MSU faculty letter supports Michigan State President Samuel Stanley, Jr.

EAST LANSING — A growing number of Michigan State University faculty members have expressed support for embattled President Samuel Stanley Jr. as he defends his administration’s handling of Title IX reports and the departure of dean accused of failing to follow school’s mandatory reporting policy for allegations of sexual misconduct.

Nearly 100 highly qualified professors at Michigan State University released a letter on Monday showing their support for Stanley, who some members of the school’s board of trustees want to retire early.

The directors have offered Stanley the option of taking early retirement before his contract expires in 2024. Contract discussions between Stanley and the directors continue, and he remained employed at MSU on Tuesday.

Efforts to force Stanley out of office are said to be tied to concerns about Stanley’s handling of Title IX complaints and the Title IX-related departure of former Broad College of Business dean Sanjay Gupta.

Gupta was forced to resign Aug. 12 after failing to report allegations that a Broad College of Business executive got drunk at a party for MBA students on April 22, the Gatsby Gala at The Studio at 414 in Lansing, and inappropriately touched at least one student while dancing in a sexually suggestive manner, Crain’s Detroit Business reported.

In a statement provided to the Lansing State Journal on Tuesday, Gupta welcomed an investigation into the circumstances that led to his resignation.

“I am confident that the results will reflect the high ethical standards and integrity of the leadership of the Broad College of Business,” he wrote. “I have served MSU for 15 years and look forward to continuing to contribute to Broad College and the MSU community at large. I deeply appreciate the support of my colleagues, students and alumni as we continue to strive for excellence at MSU As difficult as it has been for me and my family, I continue to firmly believe that the ongoing investigation should not be influenced by media reports and I do not anticipate further public comment. until the investigation is completed.”

Since news of the trustees’ efforts to force Stanley into early retirement spread, students and faculty on campus have criticized the trustees for their efforts and lack of transparency and communication with the rest of campus.

A group of 94 Distinguished Professors, Distinguished Chairs and Emeritus Professors are the latest to publicly voice their support for Stanley. Other campus groups, ranging from the student government group Associated Students of MSU to the Black Faculty, Staff, and Administrators Association, have expressed concern about efforts to force Stanley out.

“As the university’s distinguished faculty and professors emeritus who care deeply about MSU, we value an environment that allows us to produce our best work,” the faculty wrote. “Continued recognition nationally and internationally enhances our reputation as an institution, which in turn enables us to attract talented faculty, students, staff, and administrators to join MSU. Reputational damage threatens these efforts. We are grateful to President Stanley for improving the campus culture during his three years here and for moving us into a safer and more productive space conducive to enhancing our academic strengths. We are also indebted to her for her leadership throughout the COVID pandemic, which has helped create a safe community over the past two years. His commitment to excellence in every academic endeavor is clear and greatly appreciated. We strongly support the consistent actions President Stanley has taken since joining MSU to protect the health and safety of all members of the MSU community. We look forward to MSU President Stanley’s continued leadership.

And professors have criticized administrators for their attempts to impeach Stanley.

“When individual directors disclose board business to the press, we consider it to be contrary to the expectation that our directors act in the best interests of MSU. Such actions endanger the general good of our university, and when anonymous, it is disheartening,” the professors wrote. “These actions also appear to violate the board’s code of conduct. Dragging the president into a public discussion about his contract negotiations or his future, through media leaks and public disagreements on the board, confuses the community and damages the reputation of our great institution. This is exactly the opposite of what trustees should be trying to accomplish. For us, encouraging the president’s departure is not in MSU’s best interest.

Stanley’s contract runs until 2024. Board chair Dianne Byrum and vice-chairman Dan Kelly met with Stanley on September 9 and offered him the option of early retirement.

The trustees asked outside counsel to investigate whether Stanley had certified that he and the trustees complied with state law requiring them to review Title IX reports last year without ensuring that all administrators had actually reviewed them, the Detroit Free Press reported on Sept. 13.

Some directors lobbied for Stanley’s ouster over concerns over his handling of Title IX affairs and Gupta’s departure related to Title IX. Little has been said publicly about Gupta’s departure. Provost Teresa Woodruff said he resigned last month after he “failed to fulfill his mandatory reporting responsibility” regarding the school’s sexual misconduct reporting policy and “failed to act in in a timely and reasonable manner to protect students and uphold our values.”

Dean Sanjay Gupta of the Eli Broad College of Business at Michigan State University speaks Thursday, October 25, 2018 on leading Michigan State's only endowed college.

The board has hired legal counsel to investigate the administration’s handling of Gupta’s departure.

Gupta said the chef accused of touching at least one MBA student improperly informed Gupta of his behavior within a week of the incident. The official, whose name has not been released due to the ongoing investigation, resigned on June 30, according to Crain’s report, which was based on investigation records obtained by the publication.

Several students alerted two other College of Business leaders to the allegations of improper conduct and those officials also notified Gupta within a week of the event, according to Crain’s article.

MSU’s Office of Institutional Equity, the branch of the school that investigates reports of sexual misconduct, learned of the allegations on April 23, the day after the incident. That office opened its own official investigation more than three months later, on July 28, after previously gathering additional information.

Gupta told an investigator on June 22 that he had no reason to believe the “misconduct” or “inappropriate behavior” was sexual in nature and therefore believed he had no obligation to report it. The official apologized to Gupta, according to Crain’s report, for drinking too much. He told Gupta “something happened that shouldn’t have happened”, but Gupta did not ask for further information. The other two officials who told Gupta about the incident were “handling it,” Gupta said, according to the article.

But Crain’s report goes on to explain that the leaders explained to an investigator that they had told Gupta that the incident involved an inappropriate dance of a sexual nature and that the official involved may have touched one or more students in a way inappropriate.

Gupta remains a professor at MSU and earns a salary of about $428,000, according to Crain’s report.

Last week, Administrator Pat O’Keefe said the results of an audit last month showed numerous shortcomings in the Title IX compliance process, according to a statement he provided only to The Detroit News.

His statement did not include any specific examples of alleged Title IX compliance shortcomings, according to the Detroit News.

O’Keefe did not respond to calls and emails seeking comment.

Stanley disputed allegations that he mishandled those reports, alleging that it was in fact directors he did not appoint who “may not have actually complied” with their responsibilities under the state requirement.

Contact Mark Johnson at [email protected]