MSU board battles critics over Nassar fallout

Kim Kozlowski, and Karen Bouffard
The Detroit News

East Lansing — With many still furious over the Larry Nassar scandal, students and faculty demanded Friday that the Michigan State University Board of Trustees directly address sexual assaults before the university moves on.

Jean Boucher, an assistant professor in sociology, attempts to disrupt the proceedings when MSU interim President John Engler runs his first MSU board of Trustees meeting on campus in East Lansing on Friday.

Protesters twice interrupted a three-hour long board meeting to deliver that message.

One of those who spoke out was Natalie Rogers, representing #ReclaimMSU, a coalition formed in response to the institution’s ability to respond, prevent and investigate sexual misconduct.

“The current administration’s attitudes and inaction toward discrimination, harassment and sexual violence on campus are unacceptable,” said Rogers, a sophomore from Canton Township, after she went to the front of the board meeting during the public comment portion. “It is time to stop prioritizing the brand and reputation.”

Earlier in the meeting during a discussion on Interim President John Engler’s proposal to realign health care at the university, a faculty member burst out of the audience and declared the board needed to discuss “the real issues.”

“We are kind of missing the point here,” said Jean Boucher, an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology. “Health is not the issue. This is a management issue. This is a power issue. An abuse of power. You are going on and on and on about health.”

He then stood in the middle of the boardroom and referenced a vote of no confidence in the trustees cast earlier in the week by the Faculty Senate and said: “No confidence. No confidence. Step down! ... We need a new MSU. A new MSU!”

The unrest comes days after authorities transported Nassar — who sexually assaulted at least 265 young women over two decades while he was a university physician — to a high-security prison in Tucson Arizona.

It also comes days into the tenure of Engler, who has moved to fire and suspend MSU associates of Nassar, hired a firm to speed up Title IX investigations, hand over documents related to the scandal to investigators in addition to a letter to U.S. Senate investigators that said MSU current and former employees do not remember alleged reports about Nassar.

After the first board meeting that he chaired, Engler said he is working to heal the community.

“If their immediate pain is because I’m the interim president, we’ll be around when the full-time president gets here,” Engler said. “If their immediate pain is the Board of Trustees, two new trustees will be elected in November.

“If those are the pain sources, so are sort of different than if they’ve been, or are speaking on behalf of people who’ve been assaulted and are survivors. Those things are different because of what the source of the pain is, I guess.”

Asked how MSU can help victims move on from their pain, Engler said, “They don’t have to move on. We have to help them where they are.”

“What we have though, I think, is to recognize there are steps that we are taking,” he said. “We’ve added investigators to the Office of Institutional Equity, that’s part of moving forward.

“When we think about fixing the processes, that’s all part of that moving forward. We’d like to have a lot of meetings and a lot of conversations, but if you’re someone who’s at risk of being assaulted, or you’ve been assaulted, you need action. Help to actually prevent the assault or to actually deal with it when it happens.”

During the meeting, many board members, especially Trustee Brian Mosallam, spoke directly to those who are still reeling from the Nassar scandal.

Mosallam thanked Engler for his actions and told the MSU community that this is only the beginning of things to be done to fix campus.

He recalled a town hall meeting on campus that he recently hosted that was attended by many victims who shared their stories of sexual assault. He added procedures involving Title IX reports need to be changed.

“I was shocked and saddened to hear about all the pain, fear and anxiety that exists on this campus because of sexual misconduct,” Mosallam said.

“Currently, the office of General Counsel’s practices and its siloed flow of information does not allow for Title IX reports and incidences of sexual assaults on this campus to be reported to this board. This needs to be reviewed and changed immediately.”

Some trustees addressed other concerns. Chair Brian Breslin said that in the wake of former President Lou Anna Simon’s resignation during Nassar’s criminal proceedings, the board needed a leader to step in immediately.

Vice Chair Joel Ferguson said he agreed 100 percent, and complimented Engler’s recent days at the university.

“You got us to a running start,” Ferguson said.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, some students, including Sara Bijani, president of the Graduate Employees Union, expressed disappointment in the lack of work the university is doing on sexual assault.

“I encourage you for once to get ahead of this,” said Bijani, a doctoral candidate in history. “Put some real money behind preventing sexual assault. Take some action. Clean this house. Invest in a real campus reporting system that survivors can trust. The system you have now isn’t working.”

In other business, the board approved a new leader for the school’s College of Osteopathic Medicine and extending the contract of football coach Mark Dantonio, who has faced scrutiny over the football program’s response to cases of sexual assault and violence toward women.

Andrea Amalfitano, director of MSU’s Clinical Sciences Institute, was named interim dean designee for the osteopathic medicine school, with a $325,000 salary. He replaces William Strampel, the school’s longtime dean who went on a leave of absence in December.

Strampel has been named in lawsuits filed against MSU and Engler had moved to terminate him.

A Detroit News investigation found that Strampel was one of at least 14 university staff members who received reports of sexual misconduct by Nassar in the two decades before the former MSU sports doctor’s arrest.

Also, the trustees approved the appointments of Bill Beekman as interim athletic director, at a salary of $400,000, and Carol Viventi as vice president and special counsel to the president, at a salary of $250,000.

Engler this month named Beekman, the school’s vice president and secretary of the Board of Trustees, to replace Mark Hollis, who retired last month amid the Nassar scandal.

The board did not approve a contract for Engler, who has served as the university’s leader since the beginning of this month. Officials say the terms are still under negotiation.