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Community members react to letter calling for MSU board chair Vassar to resign

October 23, 2023
Michigan State Trustee Vassar commenting on a research presentation. The Michigan State University Board of Trustees had its first meeting of the fall semester on Sep. 9, 2022.
Michigan State Trustee Vassar commenting on a research presentation. The Michigan State University Board of Trustees had its first meeting of the fall semester on Sep. 9, 2022. —
Photo by Jack Patton | The State News

The Michigan State University community was left shocked after trustee Brianna Scott called for the removal of board chair Rema Vassar in a letter Sunday night, alleging she bullied colleagues, interfered in legal disputes and attempted to keep word of her meddling out of an official report about the February campus shooting.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called on MSU to "take appropriate action" in regards to the allegations. Trustee Dennis Denno has come out in support of Vassar, while trustee Dianne Byrum and Faculty Senate chair Jack Lipton have both supported Scott's calls for Vassar's removal.

Joel Ferguson, a former trustee who served 32 years on the board, also called for Vassar's removal. Ferguson was board chair for 18 years.

"I respect that Dr. Vassar is the first Black woman to chair the MSU Board of Trustees, but her inappropriate leadership is disruptive and destructive to Michigan State University," Ferguson said in a statement.

Keith Williams, chairman of the Michigan Democratic Black Caucus, called Scott's letter "cowardly," and suggested it was a power grab.

"It reeks of the plantation-style politics that our African-American community has been working against for generations," Williams said in a statement.

In her letter, Scott wrote that she anticipated pushback from Vassar after she came forward.

“I have been threatened by Dr. Vassar that speaking out against her decisions would result in her turning the Black community against me — and I myself am a Black woman,” Scott wrote. “I have also been warned that speaking out will cause unwanted attention to the Board of Trustees and will harm the university and interfere with our current Presidential Search. But of the many values I've developed as a Black person, as a woman, and as a Spartan, chief among them is standing up for what's right.”

Rep. Elissa Slotkin said "it continues to be painful to see MSU deal with problem after problem."

Bradley Dizik, a crisis adviser and a recipient of Michigan State University’s Distinguished Young Alumni Award, called on both Vassar and Scott to be removed, as well as trustee Dianne Byrum. He called their conduct "disgraceful and unconscionable."

John Sellek, an MSU alumnus and CEO of Harbor Strategic Public Affairs, also called out the board's dysfunction. He listed several recent mishaps at the university, including allegations of sexual harassment against former MSU football coach Mel Tucker and a picture of Adolf Hitler that appeared on the Spartan Stadium scoreboard as part of a pre-game trivia question before Saturday's football game against the University of Michigan.

One social media user said Vassar "has not supported women," and backed calls for her removal. According to Scott's letter, Vassar unsuccessfully attempted to coordinate the release of thousands of documents relating to MSU's handling of disgraced ex-MSU gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar.

Another social media user captioned a picture of a dumpster fire with, "The MSU Board of Trustees," referencing the chaos and dysfunction of the board.

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