Reports: Michigan State president facing uncertain future amid investigation

The removal of the dean of the College of Business led to an inquiry into Samuel Stanley's oversight at the university.

Samuel Stanley, the president at Michigan State University since 2019, is facing resignation or potential termination over reports of Title IX compliance confusion and lack of transparency, according to several media reports. He and the Board of Trustees met Sunday to discuss his contract, and negotiations are ongoing.

Trustees chair Dianne Byrum issued a statement to the Lansing State Journal on Monday that some members of the deeply split board were attempting to oust the 68-year-old Stanley. She said that call was unwarranted, citing his work in lifting the university through the pandemic as one of the reasons he should remain in the position.

“In recent days, some members of the MSU Board of Trustees, for which I serve as chairperson, have created confusion over the future of our university’s president,” she said in that statement. “These actions do not represent how the board of an institution of higher education should act.”

A personnel matter is one of the linchpins driving the push to oust Stanley. In mid-August, the Board launched an investigation over Provost Teresa Woodruff’s removal of College of Business Dean Sanjay Gupta for his alleged “failure to report” under Title IX, a move backed by Stanley. However, MSU’s Faculty Senate led by business college members defended Gupta and his assurances that he did follow procedures and lauded his work at the university. They demanded that the Board inquire about the steps taken to remove him.

As the investigation continued, the Board met with Stanley on Sunday to discuss potential exit strategies regarding his contract, according to the Detroit Free Press, Detroit News and Lansing State Journal. Stanley, who took over in the aftermath of the Larry Nassar abuse scandal that rocked the university, now faces the possibility of being asked to step down with two years remaining, a move that sparked outrage from Barbara Snyder, president of the Association of American Universities.

“I am appalled at reports of interference in MSU’s day-to-day operations by the university’s trustees, who are elected officials,” she said. “If the reports are accurate, then this is inappropriate meddling by a board charged with governance, not management.”

If forced to resign, Stanley could be presented with a parachute package but still be able to return to the university in a faculty capacity, according to reports. That has been the offer at other institutions to leaders who have exited  under controversial circumstances, including Judy Sakaki at Sonoma State University in California. Stanley is being paid more than $950,000 per year, though like Sakaki, he would have that amount reduced significantly.

Stanley has remained mum since he offered this response Aug. 30 to an inquiry about Gupta’s removal as dean: “Dr. Gupta served in his role as dean at the will of the Provost, and she was well within her rights to make this leadership transition. I fully support this decision and the process utilized to come to this action. The administration will cooperate with the outside counsel.”

However, questions were raised by business leaders and the Senate about his ouster, and they sent a letter to the Board of Trustees, writing, “we are puzzled about Provost Woodruff’s implication that Dean Gupta has failed to create safe and respectful working environments in our college because this is inconsistent with all we witnessed over the last seven years.”

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Compliance with Title IX has been watched closely at the university since the extent of Nassar’s abuse was revealed–more than 260 young women who were subjected to his sexual abuse, including members of the USA Gymnastics program. And presidents have been monitored closely since Lou Ann Simon resigned in 2018. Ex-Governor John Engler was named interim president in 2018 but was forced out by the Board for his cold remarks on survival victims and on Nassar.

According to mandatory guidelines at MSU, all employees must “promptly report incidents of sexual harassment, sexual violence, sexual misconduct, stalking, and relationship violence that are observed or learned about in their professional capacity; and involve a member of the university community or occurred at a university-sponsored event or on university property.” Gupta told the Lansing State Journal that he did.

“During the past few months, I’ve fully cooperated with the Office of Institutional Equity’s investigation, which remains ongoing, and I’ve acted accordingly with transparency to ensure a thorough and accurate report,” he said. “I’ve served MSU for 15 years, including the last seven as dean of the business school–and I’m confident the proper steps to initiate an investigation of alleged misconduct, which I took extremely seriously, had been taken and that mandatory reporting obligations had been met.”

It is unclear when, how or to whom that reporting was delivered and the contents involved. Since his removal, Judith Whipple has been named interim dean in his place. She had been the interim associate dean for faculty and doctoral programs. Her appointment was not unanimous, as two Board members voted against it, and there was concern from some about naming a dean as the investigation proceeds.

Gupta, listed now as accounting and information systems professor on Michigan State’s website, has been with the university since 2007, serving as an instructor and chair of the department. He came over from Arizona State University, where he served 15 years as a professor.

As his university bio states, Stanley has been tasked with ensuring “the university is a safe, respectful and welcoming place for all.” As he took over at the start of the 2019-20 academic year, he and Michigan State not only were dealing with the fallout from the Nassar scandal but were thrust into the COVID-19 pandemic. He and the university have come under fire for the continuation of mandatory vaccines, though Stanley pointed to Michigan State’s own research showing that institutions with mandates did better in lower positive case counts than those that didn’t. Research has been a hallmark at the university, which spent more than $725 million in 2019 and has continued to push further in a 30-year alliance with the Henry Ford Health System.

An infectious disease specialist, Stanley graduated from Harvard Medical School, did a fellowship at Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine and later served as chair of the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity. He has a long history in higher education and was the former president at Stony Brook University in New York from 2009-2019.

Chris Burt
Chris Burt
Chris is a reporter and associate editor for University Business and District Administration magazines, covering the entirety of higher education and K-12 schools. Prior to coming to LRP, Chris had a distinguished career as a multifaceted editor, designer and reporter for some of the top newspapers and media outlets in the country, including the Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinel, Albany Times-Union and The Boston Globe. He is a graduate of Northeastern University.

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