Strampel's former students accuse him of sexually charged comments, behavior

Casey Harrison
Special to The Detroit News
William Strampel

Lansing — Two more women testified Friday that former Michigan State University medical school dean William Strampel made sexually charged comments or exhibited unusual behavior as they met with him to discuss academic issues.

The second day of Strampel's trial began with Dr. Alicia Flores, 26, at the witness stand. She is one of several former students expected to testify against the dean — who served as the head of the College of Osteopathic Medicine at MSU from 1999 to 2018 — in a trial that could last up to three weeks.

Read more: MSU student: Strampel talked sex, sought ‘favor for a favor’

The testimony of Flores, her father, Paul Flores, former MSU professor Dr. Elizabeth Petsche and former student Khadije Saad of Friday focused on criminal allegations that Strampel repeatedly made sexually charged comments to female students as they requested permission to retake failed tests or resolve other school issues.

Strampel, the former boss of serial molester Larry Nassar, is standing trial on charges of misconduct in office, willful neglect of duty and second-degree sexual conduct in Ingham County Circuit Court. The Michigan Attorney General’s Office alleges Strampel allowed Nassar to see patients while the school investigated a sexual misconduct claim and did not ensure Nassar followed proper patient protocols during an investigation.

'Pretty, young woman'

Flores began medical school at the MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine in 2015 and said she had her first encounter with Strampel at an honor society induction ceremony in July 2016. Flores recalled in between speeches, Strampel said a song playing reminded him of one time he was at a Lansing strip club.

She said she thought Strampel’s alleged remark was odd, given the number of family members and students in attendance but gave it no further thought.

In a July 2017 meeting with Strampel, Flores said she met with him after failing for the second time a practice exam required to take a national exam needed to complete before continuing her third year of medical school. Flores said roughly five minutes into the meeting, Strampel denied her request to take the practice exam a third time, stating: “If I did it for you, I’d have to do it for everyone else.”

In that same meeting, Flores alleges that Strampel said her case reminded him of another student who needed to meet with Strampel after receiving a DUI to discuss having a future within the college. Flores said Strampel told her that after meeting with the dean, that student told others they weren’t kicked out of the college because they “gave the dean (oral sex).” And because that student made the remark, Flores said Strampel “ended (that student’s) career.”

Flores said she didn’t know what that had to do with her case, but the meeting went on.

Flores recalled Strampel saying “you’d be surprised what people would do in stressful situations,” and that he called Flores, pursuing a career as a surgeon, was a “pretty, young woman” who might have to deal with arrogant men.

After the meeting, Flores said Strampel walked her out of his office and gave her a business card with his phone number on the back and told her if she had any questions over the weekend, she could call him.

Days after the meeting, she reached out to Pestche, a former professor of Flores in the college who taught a law and ethics class to appeal Strampel’s denial of Flores’ case. Meeting in person, Flores told Petsche of Strampel’s remarks, but a Title IX complaint was never filed. Petsche also testified Friday.

“I didn’t think it rose to that level,” said Petsche, who also said she wasn’t surprised by Strampel’s alleged comment.”

When Petsche was cross-examined by lead defense attorney John Dakmak, she said she never thought Strampel’s comments to Flores amounted to a sexual advance, and if they did, it would have resulted in a Title IX complaint.

“She was clearly uncomfortable about the conversation,” Petsche said.

Flores said after Strampel told her about the student he kicked out of school after telling others they gave him oral sex, Flores did not want written record of the complaint in fear of retaliation.

Flores met again with Strampel in September 2017 after hearing a student in a similar situation was able to take the exam and begin a third year of medical school. In the time that Flores was off from school, she had passed the practice exam and taken the board exam. She met with Strampel to recreate her schedule to resume schooling.

Flores brought her father, Paul, to the second meeting, where they discussed with Strampel a contract to finish school on schedule. But the contract stated if she failed the board exam, which students are allowed to take twice, she would be removed from the university without a chance to appeal.

Flores told her father about her first meeting with Strampel after it happened and again before her second meeting. Paul Flores waited outside Strampel’s office and listened in on the conversation. He recalled Strampel’s tone to be military-like.

“I didn’t want to talk alone in a room with the lights off with him,” Flores said. “I didn’t think we would have those conversations if my dad was present. … I wasn’t fearing for my life, I was embarrassed.”

After the meeting, the contract remained Flores’ only option for an on-time graduation.

“I would be stupid to sign that contract,” Flores said. After discussing it with her family and Strampel again, she reluctantly signed it.

Alicia Flores was cross-examined by Dakmak, and said after her first meeting with Strampel, no inappropriate comments were made to her in any further meetings.

Flores said it was important to resume school to prepare for the board exam a second time to ensure she would be able to get a competitive residency, pivotal for career advancement.

'You’ll have to do something for me'

Saad, 25, marked the third overall former or current MSU student to testify against Strampel and was the final witness before the end of Friday's court activity. She’s a current MSU student and had academic difficulties that stemmed from personal issues at home.

Saad said her run-in with Strampel began after a failed pharmacology exam and a failed retest. She was told she would have to take a year off. She was worried she wouldn’t come back because of her at-home situation.

After a first meeting with Strampel, Saad signed a contract and was later dismissed from the college after failing a group exam by one point. Others in the group were allowed to write a paper for extra credit to make up for the exam. She had to meet with Strampel instead.

Saad said Strampel was frustrated and told her “If I help you, that means I own you. If I ever need something in the future, you’ll have to do something for me — for the rest of your career, not just in medical school.”

Saad was ultimately able to continue but took a hiatus because she was too anxious to continue school. She thought taking a year off would get her out of the dean’s contract. And because of the terms of the contract, any unexcused absence meant Saad would meet with Strampel again.

Saad said before taking another exam in a different course she spoke with Strampel on the phone. She claims he told her not to take the exam, but she did anyway. Strampel called her later and allowed her to continue her school, but Saad said she wasn’t sure what changed Strampel’s mind.

She also alleged that during in-person meetings, she would find Strampel’s eyes drifting to her chest. She didn’t want to call him out because she was worried he would dismiss her from the university. In those meetings, Saad also alleged Strampel would brag about how powerful he was and how well-connected he was.

“It was uncomfortable, a lot of the meetings,” Saad said. “Manipulative.”

Saad was under the impression if she told anybody about Strampel’s alleged behavior, she would be dismissed from the university.

“He was dean of the college,” she said. “He could do whatever he wants.”

Friday's testimony followed opening statements on Thursday with the prosecution accusing Strampel of abusing his power with offensive behavior and comments. His attorney, Dakmak, said Strampel's actions could be misunderstood without context and proper interpretation.