Tuesday, June 18, 2024

MSU administrator got raise, resignation package after incidents

May 16, 2024

On a Thursday last September, Michigan State University learned a senior administrator did two things: He pitched a financial quid-pro-quo to a vendor, and he sent a disturbed alum to a campus building where they were later arrested.

Days later, the administrator got a five-figure raise, records show. Weeks later, he got a favorable resignation agreement including nearly $50,000 in transitional pay.

The deal bears a resemblance to another made months before, when the university learned of sexual harassment by a dean and then offered him a similar exit package.

The agreements were overseen and approved by the same person: Vice President of Student Life and Engagement Vennie Gore, who declined requests to be interviewed.

Jeff Beavers, the now-former executive director of career services, denies any wrongdoing and insists his resignation was unrelated to the incidents.

This account — based on dozens of university documents and includes interviews with three people involved — offers a glimpse into how MSU’s top executives react to reports of impropriety by the administrators that run departments and colleges.

Tinkering with a deal

Beavers ran the university’s Career Services Network, a wide-reaching department with its own career advisors and employees within MSU’s colleges.

The department uses a third-party software called Handshake to manage all of its internship and job postings. The service cost the university about $10,000 a year, according to recent contracts.

In August 2023, as Handshake’s MSU contract neared renewal, Beavers told staff that he would like to look at other software.

He scheduled competing demos: one with Handshake, and another with rival firm 12Twenty.

Beavers told The State News he was attempting to streamline his department's softwares and cut costs. He initially agreed to an interview with The State News to discuss the matter, but canceled at the last minute, opting instead to send a written statement over email.

But, three people familiar with the matter say he had an ulterior motive.

Before coming to MSU, Beavers was the vice president of another recruitment company, Yello, according to his bio.

While there, he and several colleagues obtained a patent for a method of electronically managing recruitment.

In the spring of 2023, Beavers began to hear about a new app being offered by Handshake that he believed infringed on that patent, he said.

He sent an email to Handshake CEO Garrett Lord in May 2023, making him aware of the alleged patent infringement, according to a copy obtained by The State News.

Beavers said he never got a response.

Then, in September 2023, amid the competing demos, Beavers and Lord had lunch at People’s Kitchen in Lansing, according to calendars obtained by The State News.

At the lunch, Beavers pitched what amounted to a quid-pro-quo, according to the three people with knowledge of the negotiations between Handshake and MSU.

They said Beavers told Lord that MSU would renew the contract and ignore the other vendor — if Handshake favorably resolved Beavers’ patent issue.

The people spoke on the condition of anonymity because of ongoing legal correspondence related to the matter.

Beavers denied the allegation, saying their retelling of the lunch is “an absolute lie” in emails to The State News.

While Beavers acknowledged that he and Lord “briefly discussed the patent,” he said “​​in no way did I make any statements or place any conditions on the Handshake renewal.”

In the weeks after the lunch, Handshake executives attempted to preserve their relationship with MSU while distancing themselves from Beavers.

On Sept. 28, 2023, two of the firm’s top executives sent emails to MSU administrators in the Broad College and Beavers’ department, informing them of the situation, according to copies obtained by The State News.

They said that they “attempted to resolve this conflict of interest issue with (Beavers) directly” but ultimately “had no choice but to take more formal action to ensure we are operating with integrity,” according to the emails.

The firm sent Beavers and MSU a cease-and-desist letter regarding Beavers. They also filed a formal complaint with the university’s Office of Audit Risk and Compliance, records show.

What exactly those documents said is unclear.

MSU refused to release those documents in response to records requests and appeals filed by The State News. Handshake also declined to give them to The State News. Beavers said he no longer had access to the email address where he received the cease-and-desist.

In emails about the documents obtained by The State News, Handshake executives said they addressed concerns of bias and demanded that Beavers “recuse himself from this product review and selection process, at a minimum.”

The executives also requested 1-on-1 meetings with relevant MSU administrators to discuss the matter further. MSU declined, emails show.

The bidding process did continue without Beavers, emails show, though it’s unclear if he recused himself or was removed.

In some emails, administrators said Beavers was “officially removed from the process.” In another, someone says they were “glad to see Jeff recused himself voluntarily.”

MSU opened an Audit, Risk, and Compliance investigation into Beavers’ conduct in response to the complaint from Handshake, university spokesperson Emily Guerrant said.

After his recusal from the bidding process however, the university ended the probe, she said.

Handshake declined to comment on the dispute with Beavers, but provided a statement to The State News saying they remain “committed to (their) partnership with MSU’s career services community and administration.”

In his email to The State News, Beavers said he believes Handshake engineered the quid-pro-quo story and widely disseminated it at MSU to protect their bid.

He said Handshake is in a tenuous financial position as new competitors have entered the market, and that he believes the firm was making an “aggressive attempt to save” their contact with MSU.

“I believe that there is an attempt to squash any possible business decision by the MSU Network to change because of the implications on investor confidence,” Beavers said in the email.

Another incident with enraged alum

On the very same day that Handshake reached out to MSU with their concerns, Beavers was involved in an incident involving an enraged alum.

On Sept. 28, MSU police arrested the alum at the Communications Arts and Sciences building as the individual was “yelling at staff members and making people uncomfortable” by “becoming verbally aggressive with employees,” according to a police report obtained by The State News.

The encounter was described as “traumatic” for staff in subsequent emails.

In the days after the encounter, MSU’s administration learned that Communication Arts and Sciences wasn’t the disturbed alum’s first stop.

The alum had first called Beavers’ department in a rage.

When the staffer manning the phones asked Beavers what to do, he told them to send the alum to the Communications Arts and Sciences building, according to emails and written timelines assembled by staff obtained by The State News.

“I talked to Jeff (Beavers) who told us to send him back to the college,” Career Exploration Center manager Sean Brown wrote in a timeline.

Beavers’ actions were examined by MSU’s Office of Audit, Risk and Compliance, emails show.

The office ultimately determined that it wasn’t a matter for them to investigate, but forwarded the information they had to Beavers’ supervisors and MSU Police, university spokesperson Guerrant said.

They included some manner of guidance for Beavers’ supervisors, but, it’s unclear what it was. That passage was completely redacted in MSU’s responses to The State News’ records requests.

Beavers defended his actions, telling The State News he had spoken to the alum previously and did not believe he posed any threat to staff.

He said the alum was a 2023 digital storytelling graduate who panhandled on Grand River in his cap and gown with a sign reading “Homeless jobless anything helps!! - Grad.”

He was profiled by the Lansing State Journal and criticized MSU for not doing more to help him find a job.

Beavers said that after that story, he contacted the alum and had a “completely calm, rational, and productive” conversation about job search strategies.

“He admitted that he gets ‘excited’ to get attention because he feels he is not supported as he should be,” Beavers said in an email to The State News. “Thus, I experienced him as a frustrated job seeker, but at no time was any threat made.”

Beavers said the alum similarly made no threats when talking to his staff the day of the incident.

The emails and timelines, however, say that the alum already had tenuous encounters with staff.

One email said the alum had “problematic encounters” with MSU “beginning in March. ​​Then, they dropped off but came back with a vengeance in June.”

It also says the alum had called repeatedly and staff was instructed to “not engage” and “hang up.”

One written timeline sent to Beavers’ supervisor said the alum had called Career Services two days before the arrest, and Beavers was advising staff on how to handle the calls.

A favorable resignation

On Oct. 1, days after Handshake contacted the university and the incident with the alum, MSU approved a $16,088 raise for Beavers.

It bumped his annual salary to $193,065, according to personnel records.

On Oct. 9, The State News filed Freedom of Information Act requests with MSU, seeking dozens of university documents relating to both the Handshake dispute and the enraged alum incident.

It took the university more than 15 weeks to process the 75 pages of records.

MSU also initially over-redacted them. The State News appealed the redactions and MSU conceded that many of them were unlawful.

On Oct. 27, Beavers sent a resignation letter to his direct supervisor, Assistant Vice President of Student Development Allyn Shaw.

Days later, Shaw’s supervisor, Vice President of Student Life and Engagement Gore, wrote to MSU HR requesting three months of transitional pay for Beavers, $48,266.

It’s the same resignation deal that Gore gave MSU’s then-Dean of Students Anthony Williams Jr last April, who had just been found by MSU to have sexually harassed a woman at a work conference.

Gore and Shaw declined requests for an interview. MSU spokesperson Guerrant declined to comment on the raise and resignation agreement, saying the university “doesn’t get into the weeds on personnel matters.”

Beavers told The State News that his decision to resign was “only partially” motivated by the incidents in September.

“I felt I could do no right at the time and that I had lost support and in some cases trust from some members of the (Career Services) team,” Beavers said in an email. “This combined with my already existing stress and anxiety of the Feb 13 event and my need to be more available to my parents.”

Beavers also said he was frustrated by consistent leadership turnover in MSU’s administration and multiple cuts to his departments’ budget.

In addition to his campus administrative responsibilities, Beavers oversaw a $2 million U.S. Agency for International Development grant supporting a career services partnership between MSU and a local university in Mozambique, Africa.

Beavers still lists that role on his Linkedin page and he appears on the MSU website about the grant.

Guerrant said Beavers is no longer in that role and that those postings must be outdated.

Beavers however says he continues to do the work in Mozambique as a volunteer.

“I am volunteering at this time and am doing so because of the importance of this project,” he said in an email to The State News.

Discussion

Share and discuss “MSU administrator got raise, resignation package after incidents” on social media.