Michigan State trustees hold public meeting, apologize to abused women
EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State’s board of trustees held a public meeting Friday afternoon to introduce an acting president and to try to change the tone it has taken with sexual assault victims in the past.
Chairman Brian Breslin asked state Attorney General Bill Schuette to appoint an independent third party to investigate the school as soon as possible to see whether any other employees at Michigan State were complicit in allowing serial sexual predator Larry Nassar to abuse girls and young women on campus for nearly two decades. Each of the eight trustees read statements in the meeting expressing regret for the way the university has responded to the survivors.
“I’m so truly sorry,” trustee Brian Mosallam said, speaking to the scores of women who say Nassar abused them. “We have failed you.”
Michigan State is one of several co-defendants in civil lawsuits that allege the university and others shirked their responsibility to stop Nassar when given opportunities to do so. The university has often cited pending litigation when asked why the administration hasn’t spoken with any of the survivors of Nassar’s abuse or been more forthcoming with information.
“It is also clear that MSU has not been focused enough on the victims,” Breslin said. “Our hope is that there will be an opportunity soon to resume a dialogue with counsel for the victims to reach a fair and just resolution.”
On Wednesday, an Ingham County judge sentenced Nassar to a minimum of 40 years in state prison at the end of a weeklong hearing. More than 150 people provided impact statements to the court as part of that hearing, many of them taking aim at USA Gymnastics and Michigan State for their role in ignoring warning signs that might have stopped the formerly renowned physician from preying on young women and girls.
The trustees said previous statements and reactions from board members and recently ousted president Lou Anna Simon have been callous and tone-deaf and have lacked accountability. Trustee Dianne Byrum acknowledged that the school has a serious cultural problem that has mistreated sexual assault victims. She said the university needed cultural reviews from “top to bottom.”
“I think we need to be much more transparent,” Byrum said. “I need to raise my voice in a public sphere, and I fully intend to do that. I’m committed to making a cultural change at the university.”
Outside The Lines published a report Friday that outlined a history of sexual assault problems within Michigan State’s athletic department. The report discovered a “pattern of widespread denial, inaction and information suppression” of sexual assault allegations. Outgoing athletic director Mark Hollis retired Friday morninghours before the report was published. Acting university president Bill Beekman said he was not aware of the report at the conclusion of Friday’s meeting.
“We’ll look at the report,” Beekman said. “I’ve been aware generally of probably what you’ve been aware of with public reports over the years of various misbehaviors as they’ve occurred. Beyond that, I’m not sure I can comment.”
Beekman will take over the presidency before Michigan State’s trustees decide on a permanent replacement for Simon. The former president resigned Wednesday after widespread calls from students, the community and state politicians.
“As tragedies are politicized, blame is inevitable,” Simon said. “As president, it is only natural that I am the focus of this anger. I understand, and that is why I have limited my personal statements.”
Beekman and Byrum declined to comment on whether Simon should have taken more accountability with her parting message.
“The president needed to resign,” said Byrum, who was one of two trustees (along with Mitch Lyons) to ask her to do so before Wednesday’s announcement. “I wish I had been more vocal sooner about that. It starts a new chapter for the board and for this community.”
Meanwhile, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder said Friday he is mulling an inquiry into the university, depending on whether it would interfere with other investigations, such as the attorney general’s. Under the state constitution, the governor can remove or suspend public officers for “gross neglect of duty,” corruption or “other misfeasance or malfeasance.”
U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos confirmed Friday that her agency also is investigating the Nassar scandal. She said in a statement that what happened at the school is “abhorrent” and “cannot happen ever again — there or anywhere.” The Education Department already was reviewing separate complaints about the school’s compliance with Title IX, the law that requires public schools to offer equal opportunities to both genders, and compliance with requirements about providing campus crime and security information.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.