Ex-MSU dean’s review shows disturbing characterization
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that documents cited from a performance review of former MSU Dean William Strampel were from 2015 and not 2010.
Many people affiliated with the Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine regarded former Dean William Strampel as a visionary leader and a well-spoken champion of the school.
But in a review of his performance, evaluations from multiple faculty, staff and students also paint a disturbing portrait of a man who flaunted his sexuality and inappropriately commented about others: He had a tendency to put a sexual or crude spin on conversations, make comments about the appearance of women and look at their breasts while talking with them.
He also bragged of sexual conquests to students and predicted that he could have been Michigan’s governor if it hadn’t been for his affairs.
These are a few of the jarring observations woven into a June 4, 2015, performance appraisal of Strampel, 70, who last week was charged with misconduct in office, criminal sexual conduct and neglect of duty for what investigators described as lax supervision of former sports doctor Larry Nassar.
The charging documents suggest that Strampel, too, preyed on female students. His performance evaluations suggest Michigan State University officials knew or should have known that Strampel’s off-putting sexual comments made many students, faculty and staff uncomfortable.
The comments are among a 63-page university-held document and part of Strampel’s 2015 evaluation obtained by The Detroit News. Michigan State withheld the comments from Strampel’s personnel file, which was released to The Detroit News via a Freedom of Information request – a denial that the newspaper is appealing.
Most of the negative comments in Strampel’s review repeat a theme.
“Dean Strampel should not interject sex into every conversation with staff and students,” one commenter wrote.
Added another: “As a female faculty (member), an argument may be made that I could have the possibility of being treated better than my male counterparts, especially if I have a pretty face and a curvaceous figure, well-dressed in short skirts and low-cut tops.”
Still another wrote: “I have witnessed unprofessional and sexual comments from the dean about female students – including remarks from the dean of a female wearing ‘come (expletive) me heels’ and another instance where he admitt(ed) to knowing a student for a long period and how ‘she certainly filled out nicely.’”
“I defend the college and do not repeat these stories and would like (for) them to not be true, but with their frequency from so many sources, and my own observations of his unprofessionalism, I am very concerned for the reputation of our college,” the commenter said.
The comments emerge as the sexual abuse scandal at Michigan State widened to include Strampel. Last week, he became the first MSU official to be charged as part of an investigation by the Michigan Attorney General’s office, assessing how Nassar was able to sexually abuse more than 250 girls and women for more than two decades while employed by the university.
Nassar has pleaded guilty to sexual assault and child pornography charges and is expected to spend the rest of his life in prison.
Strampel is charged with harassing, propositioning, sexually assaulting and soliciting pornographic videos of female students. He also is accused of failing to enforce or monitor provisions put in place for Nassar after the university cleared the doctor in 2014 of inappropriate sexual behavior with a former student.
But the comments from students and faculty members about Strampel were part of a review process that occurred eight years ago – meaning MSU officials knew about Strampel’s behavior for years.
A letter in Strampel’s personnel file shows former MSU Provost Kim Wilcox said that Strampel would continue as medical school dean at the end of the review.
“Our several discussions over the past several months have reinforced my commitment and that of Dean Strampel to advancing the goals of the College within the broad mission of Michigan State University,” Wilcox wrote.
Attempts to reach Wilcox and June Youatt, Michigan State’s current provost, were unsuccessful.
MSU spokesman John Truscott said interim President John Engler, who took over two months ago, has moved swiftly to address alleged misconduct at the university.
“Whatever the decisions made in the past, President Engler’s actions on this matter have been quick and decisive,” Truscott said. “One of President Engler’s first decisions was to remove Dr. Strampel as dean of the School of Osteopathic Medicine and to revoke his tenure as well as make significant reorganizational changes to that medical school. MSU is focused on implementing changes that will prevent a situation like this from ever occurring again.”
Neither Strampel nor his lawyer, John Dakmak, responded to requests for comment for this story. Last week, Dakmak said Strampel planned to fight the charges against him and expected to prevail.
Former students corroborate the comments in Strampel’s review.
Breanna O’Keefe, who attended the MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine, said it was well-known that if you were a female student and wanted something from Strampel, you unzipped your jacket or hiked up your skirt.
That’s why she wasn’t surprised by Strampel’s response when she asked him by email for a meeting to help her get a clinical rotation in Lansing. O’Keefe said she explained that her husband had a job there and that she had recently become pregnant and missed the deadline to submit the request.
Strampel’s reply, according to O’Keefe: “If you want to get what you want, wear a low-cut shirt.”
During a meeting of students, along with faculty, that was broadcast to two satellite campuses, O’Keefe said that Strampel told everyone he couldn’t refer to the students as kids.
“Except for Breanna’s baby. That one is my kid,” O’Keefe alleges that Strampel said. “It was one of the most humiliating moments of my life. To say to hundreds of other people he had impregnated me, he was the father of my child and I was married was beyond humiliating.”
She went into the bathroom and cried and then faced peers who she said were whispering.
“People were now questioning whether I had slept my way through medical school,” O’Keefe said.
She never considered filing a Title IX report, and she said no one else did either because of possible retribution from Strampel.
“He is an authoritative figure,” O’Keefe said. “When you have someone in that position of power, and you have worked so hard ... making him mad would ruin everything when you don’t feel like you have any recourse.
“Nobody should be allowed to make those kind of comments to anybody.”
Strampel became dean of the osteopathic medical school in 2002.
He was among 14 MSU officials who got reports of Nassar’s abuse over the two decades before his arrest, according to a Detroit News investigation.
Strampel also told Nassar he was on his side when allegations about him were emerging publicly and mocked Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to speak out about Nassar in September 2016.
In December, Strampel announced he was taking a leave of absence for medical reasons but would return to the faculty.
Engler announced in February he planned to fire Strampel, a tenured faculty member.
Nicole Eastman — a College of Osteopathic Medicine graduate who experienced a few incidents with Strampel — said she is not surprised that the former dean may have overlooked or even ignored Nassar’s behavior.
“If you engage in inappropriate sexual behavior, you are going to be less likely to condemn similar behavior that is inappropriate, you are less likely to think poorly of those engaged in similar behavior or take their behavior as seriously,” said Eastman, a former St. Clair Shores resident who earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology.
Eastman said she was victim No. 4 in the charges that were brought against Strampel last week.
When she was an MSU osteopathic medical student in the mid-2000s, she volunteered to administer flu shots at a clinic. Strampel was there, Eastman said.
Out of the blue, she said he told her that it was harder for women to digest alcohol so it was easier to get them drunk and have sex with them.
“I can’t believe this man is having this conversation with me,” Eastman said she thought at the time. “It was very inappropriate.”
She also said Strampel grabbed her butt while they were at a ball.
Eastman told an employee in alumni relations about Strampel’s behavior.
“She said, ‘Everybody knows about his behavior but nothing ever changes.’ ”
Much of the review featured positive comments, lauding Strampel as a leader, communicator and champion of the osteopathic college. Others called him a great fundraiser, innovative thinker, visionary leader and “sheer genius.”
“Dean Strampel is forward thinking and pushes others to do better,” one commenter wrote. “He is tough with students, but when it is appropriate to do so.”
One faculty member wrote: “It was a difficult decision for me to close my practice and join his staff. Today, I can tell you that I made the right choice. Dean Strampel is a man with a vision and he is not afraid of creative and innovative ideas.”
“Dean Strampel is sometimes criticized for rougher than usual language and jokes especially with women,” another person wrote, “however, being a woman faculty (member), I can assure that behind it there is always unequivocal support and respect for women faculty and support staff and I never felt that I was treated disrespectfully or unfairly in college.”
But many said the good came with the bad – and sometimes it was really bad.
“I feel that Dr. Strampel’s history of inappropriate language, public discussions and stories do not support the college in a positive manner,” one person wrote. “His sexist remarks and inability to talk with a woman while looking at her eyes instead of her breasts are well known and bring down the respect and reputation of the Osteopathic College ... With Dr. Strampel as the ‘figurehead’ of the Osteopathic College, it makes me embarrassed to be associated with, and claim graduation from, the Osteopathic College at Michigan State.”