It was Henry Kissinger who long ago noted that the reason university politics is so vicious is because the stakes are so small.
That old adage comes into play yet again at Michigan State University where former Broad College of Business Dean Sanjay Gupta now claims he lost his job because he had expressed an aspiration to be named president of the university–and he made his career goal apparent to the person who really wanted the job.
The justification for Gupta’s firing is made in a federal lawsuit he filed against interim MSU President Teresa Woodruff and six other university officials. Gupta alleges that then Provost Woodruff had designs on the presidency herself.
BROAD COLLEGE OF BUSINESS DEAN ALLEGES A “POWER SCHEME’
So when she discovered during a performance review last June that Gupta aspired to the job, Woodruff drummed up a reason to demand his resignation two months later and then publicly promoted a false narrative for pushing him out, according to the lawsuit.
At the time of his dismissal, which was first reported as a resignation, the university claimed that Gupta had failed to report sexual misconduct by a professor who was at an end-of-year MBA student party. The unnamed faculty member was said to be dancing inappropriately with some students. Throughout the controversy, Gupta has maintained that he complied with all university rules but he never advanced a theory for why he had been treated unfairly.
In his lawsuit, however, he believes that Woodruff got rid of him last August as part of “a power scheme to ensure that Gupta would not be named successor to outgoing former President Samuel Stanley, Jr., and to enhance Woodruff’s personal ambition to become President.”
WOODRUFF CAME TO MSU AFTER 25 YEARS AT NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY
Only two years earlier, Woodruff came to MSU as provost after serving as dean of the graduate school and associate provost for graduate education at Northwestern University where she had spent 25 years as a professor and administrator. She was hired and unanimously approved by MSU trustees despite public opposition from a black faculty group worried about allegations that she had ignored the concerns of underrepresented populations at Northwestern. When Stanley left MSU in November of 2022, she was named interim president.
“The facts establish that Gupta did not violate any mandatory reporting policy, promptly acted to protect students and complied with published MSU Title IX policIes … and acted with integrity, transparency and professionalism at all times as Dean of the Eli Broad College of Business,” according to the suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan.
All told, six other university leaders are accused by Gupta of playing a role in the alleged scheme. They include Interim Provost Thomas Jeitschko, Title IX Coordinator Nicole Schmidtke, Senior Title IX investigator Allison Towe, interim Associate Provost Ann Austin, Stanley and Emily Guerrant, vice president of communications.
THE UNIVERSITY WILL ‘VIGOROUSLY’ DEFEND ITSELF AGAINST THE LAWSUIT
A university spokesperson told local media that the university would “vigorously” defend itself against the suit.
Gupta claims he was forced out based on allegations he failed to “re-report” an incident involving an intoxicated business school professor along with other alleged leadership failures, including a purported failure to investigate a possible violation of MSU’s relationship violence and sexual misconduct policy. But the former dean maintains that he was unjustifiably kicked out as dean “based on false pretexts” and was “intentionally defamed and stigmatized” by false statements.
Gupta received a positive performance review from Woodruff, then provost, in June of 2022, according to the lawsuit. During that session, Gupta let Woodruff know he would like to serve as president when then President Stanley left the job under a contract that was to expire in 2024. Stanley, however, ended up leaving last fall, saying he had lost confidence in the Board of Trustees who had pressured him to resign over his handling of Title IX issues.
According to the lawsuit, the complaint the business school professor came to his attention on the same day of his performance review. He maintains that he “fully and timely disclosed all information he had,” fully cooperated with investigators, and fully complied with MSU’s relationship violence and sexual misconduct reporting policies.
On Aug. 12, Woodruff met with Gupta and told him “he had just resigned,” according to the suit.
“Unbeknownst to Gupta, Defendants Woodruff, Jeitschko, Austin and Stanley pre-planned the August 12, termination, “orchestrating the process behind-the-scenes in an effort for Woodruff to smear and stigmatize Gupta’s good name and thereby eliminate her competitor,” the suit alleges. Gupta claims Schmidtke and Towe facilitated the termination, and Guerrant “publicly disseminated defamatory statements, falsely alleging that Gupta had resigned because he had violated the RVSM Policy.”
The MSU board recently voted to release the results of an investigation of Gupta’s departure by Los Angeles-based law firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan which is expected soon.
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