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MSU's Stanley won't say if he backs independent Nassar probe

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

East Lansing — Three years to the day that the first woman spoke publicly about Larry Nassar, Michigan State University's new president declined Thursday to say whether he would resurrect a scuttled independent investigation into the sex abuse scandal.

Michigan State University President Samuel Stanley addresses the Lansing Regional Chamber Economic Club on Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019.

"It's tough for me to make that assumption at this point in time," said MSU President Samuel Stanley, adding that he needed to focus on a bombshell federal report that criticized the university's handling of sexual abuse cases involving Nassar and others, along with a record $4.5 million fine. "But we have had 12 investigations so far."

Stanley made the comment during a brief meeting with reporters before he addressed the Lansing Regional Chamber Economic Club luncheon, attended by more than 600 people.

MSU spokeswoman Emily Guerrant addressed other controversies: She confirmed that Tomas Hult, an MSU business leader, had been suspended from his posts after a colleague, Sarah Singer, accused him of sexual misconduct, even though there was no finding from a formal Office of Institutional Equity investigation.

After his suspension from Oct. 1 to Dec. 23 and a mandatory sexual harassment training, Guerrant said he would return to his leadership positions: director of MSU's International Business Center and Center for International Business Education and Research.

"Even though there was no findings in the OIE investigations, the university still has a discretion to make a decision," said Guerrant. "In this case, it was a decision made by the dean of the college, and human resources, and it is a decision that the president fully supports, that it was their decision that even though this behavior did not violate one of our policies, it is not consistent with behavior we believe should happen in our business college and at the university."

Singer called the suspension "incredibly mild."

" ... it is my hope that as part of President Stanley’s push to improve campus culture and climate, MSU will strengthen its policies in this area, particularly as they relate to individuals with multiple OIE complaints," she said.

Meanwhile, former MSU Provost June Youatt —  who stepped down last week after the federal report and fine  — will not leave the university, Guerrant said. Instead, she will do six months of research and take a six-month sabbatical — while being paid $480,000 a year — before returning to the faculty, as outlined in her contract.

"That is what is owed to her in her contract and (Stanley) is not going to fight that," Guerrant said. 

The issue that Stanley spent the most time addressing was the independent investigation, sought by victims since the Nassar scandal began. Trustees approved one in June. But MSU board chair Dianne Byrum announced last week there was a split on the board on the scope of the investigation, so it would not move forward.

"I can understand how people would feel betrayed — something was promised and then not done," said Stanley, who began his post last month. "I have an (Office for Civil Rights) letter that has come directly to me with a whole series of things I need to do, including evaluate some of the results of their investigation in terms of personnel and so on. So that is what I am really focused on.

"The OCR investigation is really an independent one, it was fairly comprehensive so I need to work from that and use it as a blueprint going forward so we can really improve and make some of the changes that need to be made." 

The move by the board to put the independent investigation on hold prompted three women sexually abused by Nassar to challenge Stanley this week to move the investigation forward.

Rachael Denhollander, who told her story to the Indianapolis Star three years ago and prompted scores of other women to come forward, joined Nassar victims Sterling Riethman and Sarah Klein to call on Stanley to act, saying: "It's either action or silence."

Byrum, who attended the luncheon, said she wants to stay focused on the findings put forward by federal officials.

"That's where we need to focus," Byrum said. "When we get through that, we can ask the question, 'What more is there to do?' But at this point in time, we have a pretty clear blueprint."

On another subject, Byrum said the process that resulted in Stanley's hiring was the first open search done at the university in years.

The search sparked controversy at the state's largest university. Nassar victims and their supporters blasted the decision by the search committee to keep its work private.