MSU officials were warned about Strampel years ago

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News
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At least three times since 2004, colleagues of Larry Nassar’s ex-boss alerted Michigan State University’s administration about multiple reports of inappropriate sexual comments he made toward students and others, according to documents obtained by The Detroit News.

The most recent occurrence was in 2015, when a committee evaluating the performance of William Strampel, then dean of the MSU osteopathic medical school, discussed multiple allegations made by students, faculty and staff about unprofessional conduct that Strampel allegedly directed mostly at women.

“Since these are allegations from anonymous individuals, which the committee cannot verify, nor has the power to investigate if there is any substance, we bring it to the attention of the University Administration,” the committee wrote in 2015.

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Eleven years earlier, in 2004, colleagues of Strampel wrote a memo to then-Provost Lou Anna K. Simon, soon to become MSU’s president, about the medical dean’s conduct.

Simon was the first of three MSU provosts to receive reports of sexually charged comments and behavior by Strampel over nearly 15 years, according to court and university records.

But it wasn’t until January of this year that a call from the father of a medical student led to an official investigation into Strampel, who has since been charged with misconduct in office, fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct and willful neglect of duty.

Authorities allege Strampel used his position at MSU to harass, discriminate, proposition, intimidate and sexually assault female students.

“It was well-known within the school that the dean made inappropriate and sexist comments,” an April court filing from the state Attorney General’s office states. “It was not unusual to be walking down the hall and have the dean pass, saying, ‘nice rack’ as he went by.”

Strampel also groped a student and possessed naked photos on his work computer, “including bare vaginas, many of which appear to be from MSU female students,” according to the document.

They also say Strampel failed to monitor patient care requirements placed on Nassar after a 2014 Title IX complaint cleared Nassar of sexual misconduct, resulting in more assaults on patients. Nassar, a former MSU and USA Gymnastics doctor, has since been sentenced to a de facto life term in prison for molesting scores of young women under the guise of medical treatment over more than two decades.

Prosecutors allege that Strampel also recruited clinical skills models, paid them in cash, penetrated one of them with his fingers during a private exam, took the other out to dinner alone and told her that she made him “hard.” But Judge Richard D. Bell ruled that those witnesses will not testify during Strampel’s preliminary hearing June 5 in 54-B District Court.

Tenure to be targeted

MSU Interim President John Engler is trying to terminate Strampel through tenure proceedings expected to begin this summer.

Strampel, who remains an MSU faculty member, is being paid his $217,903 salary while on medical leave, which ends in June. His attorney, John Dakmak, did not return phone and email messages.

The documents obtained by The News add another piece to a puzzle showing how Strampel led the College of Osteopathic Medicine for 15 years despite repeated reports to university officials of his alleged propensity to inject sexually inappropriate behavior into the school’s climate. The revelations come as MSU also faces continuing scrutiny over its handling of sexual abuse allegations against Nassar.

The Detroit News last month published findings from a portion of Strampel’s 2015 review showing that he allegedly put a sexual or crude spin on conversations, bragged of his sexual conquests, made comments about the appearance of women and looked at their breasts while talking with them. The News has subsequently obtained an executive summary in which the 2015 review committee specifically made note to the administration remarks about Strampel’s unusual behavior.

Provost June Youatt said in a May 1 statement that she learned about Strampel’s reported behavior during his last five-year review in 2015, after which she reappointed him to another term. She said she spoke with him about his conduct after the process.

“We had just completed his five-year review, where input about his effectiveness was solicited from on and off campus through an anonymous survey,” Youatt said in the statement. “The results included several accounts of inappropriate remarks and a number of concerns about uncouth and sometimes offensive language during the review period. The concerns raised were taken seriously, and I specifically addressed these in the required post-review conversation.”

At the time of Strampel’s review in 2015, Youatt added, no one had filed complaints with Michigan State’s police department or the Office of Institutional Equity regarding Strampel’s behavior.

MSU officials did not respond to a recent request for comment on the school’s knowledge of Strampel’s alleged behaviors.

But records filed in Strampel’s criminal case, in 54-B District Court in East Lansing, summarize the allegations.

According to the documents, the father called Youatt and told her that Strampel allegedly told the female student that “26-year-old women can ‘put out’ for 20 minutes and an old man will fall asleep and (she) will get benefits of being on vacation with a man.”

The father also told Youatt during the phone conversation that Strampel allegedly told his daughter’s friend that she had a good body and should be a dancer. The father also reported to Youatt that Strampel told another student that she could become an escort when she was running out of money to pay for medical school, according to the records.

“At the end of the conversation, (the father) asked June Youatt if anything he said surprised her, and she answered that none of it surprised her,” according to the report, written by an investigator with the state Attorney General’s office.

After her conversation with the student’s father, Youatt filed a Title IX complaint, and MSU police were notified, said MSU spokeswoman Emily Guerrant.

The response from Youatt shows she was the third provost at MSU who was notified of concerns about Strampel’s conduct. Records show that besides Youatt and Simon, former provost Kim Wilcox also received reports about Strampel’s behavior in 2010.

Strampel was the first person to be indicted by the Attorney General’s office in a criminal investigation at MSU linked to Nassar.

A Detroit News investigation found Strampel was among 14 MSU staff members who received reports of Nassar’s sexual abuse over two decades, and the latest revelations about the former dean illustrate a troubling lack of oversight at Michigan’s largest university, Nassar’s accusers say.

“The fact of the matter is that Provost Youatt is as unfit for her position as the Board of Trustees is for theirs,” said Morgan McCaul, a University of Michigan student and former dancer who is among Nassar’s accusers. “Unfortunately, her behavior aligns with the larger culture of sexual violence rampant on Michigan State’s campus.”

‘50 miles ... from nearest sin’

Records detail how Youatt’s predecessors were informed years earlier of concerns over Strampel’s behavior.

In 2004, two MSU officials wrote a memo to Simon, who was provost at the time and resigned earlier this year as president amid the Nassar fallout.

The memo outlined Strampel’s visit to a student-run telemarketing program in October 2004 and reported that more than 20 students had told their supervisors they were concerned about comments Strampel allegedly made during the event.

According to the memo, Strampel allegedly said, “I may be the only straight person you ever meet from Saugatuck,” and “one of the reasons I went to Hope College was so I could be 50 miles away from the nearest sin.” The memo also included accusations that Strampel suggested a female student should take birth control.

“[T]he comments were offensive and (students) were surprised that ‘he could get away with speaking to college students like that,’ ” said the memo, which was written by Charles H. Webb, former MSU vice president for university development and former president of Spring Arbor University, and Marti K.S. Heil, former associate vice president for university development.

Simon, Webb and Heil did not respond to requests for comment.

After Strampel’s 2010 performance review, Wilcox — MSU’s former provost and now chancellor of the University of California, Riverside — said Strampel would continue as medical school dean, according to a 2010 letter in Strampel’s personnel file.

“Our several discussions over the past several months have reinforced my commitment and that of Dean Strampel to advancing the goals of the College within the broad mission of Michigan State University,” Wilcox wrote.

Wilcox, who served MSU as provost from August 2005 to December 2012 and supervised Strampel, said in a statement that he was not aware of behavior similar to that which led to charges against Strampel, though he did recall getting some anonymous feedback that Strampel had made “several inappropriate comments.”

“To the best of my knowledge, none of the feedback I received while supervising Strampel described behaviors articulated in the Michigan Attorney General’s criminal complaint filing,” Wilcox said. “Notwithstanding, I have been troubled by the revelations about Strampel’s alleged actions at MSU.”

Engler said recently that he is appalled by Strampel and promised to make changes so MSU can’t harbor another leader like him.

“What I continue to learn about Bill Strampel disgusts me,” Engler said in a statement.

“Any credible allegation coming from any corner of the university will be immediately investigated and acted upon. There will be no more Bill Strampels.”

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