Rema Vassar, the first Black woman elected to chair of the Michigan State University board who has been called on to resign, said Tuesday that she is going to recommend a university culture and climate assessment at Friday’s Board of Trustees meeting after calling allegations against her as “fabrications” and “untruths.”
“The culture that creates this kind of animosity and chaos and confusion is an unhealed campus with climate that is toxic,” Vassar said. “This is going to continue to repeat itself over and over again. There has to be an interruption and intervention.”
On Sunday, Trustee Brianna Scott sent a letter to board members in which she outlined 10 reasons for why Vassar should resign or be removed as board chair, citing bullying and overstepping her authority. If Vassar didn’t resign, Scott said that her removal should come from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who appeared to call for a review of Scott’s letter in a Monday statement and said the allegations are “deeply concerning” if true.
The allegations against Vassar highlighted divisions among Black political leaders, some of whom weighed in on the issue on Monday. Late Monday, MSU board vice chair Dan Kelly, who chairs the Board of Trustees’ Audit, Risk and Compliance Committee, issued a statement that Scott’s allegations have triggered an investigation by the university’s Office of Audit, Risk and Compliance.
Vassar said a culture and climate assessment would get to the roots of the issues so it can guide the new incoming president to heal the university.
Vassar also called Scott’s letter “old-school politics” and “a hit job.”
“The way of the future is working together for transformative change,” Vassar said, “by building consensus, making informed decisions, using creativity and innovation to address problems and deciding to lead with love rather than vitriol.”
Scott could not be reached for comment.
Vassar made the comments after firing back at Scott’s letter in a Monday night statement, calling the allegations by Scott and “two of her enablers” “fabrications, misstatements, innuendo, and untruths.”
“At a time where we have a responsibility to show leadership on a Presidential search, our Title IX roles and responsibilities, a search for a head football coach, and lawsuits both pending and imminent, three Board members are focused on what I can only guess are personal grievances,” Vassar said in the statement. “This letter and the false accusations underlying it are a tremendous distraction from the important work we need to do.”
“In short, there is no basis in any of the allegations in Trustee Scott’s letter,” Vassar said. “Dysfunction on the MSU Board of Trustees long pre-dates my tenure as a board member. And as the first African American woman ever elected to chair this Board, it is very disappointing that instead of showing unity and a steady hand during a tough time for our university, three members of our MSU Board of Trustees are more focused on undermining me instead of working together to do the job we were elected or appointed to do.”
Reasons Scott said Vassar should resign include that Vassar has not allowed her phone to be reviewed as part of an investigation into an allegation that a board member leaked during an investigation the identity of Brenda Tracy, the rape survivor activist who accused former MSU football coach Mel Tucker of sexual misconduct.
In addition, Vassar was accused of traveling on university business on two occasions on an MSU donor’s private jet with Tucker; posing with former MSU Trustee Brian Mosallam in an ad for his business, Spartan Wealth Management group, congratulating her on being elected as chair; and allegedly attempting to negotiate a settlement of a lawsuit against the university by former MSU business school dean Sanjay Gupta without the authority from interim President Teresa Woodruff or board members.
Vassar’s two-page statement addressed many of the issues that Scott outlined in her seven-page letter.
Vassar denied that she leaked the identity of Brenda Tracy, the woman who filed a complaint against former MSU football coach Mel Tucker. The bombshell story emerged in USA Today in September after an outside expert completed an investigation of Scott’s allegations but before a hearing in October. Tracy’s lawyer said her client had no intention of coming forward publicly before the investigative process was over but shared her identity publicly only because an outside party leaked her name to local media and violated her right to confidentiality.
Vassar wrote that Jones Day was hired to investigate the alleged leak of Tracy’s identity to the media, the recent leak of a privileged document circulated to the Board of Trustees and limited members of the University administration related to the alleged leak of Tracy’s identity, and the initial leak of the Mel Tucker investigation to the media.
“To be clear, as I have said before, I had no involvement with the alleged leak and am not aware of any Trustees knowing the identity of Brenda Tracy prior to its public dissemination,” Vassar wrote. “I have been forthcoming and cooperative with Jones Day’s investigation and will continue to be.”
Vassar called Scott’s letter as “inappropriately discussing details of an ongoing investigation, which is a breach of confidentiality and highly disruptive to the Jones Day investigation, also misstates facts about my participation in the Jones Day investigation.
“To date, no Board member, including the three trustees manufacturing this distraction, has produced their phones for a forensic review, and that request is part of an ongoing discussion between the Board and Jones Day,” Vassar wrote. “I am surprised that Trustee Scott, an attorney, would issue public statements that could interfere with an active and confidential investigation being conducted by outside legal counsel. I will continue to be cooperative and await the conclusion of the Jones Day investigation.”
Regarding the accusation of her attempting to settle the ongoing dispute with Sanjay Gupta, Vassar said, “First, the entire Board was then and is still now engaged in this matter.
“Second, settlement communications are confidential and Ms. Scott, an attorney, should not have raised this in a letter she distributed to the public,” Vassar wrote.
She added that she released a text exchange between herself and former Trustee Pat O’Keefe to MSU’s FOIA office in response to a FOIA request, which was then released to the media.
“Again, contrary to Trustee Scott’s characterization, the text exchange was one-sided with no input from me,” Vassar said. “While her letter seeks to make me responsible for the statements of others, Trustee Scott’s position lacks factual support. I have been steadfast in my duty to ensure confidentiality in all RSVM (relationship, violence & sexual misconduct) matters.”
Vassar ended her statement by saying she regretted the issues are being publicly debated, but she “could not allow these meritless allegations to go unaddressed.”
“However, it is my hope that we can put such divisions behind us and attend to the important work of the University,” Vassar said. “(T)here is much work to do. Students, faculty, and staff are counting on us to ensure a bright future for this university. I will not let them down.”
Source : Detroit News