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MSU trustee, search committee chair touted influence over new president

April 12, 2024

Embattled Michigan State University trustee Dennis Denno boasted about having influence over the newly-appointed president in a meeting with student leaders early this year, according to recordings obtained by The State News.

Denno said President Kevin Guskiewicz would listen to him because he chaired the search committee that selected the former University North Carolina chancellor.

“He knows who helped bring him here,” Denno said.

The unguarded comments add a new layer to the complex relationship Guskiewicz is building with the fractured board.

Denno and fellow trustee Rema Vassar were found to regularly meddle in the work of the university’s administration by an outside investigation released earlier this year.

Guskiewicz said he would only take the job at MSU if the board promised to stop interfering. The board did that upon his appointment, signing pledges saying they would no longer engage in the behavior.

Denno made the remark at a Jan. 25 meeting with student leaders. They were discussing concerns about the university’s endowment, which activists say is supporting the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.

In that meeting, students asked Denno if he would publicly call for the university to divest from Israel as well as weapons manufacturers. He declined, arguing he would be “pigeonholed as the pro-Palestinian, anti-Israeli” trustee and become “completely ineffective.”

He then suggested that he might have some pull with Guskiewicz in getting him to support divestment from all foreign bonds, but that Guskiewicz would lose trust in him if he called for divestment from Israel specifically.

“And right now, new president coming in, I chaired the search committee, I’m not bragging, I chaired the search committee,” Denno said. “I have a great relationship with him. I mean, he knows who helped bring him here.”

Guskiewicz rejected that notion.

“I was brought to MSU by a search committee of 29 people and by a unanimous vote of all eight board of trustees members,” he said in a statement. “In leading this great institution, I have many audiences and stakeholders to consider and ultimately my decisions are made on what is best for MSU.”

Denno said he did not mean to imply that he had outsized influence over Guskiewicz because of his role in the search.

“I was simply conveying that he said he would listen to ideas from all trustees, which he already has done, and I was looking forward to having that relationship with him,” Denno said in a statement.

Senior Reporter Alex Walters contributed to the contents of this article

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