Michigan State trustee resigns over transparency, Title IX concerns

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Dive Brief:

  • Michigan State University trustee Pat O’Keefe resigned Wednesday, alleging a lack of transparency around the way the board and university handled personnel and Title IX cases.
  • In his resignation letter, O’Keefe raised concerns over the university’s choice to fire Sanjay Gupta, who was dean of its business school before being ousted after allegedly failing to report a sexual misconduct incident. The decision-making process around Gupta’s termination lacked transparency, something Michigan State needs more of at an institutional level, according to O’Keefe.
  • O’Keefe also called for “answers regarding”  the selection of Teresa Woodruff as Michigan State’s interim president to replace the departing Dr. Samuel Stanley. Woodruff, who was the university’s provost, pushed for Gupta’s ouster.

Dive Insight:

O’Keefe’s resignation is the latest development in a spate of leadership upheavals at Michigan State and extends tensions between university leadership and its governing board.

In October, Stanley announced he would resign from the university’s presidency effective Jan. 11. Stanley said he lost confidence in the board after some trustees attempted to oust him following his decision to remove Gupta, he said in a video message.

O’Keefe, who held his position since 2021, ran for election to the Michigan State board to help the university move past the Larry Nassar scandal, according to his resignation letter.

Michigan State has faced leadership turmoil since 2018, when Nassar, a former university doctor, was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison for sexually assaulting dozens of gymnasts and student-athletes. 

Shortly afterward, Lou Anna Simon resigned from Michigan State’s presidency over sharp criticisms of her handling of the Nassar case. A former Michigan governor, John Engler, served as interim president but stepped down after less than a year following blowback for comments he made about those whom Nassar abused.

“Shadows of the University’s past will continue to linger if true change remains aspirational and the Board does not practice the transparency it seeks to promote,” O’Keefe said. “I can no longer serve on a Board that purports to promote cultural change yet struggles itself to be transparent.”

A spokesperson for Michigan State provided a copy of O’Keefe’s resignation letter but declined to comment on the matter.

State lawmakers passed legislation following the Nassar scandal that requires a head of a public college and a member of its governing board to review all sexual misconduct reports involving an employee and certify them to the state. But that certification process led to tension between Stanley and some board members, who alleged he confirmed reports before they could be reviewed. Stanley maintained he acted properly.

While O’Keefe did not name Stanley in his resignation letter, he previously blamed the outgoing president for the university’s Title IX woes. O’Keefe said at an Oct. 28 board meeting that Stanley failed Michigan State, according to the Lansing State Journal. O’Keefe also claimed faculty members had committed “sexual transgressions” with students.

Two weeks before that meeting, the Michigan State faculty senate voted no confidence in the board over allegations it had interfered in academic matters.

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