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MSU won’t say if results of Tucker accuser leak investigation will be released

October 11, 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.

Michigan State University officials won’t say whether they plan to release the findings of the outside investigation into the leak of the name of the woman accusing fired football coach Mel Tucker of sexual harassment.

The probe, which is being conducted by global law firm Jones Day, will attempt to find who at the university told local media and another “outside party” that prominent rape survivor and advocate Brenda Tracy was formally accusing Tucker of harassing her, which would break the promise of confidentiality MSU makes with claimants.

The university ordered the investigation after Tracy sent MSU’s lawyers a draft statement which accused “someone associated with the MSU Board of Trustees” of being the leak.

But little has been said since the university ordered the probe.

MSU Board Chair Rema Vassar and university spokesperson Emily Guerrant both declined to answer questions about the investigation this week. Board vice chair Dan Kelly, who is Jones Day’s direct report on the MSU board, did not return calls or an email from The State News at time of publication.

Their silence leaves much unclear, including who is and isn’t complying with the investigation, how long it will take, how much it will cost, how the findings will be delivered and if the results will ever be made public at all.

Jones Day’s work is privileged, according to a copy of the firm’s engagement.

That means the results of the investigation won’t necessarily become public, because privileged legal information isn’t subject to transparency laws like the Freedom of Information Act or Open Meetings Act.

In previous investigations, MSU or its board have opted to waive their privilege, making the work of the investigators public through either records requests or by directly releasing a report in full.

Guerrant would not say if MSU plans to waive privilege over the leak investigation. She said that there will be an MSU press release regarding the probe when the investigation is complete, but "that's all (she) could say."

It’s also possible the firm’s report will never be written down.

In December 2022, a The Detroit News report revealed that MSU’s board was getting verbal interim reports from a different firm investigating the forced removal of former business dean Sanjay Gupta. These in-person, oral reports prevented the firm’s findings from being leaked or ever becoming public through records requests.

Eventually, the board gave in to public criticism over the secrecy and opted to waive privilege and release a written report from the firm.

Guerrant said that MSU has not yet discussed whether Jones Day’s report will be written or verbal.

It’s also unclear when the firm will be done.

Guerrant said Jones Day is “following their leads wherever they go,” and will take however much time they need to properly do so. 

That makes it hard to know how much the investigation will cost MSU, as the work is being billed hourly, not as a lump sum, according to the engagement letter. 

The Gupta investigation that was eventually released cost the university almost $1.6 million — a figure that was heavily criticized by student and faculty leaders

How the leak investigation came together

Days after a USA Today report first publicized Tracy’s allegations, she and her attorney drafted the statement saying that she was forced to come forward because her name was leaked by someone associated with MSU’s board.

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That statement was shared with MSU’s general counsel who sent it to the board and high-ranking administrators on the morning of Sept. 12. 

But Tracy never released the statement. Instead, she distributed a toned-down version that just said an “outside party” leaked her name, not someone associated with the board. Her attorney told The State News the change was a “legal strategy.”

By the time she released the non-specific, second statement, Jones Day had already been hired by MSU to conduct the investigation, according to a copy of the engagement obtained by The State News.

The engagement also confirms that it was MSU’s administration who retained the firm, not the Board of Trustees.

MSU’s board and administration are separate. The administration, led by the president, runs the university day-to-day, while the board, which is elected statewide in partisan races, is tasked with overseeing the administration and making big-picture decisions.

The university waited to announce their investigation, telling The State News that there would be one on Sept. 16, four days after it was ordered, and releasing a press release with the name of the firm two days after that.

Asked why the university didn’t immediately announce that they were taking action, MSU spokesperson Guerrant told The State News “we just didn’t have all the details yet.”

The board, however, was informed of MSU's investigation by no later than Sept. 12, Guerrant said.

Despite that, former MSU board chair Dianne Byrum publicly demanded an investigation into the leak on Sept. 13, after one had been ordered by the administration. Her statement argued the leak could discourage future survivors of misconduct at MSU from reporting, because they will fear their name being disclosed.

Byrum said she was "disturbed and outraged by recent reports indicating the name of a claimant in a sexual harassment investigation was intentionally released in an apparent effort to retaliate against her … We should unequivocally condemn attempts to silence or retaliate against victims.”

Tracy’s allegations

Tracy first filed a complaint with the OIE in December 2022. While the leak forced her to come forward publicly earlier this month, the case is ongoing. 

A hearing occurred Oct. 5, but the Resolution Officer tasked with deciding whether Tucker violated the university’s policies on relationship violence and sexual misconduct is yet to make a final decision.

Tracy’s claims center around an April 2022 phone call on which she alleges Tucker made sexually suggestive comments about her appearance and masturbated on the line without her consent. 

Tucker has since admitted to the comments and masturbation, but denies that it was nonconsensual. He claims he and Tracy had a mutual romantic connection even prior to the phone call. Tracy claims the relationship was one-sided and that she had to ward off sexual advances in the past.

Tucker and his attorney, Jennifer Belveal, did not attend the Oct. 5 hearing because of a “serious medical condition” preventing Tucker from appearing. 

During the hearing, they did release a 106-page document containing “new evidence” and messages from Tracy’s private conversations with a recently-deceased friend and colleague, Ahlan Alvarado. Tucker and Belveal claim the texts reveal Tracy misled investigators and manipulated witnesses and MSU officials.

Tracy has since obtained an “emergency restraining order” stopping Tucker from releasing more messages, according to a USA Today report

The Ingham County judge who granted the order said the texts appeared to be “protected, personal, private, and sensitive business information related to sexual assault survivors and employees” which were “gathered in violation of Michigan law.”

After Tracy’s allegations first became public last month, MSU fired Tucker, saying whether or not the relationship was consensual, his admission of a sexual relationship with a team vendor is enough to terminate him. 

Tucker has released statements saying he believes the university had no legal right to fire him, calling the justifications “flimsy” and alluding to a civil lawsuit he intends to file.

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