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Where MSU’s trustees stand on removing the board chair

October 22, 2023
The Board of Trustees Meeting at the Hannah Administration Meeting on Sep. 8, 2023.
The Board of Trustees Meeting at the Hannah Administration Meeting on Sep. 8, 2023. —
Photo by Denille Reid | The State News

Michigan State University’s board of trustees is partially split and partially silent amid calls for the resignation of the board’s chair, Rema Vassar.

Sunday evening, 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.

Currently, one trustee has publicly agreed with Scott, one has come out in support of Vassar, and the rest are silent.

Where they stand:

  • Brianna Scott: called for Vassar’s resignation in the letter
  • Dianne Byrum: said Sunday night that she wants Vassar to resign
  • Dennis Denno: released a statement Sunday night saying he supports Vassar
  • Sandy Pierce: has not returned multiple calls and messages seeking her stance
  • Dan Kelly: has not returned multiple calls and messages seeking his stance
  • Kelly Tebay: has not returned multiple calls and messages seeking her stance
  • Renee Knake Jefferson: has not returned multiple calls and messages seeking her stance
  • Rema Vassar: has not returned multiple calls and messages seeking her stance

The board will next meet publicly Friday, October 27.

Denno, who chairs the presidential search committee, pushed back on Scott’s demand in his statement.

"I support Chair Rema Vassar and I'm disappointed some Trustees are grandstanding with false accusations due to a personal grievance,” Denno said in the statement. “We're a world class university and a majority of the trustees are working to move MSU forward."

He did not return a text message asking for clarification on what the “personal grievance” is and who he sees as the majority “working to move MSU forward” at time of publication.

Byrum said she “acknowledges the courage of Trustee Scott” and “supports her letter.”

Pierce did answer a call from The State News Sunday evening but ended the conversation saying she “didn’t have time.” She has not returned calls or texts since.

While trustee Dan Kelly did not return calls or texts from The State News, he did release a statement that his audit, risk and compliance committee called upon the university to review Scott's allegations against Vassar. That review started Monday morning.

The rest of the current board, including Vassar, have not returned numerous calls and messages from The State News throughout Sunday evening and Monday.

Two former trustees have publicly supported Vassar’s resignation.

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.

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

Foster also brought up a new issue, accusing Vassar of using committee assignments to punish those who didn’t vote for her in the January chair election.

Two other former trustees, Pat O’Keefe and Brian Mosallam, 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 actions in her letter.

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Since the release of Scott's letter, student groups and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer have split opinions on the controversy surrounding Vassar. Whitmer called the allegations "deeply concerning."

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