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Gov. Whitmer considers changing how trustees are chosen after MSU board chair controversy

October 25, 2023
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer greets guests for the State of the State address in The House Chamber at the Capital Building in Lansing on Jan. 25, 2023.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer greets guests for the State of the State address in The House Chamber at the Capital Building in Lansing on Jan. 25, 2023.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said she was "alarmed" by the allegations against MSU board chair Rema Vassar and that she will be watching the Board of Trustees "closely" before taking action to remove a trustee or change the Michigan Constitution. 

She said, according to audio obtained from The State News, that her office discussed changing the current system that selects the trustees, outlined in the Michigan Constitution. Currently, university board members are elected state-wide, but Whitmer said there have been conversations in the capitol over making trustee positions appointment-only. 

Michigan State University, along with Wayne State University and the University of Michigan, utilize a state-wide partisan election to choose who serves on their boards. Other public universities in the state have a board that is appointed by the governor. 

Whitmer said the Vassar decision may also affect the legislative session. Her legal team is looking into a law that says the governor can only remove board members when the legislature is not in session. 

However, these changes would not fix MSU's current issue with the board, Whitmer said.

One of the allegations Whitmer responded to is trustee Brianna Scott's claim that Vassar refused to allow lawyers investigating the leak of Brenda Tracy's identity to review her cell phone contents to rule her out as the leak.

“It’s alarming to me that any trustee would not fully comply with an investigation about a victim whose name was inappropriately and perhaps unlawfully leaked,” Whitmer said at a Wednesday morning press conference at the University of Michigan-Flint campus. “I’ve got a lot of questions, and I think Spartan nation has questions.” 

Whitmer said before she makes any judgment or announcements, she would like to "get the facts" and see the investigation into Scott's claims continue. She said she would be sure to act in an "unbiased manner" if she ultimately is in the position of determining whether to remove Vassar. 

“Michigan State’s got a huge problem right now,” Whitmer said. “We deserve leaders who will act with integrity and make sure the institution is a lot more important than any one person's aspirations or viewpoints or agendas."

Whitmer said she is interested in and will be closely watching the next Board of Trustees meeting, which is scheduled for this Friday, Oct. 27. 

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