Nassar victims admonish, challenge new MSU president
East Lansing — Michigan State University President Samuel Stanley presided over his first Board of Trustees meeting Friday, facing victims of the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal for the first time.
The meeting came a day after the bombshell announcement by the U.S. Department of Education that it issued a record $4.5 million fine to MSU for its mishandling of the Nassar sexual abuse for decades, and Provost June Youatt stepped down. The university said it paid the fine via wire transfer on Friday.
At the meeting, two victims who filed lawsuits later in the scandal spoke during the public portion and called on Stanley to match his actions with his words as he begins his closely watched tenure.
"You claim you want to contribute to the healing of all survivors ... but your actions tell a completely different story," said Nicole Casady, who is an MSU alumna and Nassar victim. "We deserve a commitment for compassion. ... We will continue to fight until MSU treats us with the respect that we deserve."
Casady specifically said Stanley needs to meet with them and withdraw the university's recent legal move to dismiss dozens of still-pending civil lawsuits filed by those abused during decades when Nassar was an MSU sports doctor.
She was referring to MSU's recent move to dismiss lawsuits filed by Nassar victims during what has been dubbed a second wave because they came after the university reached a $500 million settlement with more than 300 victims. She is a part of that second group.
After the board meeting, in a discussion with the press, Stanley said Casady's comments "were very difficult to hear" and said the university was working hard to settle the lawsuits.
"What I want to emphasize is we are absolutely committed to trying to settle these cases," Stanley said. "That is our goal, is to settle these cases. We've settled 80 already from the second wave. We want to continue to work to settle more. But we really had to respond."
Stanley also said the motion to dismiss the lawsuits had to be done, partly because of the university's insurance obligations.
MSU spokeswoman Emily Guerrant said "the university needs to assert a valid defense otherwise the insurance companies can claim that we aren’t defending ourselves in good faith, which would also be a reason to not fulfill the policy."
Stanley, meanwhile, said he is looking forward to meeting with the victims during three meetings that are scheduled this fall, without the press or board members.
"It's incredibly important," Stanley said. "It's something I want to do. I want to hear. I had an example today. Again, it's so terrible what has happened. I think all of us feel what happened was horrific. But I need to understand better from them and I think that will inform what I am able to do going forward."
During Friday's meeting, Stanley addressed the university's crisis in his first public statements as president.
"I believe this institution needs to address relationship violence and sexual misconduct more aggressively and more completely," he said. "As an institution, we must acknowledge the oversight and the errors of the past. We must take actions that address healing and ensure this is a safe, respectful and welcoming campus for all."
He also said that he knew that time and action would be his judge.
"Accepting the role as MSU’s 21st president, I knew we had much work to do," Stanley said. "I hope you will find my administration is committed to taking the actions and to making the changes necessary to address the weaknesses and failures of the system and of people who, intentionally or not, failed to address the root causes of this abuse. I know my words are not enough, and that you will, rightly, judge us by our actions."
MSU's penalty from the federal government follows the conclusion of two Education 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 William Strampel, a former dean of MSU's College of Osteopathic Medicine, and also failed to take "appropriate interim measures" to protect students while complaints against both men were pending.
Chairwoman Dianne Byrum spoke during the public portion of Friday's meeting, calling the federal government's report "an independent, comprehensive review that provides Michigan State University with a blueprint for moving forward on making necessary changes and improvements."
"The findings also highlight some of the failures and weaknesses that we need to be accountable for," Byrum said.
She also announced that consensus could not be reached on the scope of the independent investigation that the board agreed to launch in June, so a letter of engagement would not be put forward at this time.
Trustee Brian Mosallam, who favored the independent investigation to examine the university's culture and actions that were not criminal yet contributed to the scandal, said he was disappointed, especially since victims worked hard to make it happen.
Byrum said the reason for the split in the scope was because board members were not expecting the resolution of the federal investigation this quickly.
"There was a split on the board ... what are we going to do with another investigation that has not already been done?" Byrum said.
She said a dashboard would be developed to show the public how the university will be addressing all the federal government's requests for reforming how the university addresses sexual misconduct.
"To me, what they've (federal officials) put forward is the minimum of what we are going to be doing," said Stanley during a discussion with the press afterward. "We are going to be doing everything we need to do to comply. We have to do that."