After betraying the public trust in the way it handled the sex scandals of convicted doctor Larry Nassar, it is time for Michigan State University to face moral reckoning. It is time for MSU to stand on the right side of history.
Nassar’s hundreds of victims deserve to know the truth and nothing but the whole truth. They need to know how a sports doctor turned sex monster was able to dishonor and devalue their lives for so long with impunity.
That includes who at the university aided him over the years in his sexual assaults when victims should have been protected.
Nothing will make this issue go away until MSU fully explains how Nassar was able to successfully exploit the vulnerability of the young women, and how the university missed the warning signals.
Unfortunately, the appointments of two former governors of the state — John Engler as interim president and Jim Blanchard as senior adviser — with deep ties to the university does not do justice to this cause.
Both Engler and Blanchard are considered strong allies of MSU and their longstanding support of the institution in the past is well known.
Their selection as leaders for the university during this difficult period is like appointing your old friends or people who have been sympathetic to you in the past to serve as a mediator in your crisis. It is tantamount to self-regulation.
It is no surprise that some among the MSU faculty are already kicking against Engler serving at the helm. His judgment and sense of independence will be called into question throughout the entire transition because of his relationship to the university.
Even though Engler has been saying all the right things since he was named to lead the university, his connection to the institution is not going to help increase public confidence.
It will further shake public confidence in the integrity of the process of getting to the truth because he would not be viewed as an impartial voice. That is not what MSU needs right now. The university needs an outsider who can come in, weed out the poison and begin the journey toward seeking truth and reconciliation by ensuring that such never happens again.
Because at the center of the MSU scandal lies the vexing question of whether Nassar’s actions were only a symptom of a larger cultural problem at the university that officials there knew all along, or was it an incident that the system failed to catch?
And for the sake of the victims there is an urgent need to establish the truth about how MSU became a den for Nassar’s sexual crimes. That includes finding out if there was a cover-up on the part of the university that enabled Nassar’s sexual assaults to last this long.
Only an outsider, someone with a fresh set of eyes who is not close to the institution like Engler and Blanchard, can come in and clean the mess by establishing strict compliance and ethical measures to avert a repeat of the sex scandals.
In fact, one of Nassar’s victims, Rachael Denhollander, reacted to news of Engler’s appointment on her Facebook page, the day before it was made official.
“I am beyond disappointed to hear this. Engler is a deep political insider at MSU,” Denhollander said. “At a time when the university desperately needs, and survivors pleaded for outside accountability and leadership, the Board chooses one of their most entrenched insiders. Despite the Board’s words about accountability, it is business as usual.”
Denhollander is correct about the Board of Trustees, whose reaction to the sexual scandal in the weeks leading up to and after Nasser’s sentencing was the worst kind of leadership for any academic institution nearing implosion. Their reluctance to immediately call on former president Lou Anna Simon to resign, as well as the insensitive comments of Trustee Joel Ferguson, who made light of the sexual abuses in a radio interview, all demonstrate that the board is not up to the task of governing that institution.
The recalcitrant board needs to understand that truth-telling in relation to justice for the victims, and punishment for whoever were responsible, should be the focus of the next MSU. And a willingness to travel the road of truth, healing and reconciliation should be the hallmark of any new leadership there.
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