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Michigan State provost resigns amid Nassar fallout

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

One of Michigan State University's top administrators resigned Thursday amid intense scrutiny by the U.S. Department of Education over the university's handling of Larry Nassar and sexual abuse cases on campus.

Provost June Youatt is the latest to fall from power at the university amid outrage that she was one of several university leaders who allegedly knew about sexual abuse accusations against the disgraced sports doctor and his boss but did little or nothing in response.

Youatt herself admitted in April that she first learned of a 2014 complaint against Nassar during a meeting with William Strampel, the former dean of MSU's College of Osteopathic Medicine. Youatt didn’t follow up on Nassar, she said, because she assumed negative findings “would be reported to me.”

MSU Provost June Youatt

Strampel is now serving time for harassing female students and failing to properly oversee Nassar — behavior Youatt has been criticized for not properly handling.

In a statement Thursday from Michigan State responding to two federal investigations, President Samuel Stanley said he accepted Youatt's resignation immediately.

"The letter of findings from the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights made it clear that the provost and former president failed to take appropriate action on behalf of the university to address reports related to former Dean Strampel," Stanley wrote in an email sent in the afternoon to the MSU community.

Youatt's resignation comes after The Detroit News first reported Thursday that the U.S. Department of Education is levying a $4.5 million fine against the East Lansing university for its "systemic failure to protect students" and failure to alert the public and campus community about Nassar's and others' conduct.

The penalty is the largest under the federal Clery Act, which requires public disclosure of safety threats and annual reporting of campus crime data.

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The penalty follows the conclusion of two department investigations into Clery Act and Title IX violations, with the latter finding that MSU "failed to adequately respond" to reports of sexual misconduct by Nassar and Strampel and also failed to take "appropriate interim measures" to protect students while complaints against both men were pending.

MSU's Title IX agreement with the department specifically requires the university to review the actions of Youatt and former President Lou Anna Simon, as well as former Provost John Hudzik; Terry Curry, the associate vice president for academic human resources; Kathie Klages, former head coach of the women’s gymnastics team; and employees of MSU's Office of the General Counsel, officials said.

According to the government regarding Strampel, "comments and complaints reached the highest levels of the university’s administration, including the president, three provosts, advisors to the provost, several assistant provosts, the Office of the General Counsel, and administrators within the college."

"As part of the (Office for Civil Rights) resolution agreement," Stanley said, "we will review current and former employees who had received complaints and failed to take appropriate steps. Once completed, if further personnel actions are needed, we are prepared to take them. In our effort to build a safe and caring campus, we must have a culture of accountability."

Stanley also announced on Thursday that he had established a new oversight committee to make sure that MSU is fully responsive to the agreements the university made with the U.S. Department of Education.

Youatt, an MSU alumna, became provost in 2014 after serving in acting and associate provost roles at the university beginning in 2006. She coordinated accreditation and reviewed all tenure and promotion recommendations, according to her university biography, which has been removed from the university's website.

She could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Morgan McCaul, one of the women sexually abused by Nassar, took aim at MSU and Youatt on Twitter after the resignation announcement.

"MSU staff tried to block my calling for Youatt’s resignation in summer of 2018, for fear of professional retaliation and black-listing," McCaul said. "She is the hallmark of the culture of silence at Michigan State University."

The activist group formed in the wake of the scandal, Reclaim MSU, called for the university's trustees to resign in a post on Twitter.

"Provost Youatt's resignation is both overdue and insufficient," the statement said. "Trustees must resign. They knew of Provost Youatt's failure to hold Dean Strampel accountable and still left her in a position of power for years."

The group further called for trustees to step down because they gave Simon more than $2 million to retire and an honorary title despite her "many failures." They said the trustees must also resign because they asked for the Michigan Attorney General to investigate the scandal, yet "stonewalled it at every turn." 

"Their carelessness and incompetence has contributed to a culture of anti-transparency and inaction," the statement said.

David Mittleman, an Okemos-based lawyer who represented dozens of Nassar victims, also said more housecleaning is needed to be done at Michigan State, including those who botched the 2014 Title IX investigation after it was filed by Amanda Thomashow.

“It’s a big fine and unfortunately under the circumstances, well deserved,” Mittleman said. “I wish that Michigan State didn’t do what it did in terms of attempting to cover up the largest university sexual assault scandal in history. I wish they didn’t, but they did.”