Rowers challenge board in unprecedented meeting

Jonathan Oosting, and Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — Locked arm in arm, more than 75 members and supporters of the Michigan State University women’s rowing team marched across campus on Monday to confront trustees over MSU’s “failure” to protect students from serial sexual assaulter Larry Nassar.

Trustees Dianne Byrum, Brian Mosallam, Melanie Foster and Dan Kelly met with the athletes at the Hannah Administration Building for more than 50 minutes, calling it the first meeting of its kind between the board and a university team.

The meeting was the “start” of a broad discussion over the Nassar scandal, said acting interim President Bill Beekman, who also sat in along with Greg Ianni, deputy athletic director. But it’s “a long, long way from the end of the conversation,” Beekman said.

The rowing team, led by six senior athletes, peppered trustees with questions, asking the university to adopt policies to suspend employees under criminal investigation, improve communications with athletes victimized by Nassar and ensure all student-athletes have access to a chaperone during medical treatment.

The rowers’ demands Monday kicked off another week of turmoil and uncertainty at MSU as the university grapples with fallout from the Nassar scandal.

More than 150 women have accused Nassar of sexual assault while he worked as a sports doctor for MSU, USA Gymnastics and other organizations. He also treated members of the women’s rowing team from 1998 to 2016 despite complaints that reached at least 14 MSU employees over two decades.

“Many women, including myself, were patients of his,” said Nicole Marek, a senior member of the team who told reporters she was not personally assaulted. “We have teammates who are victims of his abuse, and it’s not right he was employed at that time.”

Byrum led Monday’s meeting with the rowing team. From the outset, board members told the athletes they could not discuss specific allegations against Nassar and did not have all the answers to their questions.

Officials want to listen and to change the “culture” at MSU, Byrum said, suggesting the university may host a series of town halls or other public forums to discuss potential changes.

“It’s going to take all of us,” Byrum said. “It’s not going to be one stakeholder or one college. It’s not going to be one set of policies. It’s going to be everyone traveling along this journey together.”

Attorney General Bill Schuette, meanwhile, is asking the university for a trove of documents, emails and text messages from a slew of current and former officials related to Nassar.

In a letter dated Saturday, Schuette requested the university hand over every record MSU has pertaining to its former women’s gymnastics coach Kathie Klages, former dean of the College of Osteopathic Medicine William Strampel, and emails and text messages sent to or from former President Lou Anna Simon regarding Nassar.

An Ingham County Circuit judge last week sentenced Nassar to 40 to 175 years in prison for seven counts of first-degree sexual misconduct. It followed statements either read or submitted in court from more than 150 victims of the 54-year-old Nassar, a former USA Olympics doctor. He is already serving 60 years in prison for possession of child pornography.

On Saturday, Schuette told reporters he would be sending the letter, but he did not disclose the scope of the information request, which seeks any records “concerning Kathie Klages, Brooke Lemmen and William Strampel,” including personnel files, records of complaints made against them regarding Nassar or any other complaints.

The attorney general also requested “all reports generated as a result of investigations concerning their conduct while employed with Michigan State University,” Strampel’s work computer and cellphone, and all email and text communications related to Nassar sent to or from Simon, former Athletic Director Mark Hollis, Strampel and a slew of other university officials, including trustees.

His request for MSU’s records came as the Attorney General’s Office is trying to figure out how much money it needs for its MSU investigation.

“We are determining what funds we may need to request from the Legislature or SAB (State Administrative Board),” Schuette spokeswoman Andrea Bitely said in a Monday email. “The size and scope of this investigation are broad and all-encompassing.”

Outrage toward MSU came to a head last week as victims detailed Nassar’s abuses during a sentencing hearing in Ingham County Circuit Court, with several victims also ridiculing the university’s response.

Simon resigned late Wednesday, Hollis stepped down Friday and board members remain under fire. Four members, including embattled Trustee Joe Ferguson, were not present at the Monday meeting.

At the rowing team meeting Monday, Marek said she was disappointed the four other trustees could not participate but called the meeting a good start despite trustees’ inability to answer several of their questions.

“I think it was a bit frustrating,” she told reporters after the meeting, “but patience is going to be key here, and we can be patient for the answers.”

Nassar abused women under the guise of medical treatment. Among the issues raised Monday, rowing team members said they still are not asked if they want a chaperone present during medical treatment.

“At my last appointment, that was not the case,” Marek said.

Beekman, who is expected to serve as president while trustees search for an interim leader, said Hollis had completed a review of athletic health and safety issues before he resigned.

MSU will likely fill Hollis’ empty position in the next 24 to 48 hours, Beekman told the rowing team, and it will be “a top priority of the acting athletic director to work on and implement recommendations that came from that report.”

Beekman and trustees did not talk to the media after the meeting, but they asked the athletes to continue the dialogue and remain in touch.

“We need your ideas; we need your input; we need your experience,” Mosallam said.

Mosallam earlier Monday called for the resignation of Bob Noto, the school’s vice president for legal affairs and general counsel, in the wake of the Nassar scandal. Noto could not be reached Monday.

The call came after a second Title IX report emerged Friday, showing that a victim who filed the complaint in the 2014 investigation got a version of the report that hid details found in an investigation of the case.

Both reports cleared Nassar, but the unabridged report that recently surfaced and was marked confidential showed that Nassar was a liability to the university and “ is exposing patients to unnecessary trauma based on the possibility of perceived inappropriate sexual misconduct.”

Legendary basketball star Earvin “Magic” Johnson, one of MSU’s most famous alumni, on Monday also joined a growing chorus of voices calling for the dismissal of Michigan State University officials who knew anything about Nassar’s abuse.

“If anyone was aware of the sexual assault happening to women on the MSU campus from the office of the President, Board of Trustees, athletic department, faculty & campus police, and didn’t say or do anything about it, they should be fired,” wrote Johnson, a Lansing native and MSU alumnus, on his Twitter account.