Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Former MSU trustees join calls for board chair Vassar's resignation

October 23, 2023
Michigan State University Trustees Brianna T. Scott and Melanie Foster listen as Trustee Pat O'Keefe delivers remarks, in which he put on a "No More Nassar" hat to prove one of his points at the Board of Trustees meeting on Oct. 28, 2022.
Michigan State University Trustees Brianna T. Scott and Melanie Foster listen as Trustee Pat O'Keefe delivers remarks, in which he put on a "No More Nassar" hat to prove one of his points at the Board of Trustees meeting on Oct. 28, 2022. —
Photo by Devin Anderson-Torrez | The State News

Two former Michigan State University trustees have joined growing calls for board chair Rema Vassar's resignation.

This comes after current trustee Brianna Scott sent the board a letter demanding Vassar’s resignation, describing a “fractured and contentious” board with Vassar single-handedly orchestrating numerous major university decisions without the knowledge or consent of other board members or interim-president — often leading to costly legal entanglements and public controversy.

Former Trustee Melanie Foster said Monday morning that she wants Vassar to resign. She believes "all the allegations in Scott's letter are accurate."

Joel Ferguson, a Democrat who served on the board for 32 years until he stepped down in 2020, also called for Vassar's resignation.

"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 MSU," Ferguson, the first Black man to chair the board, said in the statement released Monday.

Foster also brought up a new issue: Vassar's use of committee assignments.

One of the board chair's responsibilities is selecting who leads each of the board's committees. Foster said during her time on the board, each of the eight trustees got a chance to lead a committee.

But when Vassar became the chair in January, she made herself the chair of multiple committees, leaving out trustees Dianne Byrum, Renee Knake Jefferson and Sandy Pierce — the three members of the board who voted against her as chair.

Foster said she believes that choice was retribution for their votes, taking particular issue with Vassar making herself chair of the powerful finance committee instead of Pierce, a Huntington Bank vice president with a long career in the finance industry.

"I just assumed (Pierce) would be the person to succeed me," Foster, who previously chaired the finance committee, said. "It's a very, very powerful committee, because it oversees a $4 billion endowment, the budget of the university, and all the construction projects of the university. Vassar put herself as the chair of it."

Foster, a Republican, served on the board from 2004-2022, leaving just before Vassar became chair in January.

Pat O'Keefe and Brian Mosallam, two other former trustees who have been publicly supportive of Vassar in the past, did not return calls from The State News seeking comment Monday.

O'Keefe and Mosallam are both mentioned in Scott's letter. Vassar engaged in "victim-blaming" texts with O'Keefe regarding the woman who accused fired football coach Mel Tucker of sexual harassment and appeared in an advertisement endorsing Mosallam's wealth management firm as chair of the board. Scott took issue with both.

Current trustees are split on Vassar.

Trustee Dennis Denno has come out in support of her and trustee Dianne Bryum has asked her to resign.

Vassar and the other current members of the board have not returned calls from The State News seeking comment. Trustee Sandy Pierce did answer a call Sunday evening but ended the conversation saying she "didn't have time."

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