Whitmer signs petition to reopen Nassar aid fund

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Newly sworn-in Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Friday joined a grassroots effort calling on Michigan State University to reinstate a fund covering counseling services for victims of serial pedophile Larry Nassar by signing an online appeal.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer

“As an MSU alumna, I’m proud to add my name to the list of those who are calling on Michigan State University to reinstate the MSU Healing Assistance Fund to ensure survivors get the care they need," Whitmer said. "It’s time for the university to do the right thing and keep its promise to survivors and their families.”

Whitmer joins more than 1,500 students, faculty, alumni and allies who signed the appeal, calling for the restoration of the $10 million Healing Assistance Fund, which covered counseling services for Nassar victims and their family members. MSU closed the fund last month.

The shutdown of the fund has been a source of contention to victims of Nassar, who said they need it to help them in their journey to heal after Nassar's sexual abuse.

But on Friday, Whitmer's signature, along with others who have signed the appeal, provided a ray of hope for Morgan McCaul, who was abused by Nassar.

"This movement with the healing fund has been very promising and has given me an extra bit of hope that I thought was gone and I know I speak for multiple people when I say that,” said McCaul, who asked Whitmer to sign the petition.

“We feel re-energized, and a renewed sense of optimism.”

MSU established the Healing Assistance 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.

In December, 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 allies, and the online appeal was created and put up online Dec. 17 by Kathy Haselmaier, a Michigan Technological University alumna who lives in Colorado.

"MSU Honor appreciates Governor Whitmer's support and her determination to stand up for what is right," Haselmaier said.

Those who have signed the appeal include Trustees Brian Mosallam, Dianne Byrum, and incoming Trustees Kelly Tebay and Brianna Scott. 

Earlier this week, Trustee Nancy Schlichting, appointed last month by outgoing Gov. Rick Snyder to replace George Perles after his resignation, also signed, giving the new board that will be seated this week five votes in favor of restoring the fund.

Reached by phone, Mosallam said the board members, who meet for the first time Wednesday to organize, are working on the issue. 

He added that he was "proud" of Whitmer.

"I wouldn’t expect anything less from Governor Whitmer," Mosallam said. "She has been from day one been an advocate of the survivors. I am proud of her and I appreciate her support."

Trustee Joel Ferguson said he thinks the world of Whitmer and has been talking to individual board members about this and other issues.

“I am sure we are going to work everything out,” Ferguson said.