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Board unanimously votes to release Quinn Emanuel findings in one report

February 10, 2023
<p>MSU board chair Vassar presents her comments and report during a Board of Trustees meeting, held at the Hannah Administration Building on Feb. 10, 2023.</p>

MSU board chair Vassar presents her comments and report during a Board of Trustees meeting, held at the Hannah Administration Building on Feb. 10, 2023.

Michigan State University's Board of Trustees made a surprise motion Friday morning, voting unanimously to release the findings of an external investigation into MSU by a Los Angeles-based law firm upon its completion.

In Aug. 2022, the firm began to probe MSU’s Title IX office and the controversial removal of former Business School Dean Sanjay Gupta.

While the two issues were billed separately, board chair Rema Vassar said that they will be assembled into one report because “it’s all part of Title IX.” When asked how the findings would be presented, Vassar said that it was too early to provide concrete details, but that they intend to release all that is found.

“There is no report to date,” Vassar said. “But, whatever the report is, is what will be released. And, I wouldn't expect that there would be anything held back.”

Vassar did not provide a timeline, but did say that the board instructed the firm to complete its review “A.S.A.P.”

The investigation

After the firm began directly reaching out to MSU faculty for interviews and information, then-Provost Teresa Woodruff sent a letter to the board asking them to stop the investigation. Then-president Samuel L. Stanley also issued a letter condemning the investigation, citing concerns that Quinn Emanuel’s probe could interfere with the then-ongoing OIE investigation.

On top of the probes, the law firm provided $41,290 in “crisis management” public-relations consulting to the board. Normally, the board’s spokespeople and media consultants are university employees who also speak for and media-train university administrators – including the provost and president.

The leading attorney on the investigations and PR consulting is Crystal Nix-Hines, the former U.S. ambassador to UNESCO, who billed $1,432.25 an hour on MSU’s case.

While she is the media-contact on the board’s press releases regarding the investigation, she did not respond to calls and emails seeking an interview about the firm and its ability to service MSU.

Quinn Emanuel does not advertise higher education or Title IX compliance in its 48 practice areas. The firm is known for its corporate practice, one of its claims to fame is receiving five 9-figure jury verdicts, a feat only rivaled by a handful of other firms. Recent clients include Boy Scouts of America, Victoria’s Secret and AIG.

Throughout the fall of 2022, the board received invoices from Quinn Emanuel averaging over $200,000 a month in legal fees and expenses. The university could not provide a current total cost by the time of publication.

Board chair Rema Vassar and vice-chair Kelly did not respond to numerous calls, text messages and emails over two weeks, seeking comment on why Quinn Emanuel was chosen to investigate the Gupta matter, rather than MSU’s in-house attorneys, or a Michigan-based firm like Honigman Miller which investigated the university’s 2021 Title IX Compliance Certification.

In a December 2022 closed-session, the board heard a verbal report from Quinn Emanuel. According to reporting by The Detroit News, trustees requested a 90-minute in-person PowerPoint presentation, as they were concerned that any written report could be made public through the Freedom of Information Act.

The board’s secrecy, particularly surrounding the Gupta portion of the firm’s work, outraged Broad college faculty, students, alumni, donors, and advisory board members.

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Gupta’s exit

Gupta served as the dean of MSU’s business school from June 2015 until he was asked to resign in August 2022. Now, he serves as a professor at a salary of $549,744.36 – making him the highest paid member of the faculty at almost $50,000 more than interim-Provost Thomas Jeitschko.

Gupta was in attendance at Friday’s board meeting. He did not address the board, but seven of his supporters spoke during the public comment section of the meeting.

Michigan State University first announced Gupta’s departure from leadership in a statement released on Aug. 12, 2022, which described his exit as a voluntary resignation driven by his failure to comply with MSU’s mandated reporting policy.

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But, in the initial statement explaining the board’s decision to hire outside counsel, board vice chair Dan Kelly said that Gupta’s resignation was not voluntary, rather that it was implemented by then-Provost Teresa Woodruff.

A month after Gupta’s departure, Crain’s Detroit Business reported that confidential university documents showed Gupta had indeed failed to comply with the university's mandatory reporting policies. The documents also detailed backdated forms which secured an improper retirement arrangement for that subordinate.

A finalized Office of Institutional Equity, or OIE, investigation report obtained by The State News describe the incident in question. Its final resolution found two non-consensual sexual contact violations and one sexual harassment violation by former business college associate dean Charles Hadlock who got “too drunk” at a university gala with MBA students. The resolution determined that Hadlock met every condition of RVSM and Title IX violations, including “objectively offensive,” “pervasive,” “persistent,” “unwelcome,” “on the basis of sex” and “severe.”

After his exit from MSU in 2022, Hadlock accepted a position as the “Terrence Laughlin Chair in Finance” at the University of Pittsburgh.

At the Dec. 2022 Board of Trustees meeting, some of Broad’s largest donors threatened to pull their donations if the Quinn Emanuel investigation’s findings were not made public.

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Protesters gather

Friday morning, protesters gathered outside of the Hannah Administration Building where the board meeting was held. They held commercially printed signs reading “Woodruff Must Go,” “Stop Gupta Discrimination” and “Broad Donors Unite,” among other phrases.

One protester, Nargis, who held a “Broad Donors Unite” sign, said she was not a Broad College donor or involved with MSU. She said she heard about the event on an Indian-American community Facebook group, in a post which described discrimination against Gupta by MSU.

Finance senior Blake Maday, a member of the Broad Student Senate, has been heavily involved with garnering support for Gupta. He said supporters are pushing for more transparency from the board, specifically demanding the release of the investigation report.

"You've got to find some way to make it right with Sanjay," Maday said. "Whether that's reinstating his deanship or coming up with some other solution."

None of the protesters knew who made the signs. When asked where they got them, protesters said they were “just sort of handed out” when they arrived.

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