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Dean's resignation put MSU board, interim president at odds weeks ago – Detroit News

East Lansing — Michigan State University’s next interim president was selected unanimously by the same university board that requested an independent review involving her handling of a business school dean’s resignation after he failed to report sexual misconduct.
MSU’s Board of Regents on Monday appointed Provost Teresa Woodruff as the fifth MSU president to pick up the reins at the East Lansing school following the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal.
“While this is a heavy moment for our institution, I am convinced and confident that together we will persevere and continue to not only uphold but to advance our shared mission,” said Woodruff, who became MSU’s provost in 2020 after serving as a top graduate school official at Northwestern University.
“Every member of our community … plays a significant role in advancing MSU and will continue to do so. Together, we will work to build greater trust, affirm transparency and advance strategic initiatives.”
Woodruff was hired following an uproar that began in September after the board asked President Samuel Stanley to leave his post early, faculty and students delivered votes of no confidence in the board and Stanley subsequently resigned. Woodruff was endorsed last week by many faculty and student leaders, believed to be the first time that some in the academic community stood behind a prospective interim president.
Woodruff, meanwhile, is at the center of a controversy involving the departure of former business school dean Sanjay Gupta, a secondary issue in why the university board asked Stanley to depart two years early.
While the Board of Trustees was informed of Woodruff’s decision to ask for Gupta’s resignation — a decision that was supported by the president — the board learned about it after it occurred, and some trustees felt they did not get adequate information to make sure it was the correct determination. On Aug. 30, the board announced that it was hiring outside legal counsel to review the decision.
Woodruff has defended the decision to request Gupta’s resignation, telling the Faculty Senate during a special meeting in September that all university policies and procedures were followed.
“The work was deliberative and neither capricious nor malicious. I stand by this course of action today,” Woodruff said during the September meeting. “Dr. Gupta failed in his mandatory reporting responsibility. Additionally, he failed to act in a timely and reasonable manner to protect students and uphold our values. The culture that we seek is one in which the well-being and safety of everyone is managed in an immediate, cooperative and trauma-informed way.”
At the meeting, Stanley said Gupta served in his role as dean at the will of the provost, and she was within her rights to make a leadership transition.
The review of the Gupta resignation is being conducted by Los Angeles-based Quinn Emanuel and is focused on the circumstances of his departure as well as university policies. Gupta remains an accounting professor after leaving his post as dean in response to concerns about his leadership and failure to report alleged sexual assault or relationship violence according to university guidelines.
Trustees could not be reached for comment on Monday to explain why they hired a law firm to look into the case involving Gupta that Woodruff made the decision on, then elevated her to interim president. But in an Oct. 11 statement, the board noted “the review will provide clarity regarding the facts leading to Dr. Gupta’s departure, including whether the university’s procedures were carried out in compliance with federal, state, and local laws, rules and regulations, and institutional policies”
Woodruff will begin her post on Nov. 4, overlapping with Stanley, whose last day is Jan. 11, to ensure a smooth transition.
Until then, she is the second-highest ranking official at MSU as provost,the chief academic adviser who leads on issues impacting academic programs, research, and outreach.
Her current salary is $562,069, according to MSU spokesman Dan Olsen. But her salary as interim president and contract were not available late Monday. Olsen said that once Woodruff transitions into the interim president role, she will consult with the academic governance steering committee on an appointment for interim provost.
Woodruff is an expert in ovarian biology and reproductive science, and MSU professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Biology, and the Department of Biomedical Engineering. She was hired two and a half years ago under Stanley. At the time, the president said she had “extraordinary academic credentials,” a commitment to diversity and inclusion and voiced an ambitious vision for MSU. Black MSU professors raised concerns about her handling of underrepresented and marginalized students during her tenure at Northwestern, but MSU trustees approved hiring her.
Woodruff’s tenure has included improvements to the Title IX disciplinary process with community support to ensure consistent and transparent disciplinary outcomes among faculty and academic staff, MSU officials said. She helped negotiate a contract for non-tenured faculty and established a strategic plan for MSU. She also built relationships with state lawmakers, alumni and the philanthropic community. The American Council of Education Michigan Women’s Network in May conferred on her the 2022 Distinguished Woman in Higher Education Leadership Award.
Jo Kovach, the MSU student body president who meets regularly with Woodruff to discuss campus issues, described Woodruff as a good advocate for students and said she was a key part of what made Stanley’s administration feel like a “night and day” difference in terms of transparency and openness.
“If we’re losing Stanley, having Provost Woodruff come is exactly what we need …,” Kovach said.
Woodruff’s interim presidency follows other leaders in the aftermath of the Nassar sexual abuse scandal, which shook the university after it emerged that the now-incarcerated former sports doctor had sexually abused scores of women and girls for decades under the guise of medicine.
President Lou Anna Simon and Interim President John Engler both resigned under pressure amid the fallout of the Nassar scandal. Satish Udpa, an MSU electrical and computer engineering professor, acted as president from 2018 until Stanley was hired in 2019 and earned a $960,000 base salary annually.
Stanley was the first permanent president hired in the aftermath of the Nassar scandal. Board members who wanted him to depart early said it was Stanley’s response to their questions about sexual misconduct that led to their request to leave the university before his contract expired in 2024. Stanley announced earlier this month that he had lost confidence in the school’s governing board members and “could not, in good conscience, continue to serve this board.”
MSU Chair Dianne Byrum said trustees’ unanimous decision to appoint Woodruff as interim president is “a huge step forward” in stabilizing the university after the presidential turnover.
“This is a great university,” she said. “We are doing wonderful things. We’re making progress and I think today is another step forward.”
During the special meeting, Byrum said the board met last week with numerous students and faculty groups, deans, alumni, labor groups and individuals to decide on the next interim leader. They heard the interim president must be committed to implementing the university’s strategic plan, could step in immediately and had experience in teaching, research, outreach and engagement.
“One name emerged overwhelmingly: Teresa Woodruff,” Byrum said. “This name emerged from both students, faculty, labor leaders and staff, community stakeholders such as alumni, donors, agricultural groups. Which brings us to today’s action.”
The board chairwoman added that the board intends to conduct a “competitive, robust search for the next permanent president of the university.” A search firm will be announced in coming days or weeks, and the board will be outlining a search process. She said Woodruff can apply for the job as permanent president.
Woodruff declined to say whether she would seek the post.