EAST LANSING – A Michigan State University trustee Friday lashed out at the school’s faculty, blaming them for negative headlines in the years since the Larry Nassar scandal and accusing them of being promiscuous with students.
Republican Pat O’Keefe’s comments came after weeks of no confidence votes from student and employee groups on campus and at the first meeting since President Samuel Stanley Jr. announced his resignation on Oct. 13 because he said he had lost confidence in the board, arguing that board investigations were a form of micromanaging.
“To the faculty and senate, I want you to know that I am tired of reading about the sexual transgressions of the faculty, which are like reading ‘50 Shades of Grey’ and are as long as ‘Gone With the Wind,’ without knowing what the outcomes are for such behavior,” O’Keefe said. “This is about corralling the unchecked sexual promiscuity of faculty, who seems to have unfettered access to our most vulnerable student population with little to no repercussions in some instances.”
O’Keefe donned a green hat with “No More Nassar” in white lettering toward the end of his speech that lasted several minutes.
In it, he defended investigations commissioned by the board into the resignation of former Broad College of Business dean Sanjay Gupta this summer as well as how Stanley’s administration handled Title IX reports. He directly blamed Stanley, faculty and Provost Teresa Woodruff, who pushed Gupta out over allegations he learned of but failed to report an incident of alleged sexual misconduct. The board hired legal counsel to investigate how the administration handled Gupta’s departure.
Faculty Senate leadership said it will not address O’Keefe’s statement until next week.
Jack Lipton, a professor in the College of Human Medicine and a University Council member, said O’Keefe’s speech was “outright reprehensible.”
“He equated his reading of Title IX reports as akin to erotica or porn by classifying them as similar to ‘Fifty Shades of Grey,'” Lipton wrote in an email. “I have already heard from one faculty member who was contacted by victims of sexual misconduct. They wonder whether Trustee O’Keefe is titillated by their trauma as he reads their reports. His conduct today was outrageous, unnecessary, hurtful, and a further embarrassment to MSU.”
At one point in his speech, which included widespread criticism of how MSU handles Title IX complaints and enforcement, O’Keefe turned to Stanley.
“You are solely responsible for Title IX,” O’Keefe said. “You failed us.”
The MSU Faculty Senate, Academic Congress, University Council and Associated Students of MSU are among the groups that have approved votes of no confidence in the Board of Trustees in recent weeks over the investigations.A spokesman for MSU Academic Governance, which includes the Faculty Senate, said Faculty Senate members would not be responding to O’Keefe’s statement Friday.
Trustees hired Stanley in 2019 after Nassar had already been sentenced to prison terms in federal court and in Ingham and Eaton county circuit courts. He is serving an effective life sentence. He became MSU’s first permanent president since Lou Anna Simon stepped down in January 2018 amid criticism of how the school handled complaints against Nassar. Former Michigan Governor John Engler was appointed interim president but resigned in January 2019 after he was widely criticized for making insensitive comments against Nassar survivors.
O’Keefe’s comments appeared to upset some other trustees.
“We are not all in agreement with relation to what Trustee O’Keefe just said,” Trustee Brianna Scott said. “I take exception to some of the things he just said. I do feel somewhat blindsided by some of the things he just said.”
In tears, Scott said she doesn’t trust some of her colleagues on the board, sharing her frustration and occasional desire to “break free.”
“It is not my intent to out any trustee publicly, although I really want to name names,” she said. “There are some who have nothing and I will point out Trustee (Renee) Knake Jefferson because I know she’s running and I know how hard it is for her to even not have the ability to talk about the things I know are at the tip of her tongue concerning the way certain things have transpired.”
Knake Jefferson, who was appointed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to fill a vacancy on the board, is seeking another term Nov. 8 as a Democrat. Also running are Democrat Dennis Denno and Republicans Mike Balow and Travis Menge. Trustee Melanie Foster is not on the ballot.
Trustee Kelly Tebay, at one point in tears, slammed the “culture” that sees trustees and officials communicate through the media, rather than directly to each other. She said it’s “embarrassing.”
Trustees initiated an investigation into Gupta’s forced resignation by Woodruff, which Stanley supported. Gupta failed to report claims that an official in the Broad College of Business got drunk at the Gatsby Gala, a party for MBA students, on April 22 at The Studio at 414 in Lansing, according to a Crain’s Detroit Business report. The publication reported that the official inappropriately touched at least one student while also dancing in a sexually suggestive manner.
Gupta has said he welcomed an investigation into the circumstances that led to his resignation.
Trustee Dan Kelly, chair of the Board of Trustee’s Committee on Audit, Risk and Compliance, said when concerns were raised over whether MSU was in Title IX compliance in 2021, he thought the committee should look into it.
State law requires that every university president and at least one member of the university’s governing board, the MSU Board of Trustees in this case, review every Title IX report that involves alleged sexual misconduct involving a university employee. The president must certify that the review requirements are met.
Trustees shared a copy of an audit conducted by MSU Chief Audit, Risk and Compliance Officer Marilyn Tarrant, dated Sept. 13, that listed a dozen “process weaknesses,” along with recommendations to address those concerns about the Title IX report review process. Stanley last month recertified that the school’s Title IX reports for 2021 were correctly reviewed according to state law and did the same for the 2022 reports.
“This was not a fishing expedition. This was not a witch hunt,” Kelly said. “This was something that, quite frankly, personally, I did not want to have to get into. But the fact of the matter is and I believe the results are and the report is not finalized but it will be released.”
Kelly said the board will release the report once it is completed to allow the public to make their own conclusions. It was unclear Friday when the report will be released.