Our Editorial: Simon had no choice but to leave

The Detroit News

Something had to give at Michigan State University. The pressure on the institution, its board of trustees and President Lou Anna Simon built to a point that demanded her resignation.

Simon delivered it late Wednesday, and it was the right decision on her part. But it was not one that came easy or in a timely fashion.

This newspaper and other editorial boards, as well as lawmakers such as U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters and two MSU trustees, had called for Simon’s resignation or for her removal by the eight-member board.

And on Wednesday, shortly after Nassar was sentenced to 40-175 years in prison on sexual assault charges, the state House adopted a resolution, 96-11, calling on Simon to resign — and if she hadn’t, it asked MSU trustees to step in. The House didn't have the constitutional authority to remove her.

Meanwhile, the MSU student government had asked Simon to resign and the faculty considered a no-confidence vote. Also on Wednesday, Sue Carter resigned as the faculty athletic representative.

The events of the past two weeks made it impossible for Simon to recover and be an effective leader.

Dozens of women who charge they were assaulted by Nassar while they were involved with the MSU gymnastics program gave powerful statements during several days of his sentencing hearing. More than 150 women have spoken out against him in the last week.

They spoke of the harm done to them by Nassar, who was team doctor of the university’s gymnastics team, and also of their sense of betrayal by MSU.

Many of the victims say over the 20 years that Nassar was abusing gymnasts, they attempted to tell coaches, trainers and other MSU staffers about what he was doing, but were either ignored or shamed and bullied into silence.

Those claims were verified by a Detroit News investigative report. Listen to Nassar victim Rachael Denhollander’s damning indictment of MSU for not taking action when athletes reported abuse.

This week, the NCAA, the governing body of collegiate sports, sent a letter of inquiry to MSU indicating it is starting an investigation into whether the university failed to provide a safe environment for its student athletes.

That letter came after Joel Ferguson, MSU’s longest serving trustee, went on a radio show and dismissed the scandal as “that Nassar thing.”

Ferguson also scoffed at the prospect of an NCAA investigation, saying that since gymnastics isn’t a major sport like football, he doubted the organization would be interested.

His insensitive remarks lend credence to the theory of some victim advocates that the university failed to react with urgency because the claims came from young women and girls in the gymnastics program, and not in a sport with a higher profile.

The board at long last asked the attorney general’s office to investigate. But that was too little, too late. The questions and accusations had grown past the point where they could be answered with official statements from the board or the administration.

Whoever replaces Simon as president must commit first to full transparency and to holding accountable those whose actions and inactions may have enabled Nassar’s serial molestations.