MSU trustee calls for culture change post Nassar

Detroit News staff and wire reports

A member of Michigan State University’s governing body has unveiled a series of proposals he says are aimed at changing the institution’s culture in the wake of the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal.

Trustee Brian Mosallam released the eight-page plan Tuesday to fellow trustees and the media, focusing on accountability, board oversight, trustee reform, compliance, independent oversight and health and wellness reform.

Nassar, a former doctor who treated Michigan State athletes and U.S. Olympians, was sentenced earlier this year to decades in prison for sexual abuse.

“MSU should no longer stand in a defensive posture,” Mosallam wrote in the introduction letter for his proposals.

“We must embrace our obligation to apologize and offer justice. MSU should mercilessly cull out all that which permeated and perpetuated the culture that allowed for the likes of Larry Nassar and all the other sexual misconduct on this campus to fester and go improperly addressed.”

Mosallam is calling for an independent, internal review of the university’s leadership. The review would target the administration, office of general counsel, provost, student affairs and services, college deans and administrators and other departments that handle sexual misconduct at the university.

The proposal says the university should “terminate all those who acted contrary to our values.”

“We have a lot of good people on this campus who were hoodwinked by Larry Nassar or fell short because of institutional silos,” the proposal states.

Mosallam, a former Michigan State football player, emphasizes in his proposals that he only needs five votes for approval.

Mosallam told The Detroit News he has been working on the plan since February when he held a town hall meeting on the Nassar scandal. He included suggestions from stakeholders, faculty, students and alumni.

Mosallam’s plan also calls for a faculty member and a student to be on the board of trustees, giving them voting rights for presidential searches along with costs for tuition, room and board. Mosallam said students and faculty would appoint their representative who would serve in a temporary capacity to vote only on those matters.

“I believe it can be done,” Mosallam said.

He said it’s unclear when the board will discuss or vote on his proposal.

State Rep. Klint Kesto, chairman of a House committee currently considering several Nassar-inspired bills, said the board certainly can appoint a faculty member or a student to an advisory position.

The Commerce Township Republican encouraged quick action should the board decide on that route.

“Frankly, it’s about time that people stopped pointing the finger and saying somebody else needs to do something,” Kesto said. “They should take responsibility to start being leaders and doing it themselves.”

Additionally, Mosallam wants the school to hire an independent sexual misconduct ombudsman and to create a sexual misconduct survivors advisory committee. He also proposed an “up-the-ladder and escalation policy” that would require all sexual misconduct complaints involving faculty and staff to be immediately reported to the board of trustees.

“We have a problem,” Mosallam said. “You can have the tightest policies and procedures in place, but if you have a culture problem, nothing will get fixed.”

Some trustees said Tuesday they had not yet seen Mosallam’s proposals. Board Vice Chairman Joel Ferguson declined to comment on the proposal until he read a copy.

“I would think that if you wanted something passed that you would first talk to your colleagues unless you have a different goal,” Ferguson.

Mosallam said he provided each trustee with a copy of the proposal.

Trustee Dianne Byrum, without mentioning Mosallam's remarks and plan directly, released a statement addressing the issue of culture at Michigan State.

“I have been clear that Michigan State University must greatly increase transparency and accountability, and make changes throughout our university to ensure we can say ‘never again,’" Byrum said in her statement. "I am committed to working together with all members of the board and the university community to change the broken culture at MSU, which starts with ensuring full transparency and an uncompromising commitment to accountability at every level.”

Some Nassar’s accusers had mixed feelings on Mosallam’s proposals.

Annette Hill, who said she was assaulted by Nassar about 20 years ago during an appointment to treat her right knee injury, said she agrees that a student should have a voice on the board because it would “give them perspective on what these young people are thinking.”

However, Hill said she was not confident an independent internal review would bring change.

“I don’t trust them in trying to prevent this from happening again because they have covered up so much,” said Hill, 59 of Lansing. “I wouldn’t trust their independent findings.”

Michigan State has drawn criticism because many victims have said they reported Nassar’s abuse to various members of the university’s staff.

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

Campus police got their first report regarding Nassar in 2014, but the Ingham County prosecutor declined to file charges.

The school continued to employ him after he was the subject of a sexual assault investigation in 2014.

Detroit News staff writer Nicquel Terry and the Associated Press contributed.