Vassar and Denno shouldn’t go;  How we pick MSU trustees should 


First, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer isn’t going to dismiss former Michigan State University Board Chair Rema Vassar or Trustee Dennis Denno based on the findings of an independent law firm charged with looking into their conduct. 

Whitmer doesn’t have the time to deal with how Vassar and Denno engaged in an internal war with former interim President Teresa Woodruff that dates to her demoting Business School Dean Sanjay Gupta in fall 2022. 

Vassar and Denno didn’t want Woodruff to get the presidency gig after she blew up Gupta for reasons that only make sense in a hypersensitive, post-Larry Nassar MSU prism.  

Their strategy was to work around her instead of through her, as they’re required to do. They worked with students looking to give her a political black eye.  

They won. 

Woodruff couldn’t get the five trustees’ votes to land the top job. Denno and Vassar successfully led the search to bring in new President Kevin Guskiewicz, an outsider who is hopefully better at handling big personalities and personal politics than Samuel Stanley was. He started Monday. 

By hook or by crook, Vassar and Denno cajoled the rest of the board to finally release the final Nassar documents to the Attorney General’s Office. I have no comment on whether that was a good move, but they did it. It was their win. 

The two went above and beyond in making Woodruff’s life difficult, though. Vassar’s job is oversight, and, clearly, there’s a difference. Neither she nor Denno should be cutting special hustles outside of the MSU hierarchy, even if prior trustees made it a cottage industry. 

The same goes with travel to sporting events and side goodies. Trustees get tickets to the box seats to basketball and football games out of state. If someone is flying them out to an event and giving them a special front-row seat, that should be publicly reported.  

Vassar was appropriately flagged for not being open about this. 

But to severely punish Vassar for doing what prior trustees did all the time is a little too politically opportunistic. 

I don’t want to dismiss the Miller and Chevalier report as a tempest in a teapot, even if its contents will be swept into the dustbin of history by the time either Vassar or Denno is up for reelection. 

It’s further evidence that the endless scheming and politicking on the MSU board is one of our own creation, and one we, as voters, must stop. 

A few months ago, I wrote tongue in cheek that the MSU board should skip the whole presidential search process and run the university itself since the trustees clearly would rather do it that way. 

Of course, that’s an outlandish idea, but I put it out there because the obvious answer has been said so many times, I wanted the readers to come to it themselves. 

Make the trustees for MSU, University of Michigan and Wayne State University gubernatorial appointments. Every other university board in the state is — and it keeps them out of the headlines. 

If we want to continue to put politicians in charge of the universities, at least give them some power outside of being bobbleheads for the president’s office.  

Let them talk out of turn. Hold a press conference. Talk about what’s bothering them. Ask questions of university officials who know something. Let them be politicians. 

If we’re going to blame trustees for Larry Nassar’s taking advantage of HUNDREDS of women for YEARS, at least put them in a position to have known something about it. Allow them to question more than just the president and follow up on complaints. The board’s rules shouldn’t require them to drop every communication they receive into a proverbial black hole of an unresponsive, CYA, academic bureaucracy. 

Violating MSU’s restrictive rules isn’t grounds for a trustee’s removal. It’s a reminder that the board’s rules are perfect for a benign board of gubernatorial appointees.  

Until we have that, we need to change the rules. 



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