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'Fabrications and misstatements': MSU board chair Vassar disputes accusations

October 24, 2023
<p>Chairperson Vassar speaking at the Board of Trustees Meeting at the Hannah Administration Meeting on Sep. 8, 2023.</p>

Chairperson Vassar speaking at the Board of Trustees Meeting at the Hannah Administration Meeting on Sep. 8, 2023.

Photo by Denille Reid | The State News

Michigan State University board chair Rema Vassar has responded to calls for her removal, describing Scott's allegations as “fabrications, misstatements, innuendo, and untruths.” She accuses "three board members" of interfering with the board's work due to "personal grievances."

“At a time where we have a responsibility to show leadership on a Presidential search, our Title IX roles and responsibilities, a search for a head football coach, and lawsuits both pending and imminent, three Board members are focused on what I can only guess are personal grievances,” Vassar wrote in a statement Monday night.

Michigan State University trustee Brianna Scott first called for Vassar’s removal in a letter sent to the board Sunday night. After the release of Scott's letter, trustee Dianne Byrum said she supported removal, while trustee Dennis Denno defended Vassar.

"As the first African American woman ever elected to chair this Board, it is very disappointing that instead of showing unity and a steady hand during a tough time for our university, three members of our MSU Board of Trustees are more focused on undermining me instead of working together to do the job we were elected or appointed to do," Vassar wrote. "Though I regret that we are engaging in a public debate, I could not allow these meritless allegations to go unaddressed."

An investigation into Vassar’s alleged conduct was initiated Monday morning, and will be conducted by MSU's Office of Audit, Risk and Compliance.

Concerns about review of mass shooting

Vassar said another trustee "raised appropriate questions and concerns" about the contents of a review into MSU's handling of the mass shooting.

In her letter, Scott accused Vassar of "inappropriately suggesting" that consultants change their language when criticizing the board for overstepping.

Vassar defends the trustee's request, writing “it was appropriate to engage the firm on the contents of their report — particularly as the specific request was for recommendations around our roles during crises.”

Work with the interim president

Vassar said she "rejects" the "coded language" Scott used when accusing her of bullying Interim President Teresa Woodruff.

"None of the assertions made regarding me and the Interim President are true," Vassar wrote.

No board policy about private travel

Vassar said there is no board policy specifically “regarding private travel to MSU events" after Scott criticized her for flying to the 2023 NCAA March Madness men's basketball tournament with a donor. Vassar said her trip cost the university nothing.

“My friend, a MSU donor, invited me and several others to a basketball game,” Vassar said in the statement. ” … this targeting of my travel is a testament to the disparate treatment I continue to experience while serving on this Board."

'Entire board' involved with Gupta lawsuit, investigation

Vassar denies Scott’s claims that she attempted to single-handedly settle a lawsuit by controversial former business dean Sanjay Gupta.

Vassar claims the entire board “was then and is still now” engaged in Gupta’s lawsuit, and said Scott should not have shared what she described as confidential communications.

While Scott claims Vassar released an outside investigation into Gupta’s ousting without discussing it with the rest of the board, Vassar claims it was released after the majority of the board voted to do so.

Scott interfered with release of the Nassar documents

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Vassar claims Scott interfered with her attempt to coordinate the release of the long-withheld documents relating to the university’s handling of disgraced ex-MSU doctor Larry Nassar. If released, these documents would first go to Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office for review.

“When the AG’s office reached out to me, I communicated the appetite of the majority of the Board to transfer the documents to the AG’s office,” Vassar wrote. “The AG’s office sent a letter of request and a majority of the Board was willing to honor her request.”

Scott alleges Vassar contacted Nessel without first consulting the administration or other board members, so when the AG office’s letter of request actually came they were not able to successfully vote on its release.

“Trustee Scott then said she spoke with Attorney General Dana Nessel, incorrectly represented our intentions, and was reportedly told that, in fact, the AG did not want the documents,” Vassar wrote. “Therefore, the Board decided not to give them to the AG.”

No board member gave up phones for Tracy investigation

Vassar claims she isn’t the only trustee to not hand over their cell phone for the ongoing investigation into who at MSU may have forced Brenda Tracy, the woman accusing former football coach Mel Tucker of sexual harassment, to publicly come forward by leaking her name to local media.

“To date, no Board member, including the three trustees manufacturing this distraction, has produced their phones for a forensic review, and that request is part of an ongoing discussion between the Board and Jones Day,” she wrote.

Vassar did not elaborate on what those discussions involved.

Vassar denies any involvement with the alleged leak of Tracy's name and said she isn’t aware of any trustees that knew Tracy’s identity before the story went public. 

Vassar’s statement also pushes back against Scott’s criticism of a text exchange between her and former trustee Pat O’Keefe about Tracy. Vassar said the exchange was one-sided, with "no input" on her end. 

While the majority of the texts came from O’Keefe, Vassar placed a heart reaction on a text from O’Keefe explaining how he thought Tracy could best be discredited, according to a copy of the messages obtained by The State News. A portion of the exchange ends with Vassar texting, “I need to talk to you.”

Vassar did not address Scott's claim that she violated university policies by appearing in an advertisement for a former trustee’s wealth management firm earlier this year. The ad, ran in various Michigan publications, features Vassar posed beside trustee emeritus Brian Mosallam, who is a managing partner of Spartan Wealth.

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