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Vassar planned donor dinner at president’s house but didn’t include her

October 22, 2023
MSU Interim President Woodruff alongside Trustee's Vassar and  Scott listening to public comments during a Board of Trustees meeting, held at the Hannah Administration Building on Feb. 10, 2023.
MSU Interim President Woodruff alongside Trustee's Vassar and Scott listening to public comments during a Board of Trustees meeting, held at the Hannah Administration Building on Feb. 10, 2023. —

Michigan State University board chair Rema Vassar held a dinner for donors at the interim president’s house but planned to exclude her, according to emails newly obtained by The State News.

The dinner was hosted Friday evening at the historic Cowles House, the on-campus mansion where Interim President Teresa Woodruff lives.

In an email to Vassar Friday morning, trustee Brianna Scott objected to the choice to exclude Woodruff from speaking, saying it was “insulting and smacks of an ulterior motive.”

“This seems to be in line with other things being done to spite our Interim President,” Scott said in one of the emails.

The dinner is a new example of Vassar’s alleged “bullying” and usurping of Woodruff.

Sunday evening, Scott sent the board a letter calling for Vassar’s resignation over the treatment of Woodruff and numerous other examples of alleged misconduct.

Trustee Dianne Byrum and faculty senate chair Jack Lipton have since supported Scott, also asking Vassar to resign. Trustee Dennis Denno said he supports Vassar and is disappointed in some trustees "grandstanding with false accusations due to a personal grievance."

The other trustees have not returned calls from The State News seeking comment.

The Cowles House dinner in question was an "advancement event." Board members and administrators were given university talking points and biographies of the guests to assist in their “donor relations,” according to the emails.

Scott said in the emails that she would not be attending the dinner and “participating in the charade.”

“I personally apologize to Interim President Woodruff for being overlooked in such a blatant way by the planner of this event,” Scott said in an email addressed to Vassar.

She also apologized to Kim Tobin, the MSU administrator responsible for donor relations, who Scott said must be in “an uncomfortable position of having to do what you are told, when it is against protocols and what's right.”

Woodruff was not available for comment. A spokesperson said she was traveling.

After Scott raised concerns, Vassar sent an email hours before the event, saying "I’m sure no one meant to leave Interim President Woodruff off the program. I’m told she is indeed included now."

But a person in the advancement office who spoke on the condition of anonymity said Vassar was clear from the start that it was a "board event" and wanted no one from the administration in attendance or giving remarks.

Advancement staff advised against the dinner and the choice to exclude administrators multiple times during the months of planning, the person, who did not speak on the record because they fear retribution from Vassar, said.

"Donors like to see a unified MSU," they said.

As time went on and controversies emerged, notably the sexual harassment allegations against now-fired football coach Mel Tucker, they said advancement staff told Vassar that it was not an "optimal climate" for fundraising and that the event should be rethought.

But Vassar insisted that the event occur, demanding that it happen either during the Homecoming weekend in September or on Friday, before the rivalry football game against the University of Michigan, the person said.

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