Tuesday, April 23, 2024

MSU Academic Congress votes to support removal of trustees Vassar, Denno by governor

March 18, 2024
The Board of Trustees during a meeting in the Hannah Administration Building on Oct. 27, 2023.
The Board of Trustees during a meeting in the Hannah Administration Building on Oct. 27, 2023. —
Photo by Sonya Barlow | The State News

The largest faculty governing body at Michigan State University, the Academic Congress, has voted to support the removal of trustees Rema Vassar and Dennis Denno by the governor.

The vote comes after an outside investigation found the trustees violated board bylaws and code of ethics by interfering in university affairs and using student groups to orchestrate attacks against colleagues, among other things

The resolution, adopted on March 15, passed with a vote of 1,512 to 55. The Academic Congress consists of all voting-eligible faculty and academic staff, as well as the president and provost. 

"The academic congress condemns the retaliatory behavior of Trustees Denno and Vassar for exploiting students for political gain, inducing a culture of fear, weakening academic governance, jeopardizing the free, open expression of civil discourse, risking the accreditation of the university, unnecessarily dividing the Spartan community, and carelessly exposing the university to potential litigation," the resolution reads. 

The academic congress sent a memorandum to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Monday to notify her of its vote.

Article five, section ten of the state's constitution gives the governor power to remove publicly elected officials "for gross neglect of duty or for corrupt conduct in office, or for any other misfeasance or malfeasance therein."

The investigation — conducted by law firm Miller & Chevalier — was spurred by an October letter sent by trustee Brianna Scott to the rest of the board alleging Vassar's widespread misconduct and calling for her resignation.

Whitmer's spokesperson Stacey LaRouche called the investigation's findings concerning and said her office would be "monitoring the situation closely."

Scott was censured by the board for publicizing the allegations during a special meeting on March 3, but the Academic Congress' resolution "lauds (her) courage for exposing transgressions substantiated by (the investigation)."

During that special meeting, the board voted to refer Vassar and Denno to the governor for removal, censure them, strip them of their committee assignments and institute professional development for the board. 

The Academic Congress resolution also calls for "mandatory, comprehensive Trustee onboarding and annual training, designed by internal and external experts, to prepare them for the rigors of the role and to restore confidence in the Board from the university community."

Shortly before the March 3 meeting, Vassar resigned from her position as board chair.

"Despite my good intentions, I have had many missteps as we all do," Vassar said during the meeting. "I'm committed to doing what's necessary to improve my performance. And I know we all want to do better as a board in the future."

Vassar is replaced as board chair by the lone Republican on the board, Dan Kelly. 

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