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Woodruff: Business dean removal was about more than mandatory reporting failure

March 2, 2023
<p>Former Broad College dean Sanjay Gupta sits in the audience during an MSU Board of Trustees meeting, held at the Hannah Administration Building on Feb. 10, 2023.</p>

Former Broad College dean Sanjay Gupta sits in the audience during an MSU Board of Trustees meeting, held at the Hannah Administration Building on Feb. 10, 2023.

Photo by Jack Patton | The State News

At a meeting with Michigan State University's then-provost, now interim president Teresa Woodruff, Sanjay Gupta was asked to resign as dean of the university’s business school in August 2022. His email to colleagues and the public announcement that followed described the dismissal as the result of a mandatory reporting failure.

Since then, there has been much debate about whether dismissal was a fitting punishment for failure to follow a university rule. Gupta recently filed a lawsuit saying Woodruff removed him as part of her presidential succession plot.  

But, in a partially redacted August 2022 letter to MSU’s Board of Trustees, Woodruff said Gupta’s misconduct was greater than a simple mandatory reporting failure. She said in the letter that “the choices made by Dr. Gupta — both by commission and omission — constitute a constellation of factors and evidence that could not be ignored.”

The unreported incident occurred at an April 2022 end-of-year gala. According to an internal investigation, professor and Associate Dean Charles Hadlock, who reported directly to Gupta, harassed and engaged in non-consensual sexual contact with students while “too drunk” at the party.

Gupta learned what happened but did not report it. He said in his lawsuit against Woodruff that it would have been redundant as those who told him about the incident implied they would be reporting it themselves.

But Woodruff's letter suggests Gupta was careful not to learn too much about the incident.

Woodruff wrote that when Hadlock contacted Gupta to tell his dean what he did at the gala, he said he was “intoxicated” and had “acted inappropriately," but Gupta said he “did not receive further information, nor request it.”

Woodruff also wrote that even with that limited information, Gupta acknowledged to Hadlock that disciplinary action was necessary.

“(Gupta) said he indicated to Dr. Hadlock that 'I must let you go,'" Woodruff said in the letter. “Dr. Gupta (later) said he did not do so because he thought Dr. Hadlock was resigning and leaving MSU.”

It’s unclear whether Gupta intended to follow through on Hadlock's termination at the time, but by July 2022, Hadlock retired from MSU and accepted a position as a chair of finance at the University of Pittsburgh.

Woodruff’s letter said that Gupta “did not himself take any interim measures to protect students or anyone potentially impacted” during the three-month period between the gala and Hadlock’s exit.

Gupta’s handling of Hadlock’s exit agreement is also questioned in Woodruff’s letter. She said Hadlock’s summer job teaching at the University of Chicago was never approved by MSU's department which allows faculty to work at other institutions. 

In the letter’s conclusion, Woodruff said MSU leaders should have a higher standard of "leadership and institutional responsibilities" than just rules like the mandatory reporting policy.

“We work in an environment of heightened public scrutiny of the seriousness with which we carry out these responsibilities,” Woodruff said in the letter.

Recent MSU leaders, including Woodruff and her predecessors Samuel L. Stanley Jr and Lou Anna Simon, have been publicly criticized for apathy to Title IX issues.

The letter said Woodruff's decision was based on timelines, memos, documents and communications, meetings with relevant parties and internal investigations conducted by MSU’s Office of Institutional Equity and department of Faculty and Academic Staff Affairs.

In his lawsuit, which claims Woodruff improperly removed him to eliminate a possible presidential rival, Gupta criticizes her letter. He describes her reasoning as “pretextual.”

Specifically, he said in the lawsuit that he was not involved in the administrative process which determined Hadlock’s retirement benefits or approved his summer job. He also said Hadlock submitted resignation documents in March 2022, almost two months before the gala. The trustworthiness of the documents, which allowed Hadlock to leave MSU unaffected, is a subject of debate. A report by Detroit Crain’s Business citing confidential university documents suggests some forms signed by Gupta in June 2022 were backdated.

However, the lawsuit does not contest Woodruff's assertion that Gupta did not attempt to learn the details of the incident. In the suit, Gupta said he was never informed of "any allegations of any relationship violence, stalking, or any sexual misconduct."

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