MSU trustee calls for Simon to step down over Nassar
One member of MSU’s Board of Trustees is breaking with the others and calling for President Lou Anna Simon to step down from her post, saying he feels she cannot “survive the public outcry” over the Larry Nassar scandal.
"I feel that our best recourse is for President Simon to resign immediately in order to allow the healing process to begin, first and foremost for the survivors and secondarily for our university," MSU Trustee Mitch Lyons said in a statement sent to media, including ESPN, late Saturday.
“I believe that without question, the public has lost confidence in Dr. Simon to effectively lead this university, and I believe that this loss of confidence is irreparable.”
He is the first trustee to call for Simon’s resignation.
Lyons, an alumnus and former football player, also noted at the end of his statement he would not seek re-election this year, joining Brian Breslin, the board’s chairman, who made the same announcement earlier Saturday. Voters choose trustees who are nominated by political parties.
Lyons could not be reached by The Detroit News late Saturday.
But Breslin released a statement on behalf of the board addressing Lyons’ comments Saturday night.
“Regrettably, Trustee Mitch Lyons announced his intention to call for President Simon’s resignation. Importantly, all of the other trustees continue to support President Simon,” he said. “The Board of Trustees shares the outrage of the survivors over the egregious crimes committed by Larry Nassar on the campus of Michigan State University and in his work outside the university with USA Gymnastics and other organizations. The stories told in court this week are heartbreaking.”
Lyons’ call for Simon’s resignation comes only a day after the trustees met with Simon behind closed doors for several hours. They emerged without her Friday afternoon to declare their support.
They called Simon the “right leader” for the university despite mounting calls for her ouster or resignation over the Nassar sexual assault scandal. But they also asked Attorney General Bill Schuette via letter to investigate the university’s handling of allegations against the former gymnastics doctor.
Their request for a review by the Attorney General’s Office, which Simon has said she welcomes, comes more than 16 months after public accusations against Nassar surfaced in September 2016.
While Simon has denied any direct knowledge of Nassar’s abuse, she confirmed Wednesday she was informed in 2014 that a Title IX complaint and a police report had been filed against an unnamed sports medicine physician but said she never received a copy of the report.
“We continue to believe President Simon is the right leader for the university, and she has our support,” said Breslin, as fellow trustees stood behind him.
The board also gave Simon a vote of confidence last month, offering her a raise that she declined as officials agreed to create a $10 million counseling fund. Simon has been MSU president since 2004.
Breslin, 66, is the son of the late Jack Breslin, who was an MSU administrator during decades of campus growth. The basketball arena is named for Breslin.
In his statement earlier Saturday, Breslin said he informed his family and colleagues on the board in 2016 that he did not plan to run again in 2018, and that he informed party officials in fall 2017.
"I consider it a great privilege to serve on the MSU Board," he said in a statement. "As a trustee, I believe I was elected to serve in a manner that considers the best interests of the university, both over the short term and the long term, and to lead with integrity and to the best of my ability. Given the challenges created by the events surrounding the Larry Nassar matter, a positive consequence of my early decision is the freedom to focus all my efforts on serving this great university without the distraction of the campaign process."
Lyons, 47, of Rockford played football from 1988 to 1992 at Michigan State. He spent seven years in the NFL with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Atlanta Falcons. He has been a Michigan State trustee since 2011.
Lyons was charged with misdemeanor assault and battery and was arraigned earlier this month in Jackson County District Court.
Earlier this week, three top leaders in the Michigan Legislature called for Simon’s resignation or forced removal from her post over the Nassar scandal. MSU’s student newspaper on Thursday called on her to step down, and the student government adopted a resolution calling for a change in leadership.
Michigan Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, and Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, urged the university’s Board of Trustees to “act swiftly” and remove Simon from her post, saying the “MSU community deserves better from its leadership.”
Democratic State House Minority Leader Sam Singh and Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr. of East Lansing, along with GOP Sen. Margaret O’Brien of Portage and Rep. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield, were also among those who on Thursday urged Simon to step down.
The calls for an MSU leadership change came after a Detroit News report stated allegations against Nassar reached at least 14 university representatives over two decades.
Nassar, 54, pleaded guilty to assaulting nine girls in Ingham County but faces more than 150 civil suits that also involve MSU and others. Already sentenced to 60 years in prison for child pornography in federal court, Nassar will return to Ingham County Circuit Court on Monday for the fifth day of his sentencing hearing for seven counts of criminal sexual conduct.
Nassar pleaded guilty in November to the charges of first-degree criminal sexual conduct. Prosecutors are asking for a sentence of 40 to 125 years.
At sentencing hearings held this past week, 91 women or teenage girls stepped forward to deliver powerful statements to the court, recounting how Nassar used his status and emotional cunning to manipulate survivors into not reporting his crimes of sexual abuse. Among them were star Olympic gymnasts Aly Raisman and Jordyn Wieber, a DeWitt native.
Raisman's mother, Lynn, took to Twitter to scold MSU men's basketball coach Tom Izzo on Saturday, condemning comments he made Friday in support of Simon: "Dear Tom Izzo, I'm sorry it's been a difficult week for you. Did you hear, Larry Nassar also said it was difficult. Since you 'hope the right person was convicted' I wonder if you are a complete and total MORON or just a LIAR when you claim you listened to the impact statements."
At least another 26 victims will testify after the hearing resumes Monday — perhaps more if others come forward.
The Associated Press contributed.