Snyder reviewing options for action at MSU

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing – Gov. Rick Snyder is considering action against Michigan State University leadership over the Larry Nassar scandal, his office said Friday, softening earlier claims he did not have the authority to intervene.

“It’s under review,” spokeswoman Anna Heaton told The Detroit News.

The administration is reviewing “options under the governor’s authority, if any,” she said, “as well as whether any action would interfere with the numerous investigations under way.”

Snyder has avoided public comment on officials at Michigan State University, where furor over the Nassar sexual assault scandal prompted President Lou Anna Simon to resign late Wednesday and Athletic Director Mark Hollis to resign Friday morning.

In his State of the State address Tuesday, Snyder encouraged listeners to “reach out and support the courageous survivors” who were sexually assaulted by Nassar and “make sure that cases like this never happen again.”

University trustees read a series of apologies Friday as they met to accept Simon’s resignation and install Vice President Bill Beekman as her temporary replacement while they seek to hire an interim president.

Also Friday, ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” show published an explosive new report alleging “a pattern of widespread denial, inaction and information suppression” by MSU officials related to other campus sexual assault and violence claims.

Snyder said early Wednesday he did not have the authority to remove Simon from office, a claim disputed by state constitutional expert Richard McLellan.

In an analysis he provided this week to Snyder aide Rich Baird, McLellan said the governor has the authority to remove a university president or any elected trustees, who also remain under fire following Simon’s resignation.

“The governor may remove or suspend from office any elective or appointive state officer,” McLellan wrote, noting grounds for suspension or removal are gross neglect of duty, corrupt conduct in office or any other misfeasance or malfeasance.

Heaton said the governor does not want to take any action that would interfere with “myriad investigations already taking place.”

“Investigational authority is primarily up to the attorney general and law enforcement,” she said.

As The Detroit News reported last week, sexual assault allegations against Nassar reached at least 14 Michigan State University representatives over two decades. Simon learned of a Title IX complaint and police report against an unnamed sports doctor in 2014 but said she never received a copy.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette on Friday for the first time confirmed his office is conducting an “ongoing investigation” into MSU’s handling of accusations against Nassar that date back decades.

He had previously said he would announce an investigation after Nassar’s Jan. 31 sentencing in an Eaton County case, but Schuette is now planning to update the media Saturday.

The announcement reflects an escalation by Schuette.

In February 2016, the attorney general told reporters at a Lansing press conference that prosecuting Nassar was the sole focus of his investigation, adding that any probe into what MSU staff may have known was the responsibility of the university’s attorney, Patrick Fitzgerald. The university told Schuette that Fitzgerald never produced a report of his investigation when he asked for a copy.

On Friday, Schuette said on WJR radio that his office has “had an ongoing investigation for some time now” but the more than 150 women who gave victim impact statements during Nassar’s sentencing hearing prompted him “to give an update of where we are” earlier than he had planned.

“No, I didn’t tiptoe around it,” Schuette said. “I wanted to make sure these women in Ingham County in front of Judge Aquilina had their day in court.”

Schuette told WJR “it’s been so messed up at MSU,” adding that “people in this state want to know what the heck happened, who knew what, who didn’t properly follow protocol or alert law enforcement, what have you.”

The National Collegiate Athletic Association is also investigating the university, and inquiries are planned in both Congress and the state Legislature.

Staff writer Michael Gerstein contributed