An outside investigation by the Michigan State University Board of Trustees found that the debated removal of former business school dean Sanjay Gupta was out of line with university policies. But interim president Teresa Woodruff, the administrator behind the dismissal, contends it was about more than policy.
At the heart of the conflict is Gupta’s failure to report sexual misconduct at an April 2022 business college event. According to the report, Gupta said reporting would have been redundant because he believed his subordinates already had, and that his failure to do so doesn’t justify his dismissal.
The board hired the firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan to investigate the matter in August 2022. Late Friday night, after more than $1 million in fees and over 1,000 hours billed, the board released its 104-page product.
The investigation concluded the action taken against him appears “disproportionate” with his conduct as the recommended punishment for mandatory reporting failure at MSU is additional training.
But, the firm’s questioning of Woodruff reveals that she wasn’t focused on the technical policy rules surrounding reporting.
Instead, she said there is a “higher bar” for deans than what’s in university policy, that she employed a “zero-tolerance” policy for misconduct amongst administrators and that Gupta broadly wasn’t meeting her “own high administrative standards.”
As dean, Gupta served “at the will of the provost,” meaning Woodruff was within her rights to dismiss him for any legal reason.
Where the issue began
The saga began at an end-of-year gala for Broad’s MBA students in April 2022. At the event, then-assistant dean Charles Hadlock “got too drunk” and non-consensually touched and harassed students, according to an Office of Institutional Equity report obtained by The State News.
According to the report, Hadlock was the only non-student who stayed for the entire duration of the party, meaning student witnesses had to report his actions to faculty for it to reach mandatory reporters.
The firm recommends MSU remedy this issue by requiring at least two members of faculty and staff to be present for the full duration of any official university event.
Gupta wasn’t at the event at all, but was told about the misconduct by two administrators in the following days. He didn’t report it.
In his interview with the firm, Gupta said he didn’t need to report because the administrators suggested they would do so themselves, and that he didn’t know there was anything to report at all.
While he was told an administrator was “inappropriately dancing” and “dancing suggestively,” he said he didn’t believe that meant something sexual had occurred. The report also said Gupta told the firm someone “may have used the word ‘grinding,’” but he saw that as irrelevant because he didn’t know what the word “grinding” meant.
According to the report, when Gupta was asked why the administrators would file reports if it wasn’t something sexual, Gupta said he thought they were “playing it safe.”
Gupta was later told about the misconduct from Hadlock himself, who said he “got too drunk” and was “really sorry,” according to the report.
Gupta did not further question any of the allegations. He argues he was right to not do so, as MSU’s policy prohibits reporters of misconduct from individually investigating incidents of sexual misconduct.
Woodruff questions that defense. In her interview with the firm, she said he could have asked “common-sense questions to enable the right outcomes.”
Hadlock left MSU shortly after the conduct was reported. He taught summer courses at the University of Chicago before accepting a position as a chair of finance in the University of Pittsburgh’s business school in Fall 2022. Today, he teaches undergraduate students and conducts research there, according to reporting by The Pitt News.
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This is where the firm makes another recommendation. The report suggests MSU create a system where other institutions would be alerted about misconduct committed by professors while they were at MSU. At the time of Quinn Emanuel’s investigation, Pitt was unaware of Hadlock’s history, according to the report.
Four months after the gala, as the events were being investigated by MSU’s Office of Institutional Equity and Department of Faculty and Academic Staff Affairs, Woodruff met with Gupta and asked him to resign.
Behind Woodruff’s decision
Shortly after, the board requested that Woodruff explain the decision. In the letter she sent in response, she told them that her decision was motivated by more than the mandatory reporting failure. She described a “constellation of factors” which compelled her.
But, the firm’s review of her reasoning found only the mandatory reporting failure broke any MSU policy. In the report, Woodruff again reasoned that her standards for deans are higher than what’s mandated in policy.
Since his dismissal, Gupta has filed a lawsuit against Woodruff and six other MSU administrators. In the suit, he alleges that Woodruff intentionally forced him out in an effort to best position herself for the university presidency and that racial prejudice may have also been a factor.
The firm says that in its investigation, it found no evidence to suggest race was a factor, and found no evidence for or against the alleged presidential succession plot.
The report calls the Gupta matter a “case-study” in MSU’s handling of mandatory reporting.
The firm recommends that MSU clarify and refine its mandatory reporting policy, with clear standards of proof and rules regarding timeliness. It also suggests further training on the policy and clear examples and definitions in information materials given to mandatory reporters.
The firm also recommends further communication and cooperation between various departments to avoid confusion and miscommunication.
The report also begins with a caveat: it’s not as well sourced as it could be.
The investigation's opposition
The firm wrote there was widespread opposition to the investigation, including 22 staff members who declined interviews or ignored communications from the firm altogether. Those who declined interviews included an administrator who was the only other person present at Woodruff and Gupta’s August 2022 meeting, leaving the exact details of who said what contested.
Despite the concerns, the investigation continued. In December 2022, the board heard a verbal report from the firm in closed session. According to reporting by The Detroit News, trustees requested a 90-minute in-person PowerPoint presentation, as they were concerned that any written material could be made public through the Freedom of Information Act.