MSU weighs pay hike for president amid Nassar fallout
Michigan State University President Lou Anna Simon is expected to get a vote of confidence and potentially a pay raise Friday, a day after a high-ranking official stepped down amid emerging controversy over the school’s handling of sexual assault complaints against Larry Nassar.
William Strampel, dean of the College of Osteopathic Medicine, the highest-ranking official at MSU known to have addressed Nassar’s behavior, announced Thursday he would take the leave of absence for medical reasons. He will step down as dean but remain a faculty member, said Jason Cody, MSU spokesman.
Strampel’s departure isn’t officially tied to the scandal, but it comes after he has been named in lawsuits amid growing criticism of how school officials handled Nassar, who has pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting girls while working for MSU, where he was employed for more than 20 years.
Simon, president since 2005, has often declined a raise, said MSU Trustee Joel Ferguson, a member of the Board of Trustee compensation committee. So board members on Friday will discuss a possible raise, her contract and their support of her during the first public board meeting since Nassar, once a celebrated MSU physician, was sentenced last week to 60 years in prison for possessing child pornography.
The meeting, expected to be attended by protesters and victims who were sexually assaulted by Nassar, comes as Simon faces calls to resign for failing to protect dozens of young women from being victimized over two decades. Those urging her to step down include Michigan House Speaker Tom Leonard.
But Ferguson said Simon is “not going anywhere.”
“We wouldn’t let her go anywhere,” said Ferguson, adding the trustees plan to issue a letter of her support for her. “She is doing a great job.”
Critics say giving a raise to Simon, who earns $750,000 annually, would be tone deaf for MSU. Many of Nassar’s victims have called for accountability for MSU now that he has pleaded guilty to charges of child pornography and first-degree criminal sexual conduct.
“What kind of institution gives a raise to someone who presided over the molestation of hundreds of little girls?” said John Manly, a California-based attorney representing 106 young women in civil lawsuits against Nassar, MSU, USA Gymnastics, Gedderts’ Twistars USA Gymnastics Club and, in some cases, the U.S. Olympic Committee. “The short answer: One that is run by people who are morally depraved.”
Others involved in lawsuits against Nassar and MSU expressed anger over Strampel’s announced leave.
Based on discovery so far through litigation, Strampel should have been fired a long time ago and stripped of his pension, said David Mittleman, an Okemos-based attorney representing 38 victims in civil lawsuits against Nassar, MSU, Twistars and several other individuals, including Strampel.
“It’s starting to look more and more like a coverup,” Mittleman said.
Strampel supported Nassar in emails during a 2014 Title IX investigation and when Rachael Denhollander reported in late summer 2016 that Nassar had sexually assaulted her in 2000 when she was a 15-year-old gymnast, according to emails obtained and published by the Washington Post in April.
For instance, after MSU cleared Nassar following an investigation in 2014 of a complaint from a woman who said Nassar massaged her breasts and vaginal area during a medical treatment, Nassar emailed Strampel and said he was “nauseated” by the young woman’s account.
Strampel replied to Nassar, reminding him that he had agreed to have someone in the room with him during medical procedures and have “little to no skin-to-skin contact” with patients, the Post reported.
He also said, “I am happy this has resolved to some extend (sic) and I am happy to have you back in full practice.”
In late summer 2016, Strampel and Nassar discussed Denhollander’s complaint before it was published in the Indianapolis Star. When a reporter sent Nassar an email with questions, Nassar forwarded it to Strampel.
Strampel replied: “Good luck. I am on your side.”
When Denhollander’s story was published in September, Strampel emailed an administrator and said: “I expect that this will be all over the paper tomorrow ... Cherry on the Cake of my day!!!”
Denhollander, a former Kalamazoo resident, said she believes Strampel’s stepping down is only a move by MSU to remove a controversial figure so victims’ concerns can be dismissed.
“There has still been a complete refusal to recognize that Dean Strampel’s response to, and attitude towards, sexual assault victims, myself included, was abhorrent,” Denhollander said. “His words and actions created a culture where victims were disbelieved, silenced and mocked, and one of the most prolific pedophiles in U.S. history was able to victimize little girls with impunity.
“Until MSU addresses the words, attitudes and actions of Dean Strampel, and acknowledges the incredible damage it did, MSU will continue to be an unsafe place for victims. The longer they wait to deal with the real issues, the stronger the message they are sending becomes: MSU does not care about the victims, it does not recognize the horrific problems within the institution, and it will provide no real impetus to handle things better next time. I do not believe this is anything more than an effort to remove a controversial figure so our concerns can be swept under the rug, which is inexcusable and damaging on every level.”
Mick Grewal, an Okemos-based attorney representing 38 victims in civil lawsuits against Nassar, MSU and others, added that Stampel’s leave of absence is a disservice to all of the women assaulted by Nassar.
“It’s slap in the face, it’s a middle finger,” Grewal said.
Though Nassar was sentenced in federal court to 60 years in prison for possessing 37,000 images of child pornography, he still faces two more sentencings in Ingham and Eaton counties for 10 first-degree criminal sexual assault charges.
The pornography emerged in September 2016 when Denhollander reported that Nassar had sexually abused her and MSU fired him.
Soon after, he turned in his work laptop computer, which had been wiped completely clean. Then, MSU police discovered external hard drives that had been thrown away in Nassar’s garage can in front of his house on trash collection day.
Nassar initially said he was innocent but then pleaded guilty in July to possessing the child pornography. Last month, he also pleaded guilty to the criminal sexual conduct charges involving nine young women. All said he digitally penetrated them under the guise of a medical procedure, numerous times and sometimes while their parents were in the room.
But the criminal charges against Nassar represent only a small part of the scandal: Since Denhollander came forward, nearly 150 women have joined civil lawsuits.
More than 125 have complained to MSU. And several Olympic gymnasts have said on social media that they too were sexually assaulted by Nassar.