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Michigan State University Trustee Brianna Scott is defending her deciding vote to make Dianne Byrum the board's new chairman, responding to critics who charged she had turned her back on victims of sexual predator Larry Nassar.

Scott, a new member of the board, drew criticism from several women who were abused by Nassar because of her alignment with Trustee Joel Ferguson — a Democrat who has made controversial statements about the Nassar scandal.

With support from Scott and Ferguson, Byrum garnered the votes of Republican trustees Melanie Foster and Dan Kelly to win election as chair over Democrat Brian Mosallam, who has been vocal about university reform and accountability in the wake of the Nassar scandal.

Nassar, who sexually abused young women for decades in his role as a doctor at MSU and elsewhere, is serving a de facto life prison term.

Scott said this week that she voted for Byrum for numerous reasons, including her temperament, experience, character and integrity.

"I stand by my vote," said Scott, a Muskegon-based lawyer. "I feel she has the right skill set a leadership should have ... She is willing to work with survivors."

She added: "It's not because I am black, as people have intimated."

Scott and Ferguson are the only African-Americans on the Michigan State board.

She also said she thinks "It's important to have a woman leading us."

Morgan McCaul, one of the women abused by Nassar, said she met and spoke with Scott after she cast her vote.

"I am still disappointed that she voted in this way, but I'm hopeful for the future and intend to maintain a relationship so that we can tackle the important issues facing survivors and the MSU community collaboratively," McCaul said.

Scott did not have a comment on Interim President John Engler's statement last week to The Detroit News Editorial Board that the women abused by Nassar are  "enjoying the spotlight." The remark incensed Nassar victims, led to criticism from other trustees and triggered more calls for Engler's removal.

Scott said she would have a statement later in the week.

She added that she is working on the Healing Assistance Fund, which trustees voted to revive last week, and plans to introduce changes to university bylaws so new trustees such as her do not have to vote for a leader — someone they barely know — a few days after arriving in office.

Scott said she also will propose changes to the bylaws requiring that both political parties be represented in the board's chair and vice chair.

kkozlowski@detroitnews.com

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