Schlichting quits MSU board over stalled Nassar probe

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Ten months after Nancy Schlichting was appointed to the Michigan State University Board of Trustees as the university was in crisis, she is leaving because she cannot persuade her colleagues to let "the truth can come out" about pedophile Larry Nassar.

Schlichting sent a letter of resignation to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer over the weekend, saying she is leaving because of the school's failure to move forward on an independent investigation of the campus culture that allowed Nassar to abuse so many girls and young women.

Nancy M. Schlichting gives her remarks about becoming a new member of the Michigan State Board of Trustees.

Schlichting, appointed in December by former Gov. Rick Snyder, pointed to MSU Board Chair Dianne Byrum, as well as other trustees, as reasons for her decision.

"I joined the Board to help change the attitudes and beliefs of the legacy Board members towards the extraordinary young women who have survived sexual assault by Larry Nassar, and to support the survivors in every way I could," Schlichting wrote. "During the last year, though, it has become very clear to me that my commitment to have an independent review of the Nassar situation, and to waive privilege so the truth can come out, is not shared by the MSU Board Chair, legacy Board members, and some newer trustees."  

"After the recent decision to not go forward with the independent review/public report, which had been approved by the Board, initiated and organized by Trustees Dan Kelly, Kelly Tebay, Brian Mosallam and me, and supported by 3 courageous survivors; I decided I could no longer serve on the Board," Schlichting's letter continued. "I deeply regret that my Board service has been so short, but hope that the next appointed trustee will be able to make a greater impact than I have." 

Byrum announced during new President Samuel Stanley's first Board of Trustees meeting last month that there was a split on the board on the scope of the investigation, so it would not move forward. Byrum and trustees Joel Ferguson, Melanie Scott and Brianna Scott wanted a narrower focus.

The decision prompted outrage from Nassar survivors. Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to accuse Nassar, and two other former gymnasts, Sterling Riethman and Sarah Klein, slammed the board's move in a statement, saying: "It's either action or silence."

Attempts to reach the three for comment Monday were unsuccessful.

Byrum also could not be reached for comment.

Reached by phone, Ferguson said he didn't want to discuss how Schlichting felt about the independent investigation because she didn't talk with him about it, and he and wished they had a conversation so they could have reached common ground.

Ferguson also added that he was disappointed that Schlichting pointed to Byrum as a reason for her departure, saying Byrum was doing a great job leading the board. 

Schlichting "came and worked for us and I wish her well going forward," he said. 

Scott, a lawyer, called Schlichting’s departure “very disappointing and very unfortunate news.”

“Nancy was a very valuable member of the Board of Trustees,” Scott said through a spokeswoman, Debra Brown Hendrickson.

“I am so sorry that the issue of waiving privilege, one in which we all agreed would not be in the best interests of the university, has caused so much division," Scott said. "At the end of the day, after consultation with our legal counsel, the board was advised that a work around was not legally plausible without waiving privilege in its entirety.”

Kelly, meanwhile, called Schlichting "an outstanding board member with a wealth of knowledge and experience." 

"Having worked together with her and three courageous survivors to approve an independent Nassar investigation, I share her frustration in not completing the goal," Kelly said. "While understandable, it is unfortunate the board’s split on this issue played a part in her resignation.”

Mosallam added that she "was a much needed breath of fresh air sent to Michigan State University."

"She brought a level of decorum, professionalism and civility to this board," said Mosallam. "I share in Nancy’s frustration in not completing the independent investigation that we had worked on for several months with our three survivors. Today is a sad day. Nancy will be sorely missed."

Schlichting, the former CEO of the Henry Ford Health System, was appointed to replace former trustee George Perles, who stepped down in 2018 for health reasons, for a term ending in January 2023. She has served on more than 80 boards, including current posts as a trustee of Duke University and the Kresge Foundation.

After Donald Trump was elected president in November 2016, his transition team interviewed Schlichting in New York City for secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

She was supportive of an independent investigation to examine the culture at MSU that allowed Nassar to sexually assault young athletes for decades. But that investigation was put on hold after Stanley was hired and federal officials gave MSU a record $4.5 million fine for mishandling allegations against Nassar.

The fine was part of a settlement agreement that also requires the university to overhaul its process for handling criminal complaints. 

"I did not come to this decision easily, since I have great respect for the faculty, students and staff of the University, and am fully supportive of President Samuel Stanley, who I believe will provide the needed leadership, both strategically and culturally, to move the University forward," Schlichting wrote.

Two weeks ago, Attorney General Dana Nessel called for the release of more than 6,000 documents that MSU has withheld from her office's Nassar investigation under attorney-client privilege.

On Monday, Nessel said she respected Schlichting’s decision to step down.

"I hope Gov. Whitmer appoints someone committed to transparency, which includes waiving privilege on the nearly 6,000 documents our department has yet to see so that we may complete our comprehensive investigation,” the attorney general said.

In a statement, Stanley lauded Schlichting's brief tenure.

“Nancy brought tremendous experience managing large organizations to her role on the MSU Board of Trustees,” Stanley said. “I’m sorry that she is stepping down, but I wish her much personal success and happiness with her other projects. We valued her insight and contributions while she was with us.”

He added that he will offer Whitmer any information she needs in choosing Schlichting's replacement.