MSU's Simon passes on raise as Nassar controversy brews

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News
Mom Lisa Lorinz consoles daughter Kaylee Lorinz as she tells the board she was abused by Larry Nassar.

East Lansing — Facing growing scrutiny and anger over its handling of sexual misconduct complaints against former sports doctor Larry Nassar, Michigan State University officials agreed Friday to establish a $10 million fund for mental health services for his victims.

The school’s Board of Trustees also offered a $150,000 pay raise to President Lou Anna K. Simon, who has faced calls to resign since Nassar pleaded guilty to child pornography and criminal sexual conduct charges involving girls he assaulted under the guise of medical treatment.

Simon declined the pay raise, which she and the trustees agreed to transfer into a university scholarship fund.

In a statement at the trustees’ meeting, Simon praised the Attorney General’s office, and MSU police’s handling of the Nassar case. She apologized for the pain that survivors of sexual assault have suffered and acknowledged the need to foster “a culture in our community where victims feel they can speak out confidently knowing their voice will be heard.”

President Lou Anna K, Simon watches as trustee Brian Breslin addresses the board and onlookers as the MSU board of trustees meets Friday morning.

She also praised survivors, telling them that “without your voices and your courage, Nassar wouldn’t be behind bars.”

“I am truly sorry for the abuse you suffered, the pain it caused, and the pain it continues to cause today. I am sorry a physician who called himself a Spartan so utterly betrayed your trust and everything this university stands for,” Simon said.

Survivors and supporters who attended the meeting weren’t mollified. A group of about a dozen demonstrators stood silently to protest how MSU has dealt with complaints about Nassar’s actions, and multiple Nassar victims told the trustees they were upset with how the university handled the situation.

Kaylee Lorincz, 18, said she was sexually assaulted by Nassar when she was 11 and that she doesn’t believe Simon’s apology was sincere. She said she thinks MSU officials knew that Nassar had assaulted people but did nothing to stop it.

“To believe that they had no idea is ridiculous to me,” she said. “I do not believe that whatsoever.”

“Since the assault I can’t sleep, I don’t trust and I have a difficult time making friends. I can’t go to the doctor without someone going with me,” she said. “I can only imagine how my life might have been different if only MSU might have done their job in protecting me.”

Other survivors took to the podium as well.

“I wake up every day with the weight of this horrendous scandal on my shoulders. And at night I lie in bed and wonder why don’t these people care about me? Why don’t they hear our cries?” said Jessica Smith, who said she was sexually assaulted by Nassar when she was 17.

Nassar, a former MSU physician who worked with gymnasts, was sentenced last week to 60 years in prison for possessing child pornography. He is to be sentenced next month for assaulting girls while working for the university during his more than 20-year tenure.

Simon sent a letter to school employees after the meeting, saying she hopes his sentence in the child porn case “will allow some measure of healing to begin.”

She also wrote that the university’s lead attorney in the Nassar case, Patrick Fitzgerald, said in a letter to the Attorney General’s office that any attempt by staff to conceal Nassar’s sexual assault would be reported to law enforcement immediately if it’s discovered.

Simon told staff the situation “reinforces the importance of taking a hard look at ourselves and learning from what happened — because it should never happen again.”

She wrote in the letter that Nassar’s sentencing “is not the end of the matter,” expecting more allegations.

“In the months ahead, we can expect to continue to hear a variety of allegations and accusations leveled at the university. Because the university does not litigate in the press, such allegations may go largely unchallenged until or unless the cases reach open court.”

Board Chairman Brian Breslin and other trustees joined Simon in apologizing to survivors. Breslin also denied that MSU officials attempted to protect Nassar or hide any information about him or what administrators may have known.

“It is simply not true that there has been any kind of cover-up,” Breslin said.

Demonstrators at the MSU trustees meeting Friday morning hold signs protesting the university's lack of action when gymnasts complained about Larry Nassar's sexual assaults.

Another board member, Brian Mosallam, said he was deeply sorry for the pain that people have experienced at the hands of Nassar but called it “ludicrous” to suggest that administrators and trustees care more “about protecting the brand than protecting someone’s daughter.”

Attorney General Bill Schuette, a Republican running for governor, has asked MSU to release its internal investigation into Nassar, but the university has said that no such report exists.

House Speaker Tom Leonard, R-Dewitt, called this week for Simon to resign, becoming the first high-ranking Michigan official to do so amid the fallout of the Nassar case. He also has joined calls for an independent probe after MSU’s internal investigators cleared university officials of any wrongdoing in how they handled the Nassar case.

“The best-case scenario for Michigan State University is that there was absolutely gross negligence all the way to the top, and worst-case scenario, something’s being covered up,” Leonard told The Detroit News on Monday.

The MSU trustees have expressed support for Simon in the wake of the growing controversy over Nassar.

Since becoming president in 2005, Simon has often declined a raise, according to MSU Trustee Joel Ferguson, a member of the board’s compensation committee. Simon has donated more than $1.4 million to the university overall since becoming president.

She earned $860,198 in 2015, making her the highest-paid executive of a public university in Michigan and 12th in the nation that year, according to the latest compensation report released this week by the Chronicle of Higher Education.

University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel earned $782,481 in 2015, while Wayne State University President M. Roy Wilson earned $550,649, according to the Chronicle report.

Simon has declined pay hikes in previous years including last year, according to MSU spokesman Jason Cody.

In 2016, she donated $100,000 to the Roy J. and Lou Anna K. Simon Scholarship, a fund set up in the name of president and her husband to assist first generation students.

Kim Kozlowski contributed.