Pat O’Keefe. The committee consists of faculty senate members, representatives from the Associated Students of MSU and the Council of Graduate Students and committee chairpersons. 

Provost recommendation and discussion

Woodruff recommended that Senior Associate Provost Thomas Jeitschko replace her as provost. She announced her recommendation at the Steering Committee meeting on Nov. 1 — three days prior to her scheduled day to step into the role of interim MSU president on Nov. 4. 

Woodruff said she considered many factors in her decision, including feedback from administrative, faculty and student groups. When considering her replacement options based on individual accomplishments, leadership and administrative experience, Woodruff said Jeitschko rose to the top of her mind. 

Jeitschko is the current senior associate provost and he has previously served as acting provost, associate provost for graduate and postdoctoral studies and dean of the graduate school. Woodruff cited his extensive work experience and oversight of the development of the strategic plan for graduate education in her recommendation. 

“I think he will lead and continue the priorities and initiatives that we have all set together, and will keep them on the upward trajectory,” Woodruff said. “He also will be a stabilizing leader during this time of transition.”

Woodruff said the transition process needs what she called “stagility,” a combination of stability and agility, in order to move the university forward together. 

She brought forth her recommendation to the Steering Committee because of the academic governance bylaws which require provost appointments to be discussed with the committee. After giving her recommendation, she asked the committee for advice and consultation. 

Although several committee members stated the quick turnaround in decision-making indicated a need for transparency and understanding across the university for why and how the decision was made so quickly, the committee overwhelmingly echoed their support of Jeitschko’s potential appointment. 

“Thomas has been wonderful in all the meetings that I've been in with him, and that he's represented the provost office in,” Committee member and Executive Vice President for Health Sciences Norman Beauchamp said. “He's always well prepared. He's a good listener; he's thoughtful. He's collaborative, and he brings a great deal of experience.” 


Discussion of Pat O’Keefe’s “inappropriate” comments 

The committee also discussed Trustee Pat O’Keefe’s comments at the Oct. 28 Board of Trustees meeting. 

O’Keefe said he was “tired of reading about the sexual transgressions of the faculty, which are like reading ‘50 Shades of Grey’ and are as long as ‘Gone with the Wind,’ without knowing what the outcomes are of such behavior.” 

He also made statements regarding what he called the “unchained sexual promiscuity of the faculty,” and he said the board must make “a plan to remove this excrement from this campus. He then donned a hat with the phrase “No more Nassar.” 

Several members of the committee said that O’Keefe’s comments were inappropriate and brought into question his role on the board. 

“(The comments) just seemed wholly and completely inappropriate for a member of a board who is governing an institution of higher learning, to equate sexual harassment reports to pornography,” At-large member Megan Donahue said. “I was furious for the faculty members of this university who were broadly insulted and for the survivors whose reports were undermined and trivialized by these comments. I feel that he crossed the line that makes him not only inappropriate as a trustee, but utterly, foundationally unqualified.”

Several committee members echoed Donahue’s sentiments, stating the comments were “disheartening” and “egregious.” They also discussed what they viewed as tactical maneuvers by O’Keefe to twist the reasoning behind previous no-confidence votes, push forth his own agenda, divide the university and make a public spectacle. 

“I'd like to be clear that we see the gambit that's at play here, and that the gambit is to equate our request for academic freedom as being equivalent to a request for impunity for all faculty,” Donahue said. “It's not the same thing. None of us think of it as the same thing. It's a false equivalence, and we won't be drawn into that argument; that's not what we mean by academic freedom, and that trustee knows that very well.” 

Members of the committee said public communication with O’Keefe would not be productive and would only feed into what they felt was a ploy. Instead, they wanted to communicate with and support survivors and faculty. Multiple members said potential steps forward would also include hearing from other board members about their response to the comments, as well as communications with the governor about removing the trustee. 

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Chairperson Karen Kelly-Blake said they would plan to send out an email to all faculty to express support and say that O’Keefe’s behavior would not be tolerated. Committee member and ASMSU President Jo Kovach, who had confronted O’Keefe after the board meeting, reiterated what they had told O’Keefe. 

“You can't say that you're sitting there to protect students when you haven't even spoken to any of the students,” Kovach said. “Utilizing students and sister survivors, and using the language that he did, was purposeful to embark on some emotion that he wanted to get from people and get a rise out of people … I'm not going to sit there and allow that to happen. I speak with people who are in connection with the sister survivors, and I know what they still go through, and the things that were said were not okay.” 


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