The fallout from sexual harassment allegations against Mel Tucker seems to have super-charged tensions on the Michigan State University Board of Trustees. In a letter to The Board dated October 20th, trustee Brianna Scott called to have fellow trustee Rema Vassar removed from her position. Scott alleged that Vassar has “bullied” colleagues and over-involved herself in numerous campus controversies in a manner inappropriate for her role. Notably, Scott accuses Vassar, among other things, of refusing to allow investigators access to the contents of her cell phone as part of the investigation into who leaked Brenda Tracy’s name to the press. Vassar has denied any wrongdoing.
Scott says in the letter:
“On Sept. 11, 2023, the BOT [Board of Trustees] learned that a specific member of the Board of Trustees was alleged to have leaked Brenda Tracy’s name to two former trustees during the pending OIE investigation involving Mel Tucker. This prompted the need for the Administration and the Board of Trustees to request an investigation to determine if the allegation is true. The investigation will cost MSU thousands if not millions of dollars, with the result likely being inconclusive, in part because Dr. Vassar has not yet allowed a forensic review of her cell phone to potentially rule her out as being the source of the leak.”
The letter also cites a Deadspin investigation into text messages sent between Vassar and former trustee Pat O’Keefe, which discuss using the Tucker scandal as a reason to oust interim President Teresa Woodruff, and include speculation about Tracy’s motivation for coming forward. In her letter, Scott points out Vassar appears to have placed a heart on an especially vitriolic text from O’Keefe that questioned Tracy’s motives.
Scott’s letter further states:
“In September 2023, Dr. Vassar engaged in a text exchange with former trustee Pat O’Keefe about the leaking of Brenda Tracy’s name in connection with her claim against Mel Tucker. Dr Vassar placed a ‘heart’ on a text that engaged in victim-blaming and minimizing the trauma to a claimant. The exchange also involved communications about plotting to remove interim president Teresa Woodruff and general counsel Brian Quinn. These sorts of communications with third parties about the removal of an interim president or general counsel are never appropriate for a chair of the BOT and are not consistent with the Board of Trustees Code of Ethics and Conduct … Even after the communications became public in an article by Deadspin, Dr. Vassar did not apologize or denounce them.”
Scott also alleges that Vassar flew with Tucker on a donor’s private jet to conduct “university business” while the men’s basketball team took on Rutgers at Madison Square Garden, where Vassar had floor seats very near Tucker. Scott says The Board’s Code of Ethics and Conduct prohibits trustees from accepting “special benefits or anything of value for themselves or others in consideration of their duties as a Trustee.” Scott included a photo of Vassar sitting one seat away from Tucker at Madison Square Garden.
Vassar issued a statement in response to Scott’s allegations, calling the claims against her “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. This letter and the false accusations underlying it are a tremendous distraction from the important work we need to do,” Vassar said in the statement.
Vassar’s statement also addressed the allegations that she is holding up the investigation into the leak of Tracy’s name, saying, “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.”
In September, MSU contracted with the law firm Jones Day to investigate “alleged breaches of confidentiality by MSU officials and others in an ongoing Office for Civil Rights case in which Mel Tucker is the respondent. Deadspin learned on background that the trustees have not met to discuss matters relating to the Jones Day investigation. The same source told Deadspin they believed Vassar had lost “the confidence of half the board.”
Meanwhile, The Detroit News is reporting that Scott’s letter has triggered an investigation by MSU’s Office of Audit, Risk, and Compliance. The Board is set to meet on October 27, 2023.