Our Editorial: Board must follow Simon out door

The Detroit News

The first step toward restoring Michigan State University’s credibility and reputation came this week with the resignation of President Lou Anna Simon, whose handling of the Dr. Larry Nassar scandal brought shame and condemnation to the university.

Now MSU will be looking for a new leader, one who will commit to transparency and accountability, and who will pledge fealty to the truth, no matter it leads. That, and putting in place a framework to assure this sort of abuse is never allowed to go unchecked again.

Members of the MSU Board of Trustees, which closed ranks around Simon and the administration and was no more interested in determining who at the school might have enabled Nassar’s 20 years of assaultive behavior, should not be the ones who pick Simon’s successor.

They are too compromised to be trusted with that vital task. The future integrity of Michigan State rests heavily on the caliber of leader who will guide the university through what are sure to be trying times ahead.

The honorable move for the eight trustees, and the best outcome for Michigan State, would be for them to follow Simon’s lead and resign.

That would allow Gov. Rick Snyder to appoint an interim board to serve until elections can be held. And that new board should name Simon’s successor. To make this as nonpartisan as possible, Snyder should ask for nominees from legislative leaders of both parties, and he should keep the makeup of the board, which has four Republicans and four Democrats.

The current board members are: Chairman Brian Breslin, Joel Ferguson, Dianne Byrum, Melanie Foster, Dan Kelly, Brian Mosallam, Mitch Lyons and George Perles. Lyons and Breslin have already announced they will not seek re-election this fall.

If an en masse resignation isn’t in the cards, at the very least, his fellow board members should pressure Joel Ferguson to leave immediately. Ferguson, first elected in 1986 and the longest serving board member, made unforgivable and flippant comments about Nassar’s serial molestations in a radio interview last week. He invited an NCAA investigation of the school by scoffing at the possibility of the probe because it involved the gymnastics program and not football.

That shows where his mind is. Like too many university board members, he cares only about the football and basketball programs, and the perks they provide trustees, and not about the well-being of the university as a whole.

That mind-set must change. The next board must fulfill its constitutional role as a watchdog of the administration. It is not there as a rubber stamp or to turn its head when the president or other officials betray the school’s trust.

As for Simon, the way in which she was forced to leave MSU was unfortunate. She had served the university for 40 years, 13 as president, and has many accomplishments to her credit. The university thrived under her direction.

But she grossly mishandled the Nassar affair, and in doing so denied a hearing to the girls and young women who were molested by the doctor while he was on the MSU staff.

Her resignation letter was a disappointment. She cites the political necessity of her leaving, but never actually accepts any responsibility for her role in what amounts to a cover-up by MSU.

Simon’s successor will have to manage through the nearly 200 civil suits filed against the university by Nassar’s victims. The ultimate cost is likely to be staggering, and could limit MSU’s future growth.

That new president will need the support of a clean-handed board, and one that share his or commitment to figuring out exactly what went wrong at MSU, who is culpable, and how to prevent a recurrence.