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A new Michigan State University trustee has come out in favor of restoring a fund to help victims of serial pedophile Larry Nassar, giving supporters of the proposal a majority on the school's governing board.

Trustee Nancy Schlichting, appointed last month by outgoing Gov. Rick Snyder to replace George Perles after his resignation, signed an online petition calling for the restoration of the $10 million Healing Assistance Fund, which MSU closed last month.

At the time, MSU officials said the remaining $8.5 million in the fund was being rolled into the university's $500 million settlement with more than 330 of Nassar's victims. The decision was sharply criticized by Nassar victims and their family members, who said they need help paying for counseling.

MSU established the fund in December 2017 as outrage over Nassar's crimes was building but suspended it in July, saying the fund had been compromised by fraud that did not involve Nassar victims or family members. At that time, $1.5 million had been paid out.

Schlichting joins two newly elected trustees, Kelly Tebay and Brianna Scott, and two other board members, Brian Mosallam and Dianne Byrum, in calling for the fund to be reopened. The four other trustees issued a joint statement Dec. 5 opposing the decision by Interim President John Engler.

In an email Wednesday, Schlichting confirmed her support for the petition. "Yes, I did sign it," she wrote. 

Kathy Haselmaier, creator of the MSU Honor online appeal, said Wednesday she emailed Schlichting soon after Snyder appointed her to ask for her support.

Haselmaier said Schlichting responded to a message sent to her personal email address.

"Thank you very much for reaching out, and for all you are doing to support the survivors of the Nasser abuse," Schlichting wrote in an email released by Haselmaier. "I have added my name to the site, and look forward to making a difference as an MSU trustee."

Haselmaier said, "I am thrilled she is going into her first public meeting with her position publicly stated." 

Byrum and Mosallam said the addition of Schlichting's support is a boost for Nassar victims.

"I believe we will establish a new fund," Byrum said Wednesday. "It is my hope that the Board will be unanimous in its decision on a new counseling fund so the survivors and the university can heal."

"(I'm) very excited to have Trustee Nancy Schlichting's support to ensure there is no disruption to survivor care," Mosallam said. "I hope to work on this with all of my colleagues as soon as possible."

MSU Trustee Dan Kelly said he thought Engler's action was appropriate, saying it was his understanding that the victim assistance fund wasn't intended to be permanent.

"It was to assist survivors during the period of time before there was a settlement," said Kelly. "I'm open minded to continue it if it's appropriate to use university funds for whatever the board members think we should be spending the money on. I'm concerned about university expenditures along this line but I'm open to it. There had to be an understanding as to who is going to paid and what money is available."

Grace French, who is a Nassar victim and founder of The Army of Survivors, a nonprofit begun to assist sexual assault victims, praised Schlichting and the other trustees who signed the petition to reopen the fund.

"It’s a promising sign for survivors, and an indication that the change in leadership may bring about some more change that is so desperately needed," French said. "This fund should never have been taken away in the first place, and I hope that moving forward, MSU will put survivors first and institute massive cultural change."

kkozlowski@detroitnews.com

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