Jacques: Feds highlight more flaws at MSU

Ingrid Jacques
The Detroit News

Only weeks after interim Michigan State University President John Engler was forced to leave by a disgruntled Board of Trustees, a new report has created more turmoil for the university.

A report from the U.S. Department of Education, sent to Engler in December but made public last week, outlines a damning pattern of administrators mishandling reports of abuse, in addition to other instances of the university failing to alert the campus of criminal activity.

Larry Nassar survivors and others gather bearing teal flowers fashioned of tissue at the steps of the Hannah Administration Building on MSU's East Lansing campus to mark the anniversary of his sentencing.

Those are violations of the university’s obligations under the Clery Act, which requires universities that receive federal funding to disclose crimes on or near campus through reports or warnings.

Investigators began scrutinizing MSU last year, following the trial of Larry Nassar, the sports doctor who had abused hundreds of young women and girls over two decades -- while employed by the university.

When universities are found out of compliance with the federal Clery Act, they risk fines, as well as their student aid funding. For MSU, that’s roughly $424 million in federal student grants and loans each year. More than half of MSU’s 50,000 students receive some form of federal aid, according to the report.

The report documents several areas of “serious noncompliance,” so the impact for the university could be significant.

More:Fed report cites MSU for failing to report crimes, including Nassar allegations

It detailed 11 incidents -- calling them a “representative sample” -- of complaints against Nassar going back to 1997 that MSU didn’t report correctly.

The report states: "These violations date back to at least 1997, and involve victims, many of whom were minors at the time of the abuse, who reported these incidents to trusted adults, including coaches and athletic trainers."

In addition, the report lists 21 instances dating from 2011-16 of MSU’s failure to warn students and staff about others crimes in a timely fashion. Most of these were burglaries or robberies.

Michigan State has responded by saying it will work to address these shortfalls. In his year in office, Engler focused on putting a framework in place that would prevent someone like Nassar from ever getting away with abuse for so long.

It’s maddening to see how so many reports of Nassar’s predatory behavior got ignored or lost in the bureaucracy. He could have been stopped much sooner.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos promised a year ago she would hold MSU accountable for its actions, and she has followed through with several investigations, including this one.

As the report notes, there’s no way to truly “correct” such violations once they’ve occurred. The harm done cannot be erased.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos urged students to take it upon themselves to approach others with respect and to engage with those who might have differing views.

Going forward, MSU still has a lot of work to do to address these concerns -- and rebuild trust on campus.