MSU board accepts Simon's resignation, promises change

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

East Lansing — Saying “change is overdue,” Michigan State University’s Board of Trustees on Friday publicly apologized, appointed a temporary leader and vowed to conduct a second investigation to examine the university’s failures that enabled Larry Nassar to prey on so many young girls for decades.

At a meeting Friday, the board first accepted Lou Anna Simon’s resignation and then installed Bill Beekman into a temporary presidential position while the university looks for an external interim president. The board’s actions came just a few hours after Athletics Director Mark Hollis announced he was stepping down amid the scandal.

The trustees — facing growing pressure for failing to protect young girls and women assaulted by Nassar for more than 20 years at MSU — agreed to hold a national search for a new president. Beekman, who has been a vice president and secretary of the MSU Board of Trustees since Jan. 1, 2008, is expected to serve in the top role for only a few weeks.

Board Chairman Brian Breslin read a statement during the meeting that said the board has begun a process to bring in an independent third-party to “perform a top-to-bottom review of all our processes relating to health and safety, in every area of the university, and to provide recommendations on actions that we will implement to change the culture of MSU on this important issue.”

“We must also acknowledge that there have been failures at MSU, not only in our processes and operations, but in our culture, and we are united in our determination to take all necessary steps to begin a new day and change the environment at the university,” he said.

The third-party investigation request comes one week after trustees asked Attorney General Bill Schuette, who is running for governor, to launch an investigation at MSU to examine the failures at the university in its handling of claims against Nassar over two decades, when at least 200 women were sexually assaulted by the former MSU and USA Gymnastics doctor.

Breslin said the Attorney General’s Office is best positioned to oversee an independent investigator, similar to how Andrew Arena, a former head of the Detroit FBI branch, is serving as a lead investigator in Flint’s water crisis.

“There has a been swirl of comments that it’s going to get political,” Breslin said. “To avoid that, and to give the victim-survivors the report that they need, the investigation they need, it is my personal opinion, I asked them to consider, bringing in a neutral, independent, third-party to do the investigation.”

Schuette said he will update media on MSU on Saturday but did acknowledge an ongoing investigation into the matter.

“I stand with the victims, survivors, parents, and families who want justice at (MSU),” Schuette said on Twitter. “Any other words or comments are just unacceptable. That is why I convicted Nassar, and that is the focus of my ongoing investigation of MSU.”

Much of Friday’s board meeting focused on apologies as trustees took turns reading individual statements, expressing their regrets and sorrow toward the victims.

“I am sorry. We made mistakes,” said Trustee Dianne Byrum, who added she tried but did not raise her voice loud enough. “Never again can this happen. Never again. I am committed to do everything I can do ... to make sure we move forward as a university.”

Trustee Melanie Foster added: “I am sorry ... the university has been unresponsive to your cries.”

Trustee Brian Mosallam promised a town hall for students, alumni and victims to make sure a failure like this one does not happen again at the university.

“There are no words to express the regret in my heart,” said Mosallam, as he choked up. “We have a long road ahead of us.”

One of Nassar’s victims, Jessica Smith, said she believes the trustees are sorry.

“However, I will not be fooled,” said Smith, who founded the Facebook page, Me Too MSU. “I have been and will continue to call for a clean house. ... The only hope on saving the Spartan name is to release all reports to the public and the government, and for each member in a leadership position to step down. This is not over. The full truth will be upon us soon.”

Friday’s Board of Trustees meeting was a stark departure from last week’s meeting when trustees met in a closed-door work session. That day, Breslin read a statement that reflected the board’s support of Simon’s tenure but also called an investigation into the Nassar scandal before departing without taking questions.

Afterward, calls mounted for Simon to resign in the midst of a seven-day odyssey in an Ingham County courthouse when victims, many of them former MSU students, were testifying about Nassar’s abuse. The board stood behind Simon as statements were being made by from former Olympic gymnasts Aly Raisman and Jordyn Weiber. Mitch Lyons was the first to break ranks with the board the following day, saying Simon had to go. Byrum followed days later.

On Wednesday, after 156 survivors made statements, a judge sentenced Nassar to 40-175 years in prison. A few hours later, Simon resigned, empathizing with the victims but also calling the tragedy “politicized.”

Sherman Garrett, the dean of the James Madison College at MSU, said Thursday he was ashamed of the response from university leaders in a statement he posted on Twitter.

“We are so much better than this, so much more dedicated to fundamental human and humane values, than these words conveyed,” Garrett wrote. “Our first thoughts should be with the survivors and of their courage. They are individually and collectively the human and moral polestar, and hearing their words is the only way to find our way back to who we are and should be.”

Some, including House Speaker Tom Leonard, R-DeWitt, have called for the entire board to resign for prioritizing the university’s reputation over the young women.

Other lawmakers proposed legislation to protect future children from molestation.

On Thursday, Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California sent a letter urging the MSU board to commission an independent investigation into the scandal, citing a Detroit News investigation showing at least 14 university employees were warned about Nassar’s sexual abuse of young athletes.

Feinstein also sent a letter to the U.S. House, calling on the body to pass legislation already introduced so that a tragedy like this never happens again.

“The time to pass our bill is now,” Feinstein said in a statement. “The legislation requires mandatory reporting of abuse allegations and holds USA Gymnastics and other governing bodies accountable for implementing policies to prevent abuse.”

State Rep. Jim Runestad, a White Lake Township Republican and chair of the House Judiciary Committee, said Friday he is proposing a budget that would require public universities and colleges to report any expenditures on legal fees to the state Legislature. Public funds may have been used for legal services to mitigate the universities’ liability in the Nassar case, his office said.

Staff writer Jonathan Oosting contributed.