The Michigan State University Board of Trustees today elected Trustee Rema Vassar as its next board chair, a historical moment that makes Vassar the first Black woman to serve as chair of the board. Trustee Dan Kelly was elected vice chair during today’s first meeting of 2023.
Vassar and Kelly will each serve a two-year term, ending January 2025. This is Kelly’s third term as vice chair.
In her comments at the board meeting, newly elected Chair Vassar quoted Shirley Chisholm, who was the first Black woman elected to the U.S. Congress in 1968: “You don’t make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas.”
Vassar continued, “I wore my Shirley Chisholm earrings today to remind me of those who came before me in brave leadership. Shirley said she is a catalyst for change. I’m channeling her as we make progressive change across the global Spartan community. I am grateful to women who take up the responsibility to lead and thankful to my fellow board members for trusting me. Thank you for agreeing to work with me for the best of MSU. I am excited about what we will do together as a cohesive team. I look forward to the transformative leadership of this board and the bright, green year ahead of us.”
Interim President Teresa K. Woodruff, Ph.D., congratulated Vassar and Kelly on their leadership roles and welcomed new board members to their first meeting.
“I look forward to working with the entire board to advance our institution and its important work in enhancing student success, furthering our research excellence and creating a more welcoming and respectful campus community for all,” Woodruff said.
Responsibilities of the board chair include representing the board in official statements, overseeing committee assignments, establishing meeting agendas and assisting with the facilitation of meetings. The board’s vice chair assumes the duties of board chair during the chair’s absence and if the board chair’s position becomes vacated, until the election of a new board chair.
“I share the optimism expressed by my colleagues today,” Kelly said. “I look forward to working with Trustee Vassar as our new chair, the new board members who have joined us and with Interim President Woodruff.”
During the meeting, trustees also passed a resolution authorizing the board chair to negotiate and enter into an agreement for consulting services for board governance and bylaws and policy development.
Today also was the first meeting for new trustees Dennis Denno, who was elected in November during the statewide election, and Sandy Pierce, who was selected by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in late December to fill the position vacated by former Trustee Pat O’Keefe.
Denno is a 1992 MSU James Madison College graduate with a degree in Justice, Morality, and Constitutional Democracy. He worked in the Michigan Legislature for 17 years for legislators from Flint and Detroit and as the communications director for Michigan House Democrats and the Michigan Democratic Party. In 2004, Denno started his own public relations campaign consulting firm.
Pierce is the senior executive vice president of Huntington National Bank. Previously, she was vice chair of FirstMerit Corporation and has held leadership roles at RBS, Citizens and JPMorgan Chase. In 2018, Pierce received MSU’s Honorary Alumni Award for her leadership, service and commitment to the university.
In addition to new board members starting today, the board also made its selection for the next secretary and chief of staff to the Board of Trustees, Stefan J. Fletcher. Fletcher’s appointment is effective Jan. 30, 2023, and the board will formally approve the appointment at the February 2023 meeting.
Fletcher earned a bachelor’s degree in communicating arts and sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Superior in 2008, a law degree from MSU’s College of Law in 2011 and a doctorate in higher education administration from MSU in 2016. While a graduate student at MSU, he served as president of the Council of Graduate Students for four years, acting as a student liaison to the board during that time. Also during his time at MSU, he worked with the UW System Office of the Board of Regents on policy and communication projects.
Most recently, Fletcher served as the director of administrative policies, projects and academic fellowships at the University of Wisconsin System Administration, overseeing system-wide policy and project management functions. He also served as special assistant to the vice president for administration.
“I am humbled to have the opportunity to serve the board and MSU in this role,” Fletcher said. “I look forward to listening to and working with the trustees and colleagues across campus to further the university’s mission, values and strategic plans.”
Fletcher currently serves as the chair-elect of the Association of College and University Policy Administrators, the professional association for higher education policy administrators.
Trustee Kelly Tebay chaired the search committee for the position and said Fletcher’s set of professional experiences, educational background and practical appreciation for shared governance made him the ideal candidate.
“The board is excited about welcoming Stefan back to MSU and into this important role,” Tebay said. “His extensive experience, both at Wisconsin and also at MSU, combined with an enthusiasm and passion for the university and our mission, give us all a renewed optimism for collectively moving forward.”
The next regularly scheduled board meeting will be held at 9 a.m. on Friday, Feb. 10.