MSU board of trustees gives vote of support to Lou Anna Simon
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Michigan State's board of trustees gave university president Lou Anna Simon a vote of support Friday amid growing calls for her resignation.
"I continue to appreciate the confidence of the board and the many people who have reached out to me, and to them, who have the best interested of MSU at heart," Simon said in a statement released Friday afternoon. "I have always done my best to lead MSU and I will continue to do so today and tomorrow."
Simon and the university's administration have been widely criticized for the way they handled the fallout since firing former athletics doctor and serial sexual abuser Larry Nassar. More than 150 women have joined civil lawsuits contending that coaches, athletic trainers and other authority figures at Michigan State failed to stop Nassar when presented with several opportunities to do so over the past two decades.
Calls for Simon's ouster grew louder this week while dozens of women shared impact statements during a sentencing hearing in Lansing for Nassar's crimes.
"Through this terrible situation, the university has been perceived as tone-deaf, unresponsive and insensitive to the victims," chairman Brian Breslin said at the end of a nearly five-hour session to discuss the Nassar case. "We understand the public's faith has been shaken. ... This can never happen again. ...
"We continue to believe that President Simon is the right leader for the university, and she has our support."
Breslin and other members of the board did not take any questions.
There are still doubts about Simon's long-term future with the school among some members of the board, according to a source.
Like the school's board of trustees, Michigan State men's basketball coach Tom Izzo is supporting Simon, saying after his team's 85-57 win over Indiana on Friday night, "There is no way I can waver in my support."
Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to accuse Nassar of assault publicly, said he got away with abuse for so long not because people at Michigan State understood he was an abuser and were OK with it, but because they didn't listen to repeated warnings. She said she is "disappointed and discouraged" that the administration is still not listening.
"I wish I could say that I was surprised, but this is part and parcel to the problems we have been pointing out for 18 months. ... No one at Michigan State has listened since 1997, and still no one is listening. It leaves me so concerned for that campus and for little girls everywhere. If they are unwilling to listen, this is not going to change."
Two state politicians who represent the East Lansing area added their names Thursday to the list of legislators and political candidates calling on Simon to resign. Michigan State's student government passed a resolution Thursday night saying it had lost faith in the administration to provide a safe environment on campus, and the student newspaper also published a lengthy editorial telling the president that her university wouldn't be able to move on from the ugly situation created by Nassar until she was gone.
The board of trustees held a previously unplanned meeting Friday morning to "discuss matters related to the Nassar investigation." The board also sent a letter to the state's attorney general Friday morning asking for law enforcement to review all actions in the Nassar case to decide if any further action is necessary.
"The testimony of Nassar's victims this week made many of us, including me, listen to the survivors and the community in a different way," Simon said in a statement Friday morning announcing the board's request for a review of the case.
The board of trustees gave Simon, who took over as Michigan State's president in 2005, a vote of confidence and a $150,000 raise at a December board meeting. The raise -- which Simon donated to a scholarship fund for the university -- was seen as insulting by many of the women whom Nassar abused.
Several of those women addressed the trustees and Simon at the December meeting, which filled the university's boardroom to capacity with dozens of protesters coming to ask Simon to step down and for the university to be more transparent about which of their employees knew about Nassar's abuses and when.
Nassar, who also was the medical coordinator for USA Gymnastics, pleaded guilty to 10 counts of criminal sexual conduct in November. He is accused of assaulting dozens more girls and young women, many of whom went to him on Michigan State's campus to seek medical help for athletic injuries.
Several women have criticized the university and Simon specifically for being cold or unresponsive to their questions since Nassar was fired by the school in September 2016.
Lindsey Lemke, a former captain of the school's gymnastics team, confronted Simon in a Lansing courtroom this week when the president attended one session of a sentencing hearing for Nassar that is expected to conclude early next week.
Lemke asked the president why no one from the school had reached out to check on her well-being or to try to seek answers as part of an internal investigation into the Nassar situation that the school says it conducted during the past year. The following day, Lemke provided an impact statement at the hearing, using her time to criticize many of the people who allegedly enabled Nassar. She called Michigan State and Simon "cowards" and told them that they had "pissed off the wrong army of women."
Larissa Boyce, who says she told then-Michigan State gymnastics coach Kathie Klages about Nassar's abuse in 1997, spoke with Simon while at the courthouse Wednesday and asked the president to show up in person the following day to listen when Boyce was scheduled to address the court.
Boyce said the president told her she didn't think she would have time.
"I said, 'Will you come when I read my statement?'" Boyce said. "She basically said she didn't think she could fit it in her schedule."
Michigan State has declined to comment on Boyce's interaction with Simon.
Simon said she would attend the hearing last week, then reversed course, saying her presence in the courtroom would be a distraction. After she was criticized in several impact statements on the first day of the hearing, she chose to attend briefly the following morning. She left after she was surrounded by cameras and unable to answer questions about Michigan State's culpability in allowing Nassar to prey on young women on its campus for decades.