Our Editorial: Time’s up for MSU’s Lou Anna Simon
"Play it straight” is how President Lou Anna Simon says she advised her Michigan State University staff to handle allegations of sexual misconduct against a MSU physician. But Simon has not played it straight herself, choosing instead to pull a curtain over questions of culpability by university officials in the serial molestation of young girls and women at the hands of Dr. Larry Nassar.
As such, Simon has lost credibility and the confidence of many MSU stakeholders. She should step down or be removed by the board of trustees.
Nassar’s victims, already betrayed by a physician they trusted to ease their pain, should not be let down a second time by a university president more interested in shielding the school from legal liability than finding the truth.
The confluence this week of the heartbreaking testimony of 101 of Nassar’s victims and a detailed report from The Detroit News blowing holes in MSU’s claims of total ignorance of the doctor’s wrongdoing raises the outrage level to a point that can no longer be ignored.
President Simon is not complicit in enabling Nassar’s horrors — it’s hard to know what she knew and when she knew it. But she should be held responsible for bottling up the investigation into who at MSU may be culpable in brushing aside complaints and allowing his abuses to continue.
The urgency of action on the part of MSU was driven home in the most poignant way this week, as Nassar’s victims stood bravely in a Lansing courtroom and one after another shared their wrenching stories of abuse. Many said they tried to tell their parents, their coaches and trainers, other MSU doctors and even police, but were disbelieved, shamed, brushed off or bullied into silence.
The News’ reporting identified 14 MSU staffers who in some fashion were made aware of the girls’ complaints, but either did not act, or acted instead to protect Nassar.
The group includes Simon, who was briefed about a 2014 Title IX complaint against Nassar, but allowed him to keep seeing the patients referred to him by the MSU gymnastics program for another nearly two years. How many young women might have been spared had Simon suspended Nassar pending the outcome of the investigation?
That’s one of the many questions Attorney General Bill Schuette should ask. But he seems curiously uninterested in determining who knew what and when inside the MSU administration and athletic and osteopathic medicine programs.
Schuette’s indifference borders on dereliction of duty, the same charge he leveled against state workers who failed to act to protect citizens in the Flint water crisis. How is the Michigan State case different? And how does it differ from Penn State University, where a university president, vice president and athletic director were criminally convicted for not protecting boys from abuse on their campus by a former assistant football coach?
Schuette, who is running for governor, must step beyond any political calculations and do his job before he can make a legitimate claim to the next one he seeks.
Likewise, the elected members of the MSU board of trustees have not fulfilled the watchdog role voters entrusted to them, choosing instead to close ranks around Simon and the university administration and athletics program.
The elected board members failed miserably in meeting their responsibility to hold the administration accountable. Their names are: Brian Breslin, Joel Ferguson, Dianne Byrum, Melanie Foster, Dan Kelly, Brian Mosallam, Mitch Lyons and George Perles.
The trustees were not sent to MSU by voters to schmooze in fancy suites at football games. They have an oversight role, and have been too weak to fulfill it.
Both Simon and the board are complicit in fostering the canard that an outside attorney, Patrick Fitzgerald, had done an independent investigation and found no evidence on the part of MSU officials of Nassar’s criminal behavior. In reality, Fitzgerald was not hired to do a thorough investigation, and never did one. His contract with the university is to shield it from liability in the civil cases, not to expose its failures.
The pretense that Fitzgerald cleared MSU amounts to a cover-up.
This week we heard a volume of tragic stories from the victims of Nassar, some now raising families of their own. We have heard in court the damage his abuse has done to them. What we haven’t heard is whether MSU could have done anything to protect them.
Answering that question starts with President Simon. Many of those who were alerted to the abuse, according to The News’ reporting, are still on staff at MSU.
Simon has shown no indication she is willing to determine for herself if they had a chance to stop Nassar, but failed.
Simon should go voluntarily, and the board must install a new president committed to full transparency, one who can begin the process of restoring MSU’s integrity and reputation.
The voices calling for Simon’s resignation are growing, and include both the Democratic and Republican leaders of the Legislature, the MSU student newspaper and the hometown Lansing State Journal.
We add our voice.
For two decades MSU handed over innocent, trusting girls and young women to a sexual predator. There is growing evidence Nassar might have been stopped, had the early complaints raised by his victims been taken seriously.
Justice for those who suffered Nassar’s assaults demands a full and unobstructed accounting from MSU.