Snyder says he can’t remove Simon over Nassar

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Detroit — Gov. Rick Snyder said on Wednesday he wants to see an increased focus on helping the victims of convicted rapist and pedophile Larry Nassar and maintained he cannot remove Michigan State University’s president in the wake of the scandal.

“I don’t have the constitutional authority,” Snyder told The Detroit News on Wednesday. “People said I could go remove (Lou Anna Simon) so I asked my internal legal counsel, and they gave me the opinion I don’t have that authority under Michigan’s Constitution.”

Snyder, who met with The Detroit News Editorial Board on Wednesday, said MSU is a constitutionally independent organization. The governor also noted investigations have been done and are still underway into Nassar, who was sentenced on Wednesday to 40 years to 175 years in prison for sexually abusing young athletes, mostly gymnasts, by digitally penetrating them under the guise of medical treatment.

On Tuesday, the NCAA opened an investigation into the university’s handling of the Nassar case.

“Let those people do their work. What can I do as governor?” Snyder asked. “There is an area that I don’t think has had enough conversation, which is basically how do we support the survivors through the healing process and how do we make sure it doesn’t happen again. ... That’s where I think we can add value.”

The MSU Board of Trustees has resisted calls to oust Simon despite mounting calls for action. Seven of eight members have stood by her while Trustee Mitch Lyons has urged her to resign.

Attorney Richard McLellan, a constitutional law expert who advised former Gov. John Engler, told The News he disagrees with Snyder’s assessment of his limited authority at MSU. The governor has the constitutional power to remove any public elected or appointed official in the state except those in the legislative or judicial branch, he said.

“The governor shouldn’t be giving away his power very easily just because he’s got only eight months left (in his final term) and he doesn’t want to get caught up in it,” said McLellan, who sits on the MSU College of Law Board of Trustees.

University governing boards are part of the executive branch, McLellan said in a written analysis, and the constitution gives the governor the power to remove a university president or trustee due to gross neglect of duty, corruption in office or any other misfeasance or malfeasance.

“The governor’s exercise of the power of removal is treated by the courts as a political act and generally not subject to judicial review,” he wrote.

In discussing the Nassar case, Snyder complimented his wife, first lady Sue Snyder, for her long-running campaign against college campus sexual assault, which raises awareness and counsels victims.

“We are one of the leaders in the nation in prevention,” he said. “... We should be looking at some of that learning and how can we reach out to all these women and how we can support them. ... That’s where I want to spend my time. ...With all the talk about who to blame, I don’t think we have spent enough time talking about how to help.”

On Tuesday, Snyder —whose legacy includes the Flint water contamination crisis and a false-fraud unemployment insurance scandal — delivered his eighth and final State of the State address.

In his address, Snyder proposed a significant increase in school aid, a renewed push for infrastructure funding, and a new plan to retain and develop talent.

The increase will be more than $220 per student, which was the size of the largest past increase, Snyder said on Wednesday. The current base is $7,600 per pupil.

“We have closed that gap, and we will have good numbers to show how much we closed the gap,” Snyder said.

Snyder talked again about his “Marshall Plan for Talent,” an ambitious proposal to prepare kids for the jobs of the future that will also be a focal part of his budget presentation next month.

As The News reported two weeks ago, the plan will likely include new computer science scholarships, school and university grants, K-12 teacher training and child care for technology workers, according to details shared as part of Detroit’s failed bid to land Amazon’s second North American headquarters.

Snyder said on Wednesday program would cost roughly $100 million. The money would come from one-time funds and would be put into a three- to five-year work program, he said.

“It can literally put tens of thousands of Michiganders into well-paying jobs in a relatively fast fashion,” Snyder said.

Staff writer Jonathan Oosting contributed.