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MSU University Council votes to support removal of trustees Vassar, Denno by governor

March 26, 2024
Chairwoman Rema Vassar at the Board of Trustees meeting in the Hannah Administration Building on Oct. 27, 2023.
Chairwoman Rema Vassar at the Board of Trustees meeting in the Hannah Administration Building on Oct. 27, 2023. —
Photo by Sonya Barlow | The State News

Michigan State University’s University Council, a representative body including faculty, staff, administrators and students, voted today to support the removal of trustees Rema Vassar and Dennis Denno by the governor.

The resolution, which passed 69-2, “condemns the retaliatory behaviors of Trustees Denno and Vassar for exploiting students for political gain against administration and academic governance leaders, inducing a culture of fear that jeopardizes the free, open expression of civil discourse, risking the good standing of the university with its accrediting body, needlessly dividing the Spartan community, and carelessly exposing the university to potential litigation.”

The vote is the latest condemnation of the embattled trustees by MSU’s staff.

The Academic Congress, which consists of all voting-eligible faculty and academic staff and the president and provost, passed a similar resolution last week with a vote of 1,512 to 55. 

The Faculty Senate, a group of MSU faculty representatives, also voted to support Vassar’s removal in October 2023 after trustee Brianna Scott released a letter of allegations against the then-chairperson. 

Scott’s letter spurred a months-long, costly outside investigation into board impropriety, which was released February. 

The investigation, conducted by law firm Miller & Chevalier, found Vassar and Denno 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 firm recommended the trustees be referred to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to consider their removal under a section of the state constitution that 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."

Days after the release of the report, MSU’s board voted to do just that. Whitmer’s office last said it's reviewing the matter. 

Denno and Vassar, who resigned as board chair hours before the vote, have both issued sharp rebuttals to the misconduct findings. 

Vassar, in a statement issued by her attorneys, said the report’s recommendations were “unsupported and profoundly flawed.” She claimed investigators were biased against her and ignored essential information.

The University Council resolution also supports the Academic Congress’s call 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."

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