MSU faculty senate leaders to board: Stop interfering with academic management




  • In Business
  • 2022-10-05 23:13:42Z
  • By Detroit Free Press
Newly elected MSU Board of Trustees chair Dianne Byrum speaks with the news media following the first 2019 Board of Trustees meeting at the Hannah Administration Building in East Lansing.
Newly elected MSU Board of Trustees chair Dianne Byrum speaks with the news media following the first 2019 Board of Trustees meeting at the Hannah Administration Building in East Lansing.  

The Michigan State University Faculty Senate's top leadership has sent a scathing letter to the university's Board of Trustees, demanding it stop interfering with the academic management of the university. In the letter, sent Tuesday, the senate also said it would take a nonbinding vote in the next two weeks on whether it has confidence in the board's ability to lead the school going forward.

The letter was one of three sent to board members on Tuesday and Wednesday. Also sending strongly worded letters were Provost Teresa Woodruff and embattled President Samuel Stanley Jr. Board members could not be immediately reached for comment.

All the letters concern an investigation into the forced resignation of Sanjay Gupta as business school dean. The board has hired an outside firm to conduct the investigation.

More:MSU trustees to investigate administration's decision to force dean out

More:Sources: MSU board gives school president until Tuesday to agree to step down

"We ask that you cease this investigation," saidthe faculty senate's letter, signed by Karen Kelly-Blake, the chairwoman of the faculty senate and the faculty senate steering committee, and Stephanie Anthony, the vice chairwoman of the faculty senate and the steering committee. While the letter was from the pair, it reflected the tenor of the steering committee's discussion in a Tuesday meeting, officials said.

"We ask that you engage with professional development and board training. We ask that you do the work that is in your purview. We ask that you concede that academic and administrative management of Michigan State University resides in the Offices of the President and the Provost.

"If the board cares anything about this university and the people who work here, it will cease and desist with this investigation, it will do the job it is charged to do, and it will abide by its code of conduct."

The senate's steering committee met on Tuesday and learned the board's outside counsel has contacted faculty and executive managers to set up interviews regarding Gupta's dismissal. Those interviews should not happen, the letter said.

"In light of the board statement released on Friday, September 30th, which contained no mention of this investigation while listing the others, this action causes us continued grave concern. We find this action to be a continued encroachment into academic management matters outside the purview of the board. The Gupta dismissal is settled. This continued overreach denies the harm inflicted on the victim and seemingly provides cover and protection for Gupta."

The move is the latest in the ongoing controversy at MSU that first came to light when the Free Press reported members of the board approached Stanley in early September to ask him to resign before his contract expires in 2024. They initially gave Stanley a couple of days to respond to their request. According to school officials, Stanley and the board are still discussing his contract. It's unclear whether Stanley will eventually retire or whether the board will take more drastic action.

More:Once again Michigan State University is caught up in leadership struggle. What's next?

The board is upset with Stanley's action in at least two instances, both involving sexual misconduct investigations and reports. The first was the handling of the forced resignation of Gupta over claims Gupta did not follow mandatory reporting rules regarding sexual misconduct complaints and, the second involves allegations that Stanley falsely certified to the state that board members had completed a required review of Title IX reports.

Stanley has said he stands by his actions in the Gupta case and that the board itself didn't complete the tasks it was supposed to around reviewing Title IX reports as mandated by state law.

Stanley himself sent a letter Wednesday knocking the investigation.

"While I still don't believe this external review is needed, as I feel the university made the right decision, the administration is cooperating with the law firm by providing documents and materials requested on this matter. But it is also my duty to ensure that employees are protected from undue pressure and that the Title IX and OIE investigations still underway are not influenced. Please be advised that MSU employees will not be compelled to participate in Quinn Emmanuel's review, and for those who do voluntarily participate, the university will offer legalcounsel to those employees."

More:Why a move by John Engler 4 years ago has ripple effect in current MSU leadership struggle

Woodruff, the provost who is in charge of the day-to-day academic workings of MSU, also sent a letter Wednesday asking the board to stop the investigation.

"The questions asked of executives in the Office of the Provost, MSU faculty, and the MSU legal counsel charged in this work are 'circumstances … including disputes as to whether Dr. Gupta failed to comply with mandatory reporting obligations and disputes concerning the voluntary or involuntary nature of Dr. Gupta's resignation," she wrote. "The latter is a personnel matter on which you were fully briefed, and the seven individuals targeted by your law firm would have limited knowledge on the matter. The former matter is not in dispute. Dr. Gupta failed to comply with mandatory reporting obligations.

"Importantly, the Board of Trustees declined direct engagement with me on these matters, asking me to leave a Zoom meeting wherein any questions you had could be addressed in a legitimate and timely manner, and you have sought no further input in the interregnum. Thus, it is my assessment that you are working in a manner that does not comport with ordinary fact finding and I therefore ask you to halt the manner of your investigation.

"These aggressive and unparalleled actions are causing harm to individuals and creating a chilling effect over work that is difficult. Staff are led to question whether the work they are doing is worth it; whether their work on behalf of the university is supported by Board members as university leaders; what other cases/individuals will be given 'special treatment' by the Board of Trustees; who is next to get a letter from the Board of Trustees' legal counsel. The protections of an orderly workplace must be restored. These actions by the Board of Trustees are doing harm to the campus, harm to the reputation of MSU and harm to the process you seek to improve."

Contact David Jesse: 313-222-8851 or djesse@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter: @reporterdavidj

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: MSU faculty senate to board: Stop interfering with academic management

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