Dept. of Education fines MSU for Nassar 'failure'

Michigan State University will pay a fine of $4.5 million and has agreed to make "major changes" to its Title IX procedures to resolve a Department of Education investigation into how the institution handled sexual assault complaints related to disgraced university doctor Larry Nassar.

The $4.5 million penalty is the largest Clery Act fine ever levied by the U.S. Department of Education, according to an announcement released Thursday morning.

A pair of 19-month investigations started by the department found that Michigan State showed a lack of administrative capability and failed to follow federal regulations for monitoring, reporting and warning the campus community about sexual assault crimes.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos called Michigan State's mishandling of Nassar and his boss -- former medical school dean William Strampel -- "abhorrent, inexcusable, and a total and complete failure."

"Michigan State will now pay for its failures and will be required to make meaningful changes to how it handles Title IX cases moving forward," DeVos said Thursday. "No future student should have to endure what too many did because concerns about Larry Nassar and William Strampel were ignored."

In addition, provost June Youatt -- the university's top academic officer -- resigned, effective immediately, on Thursday. With her departure, Youatt joins several other high-ranking university officials who have stepped down since Nassar's crimes came to light. That list includes former president Lou Anna Simon, Strampel and athletic director Mark Hollis.

John Manly, a lawyer who represented many of Nassar's victims, said in a statement that the fine amounts to pocket change for a school with an annual budget of more than $1.5 billion.

"Just this week, the government fined YouTube $170 million for simply monitoring kids illegally," Manly said. "Here we have a university that engaged in the systemic protection of a pedophile.''

Manly was referencing a deal between regulators and YouTube's parent company, Google.

Nassar was sentenced in 2018 to up to 175 years in state prison after pleading guilty to sexually abusing his patients while working at Michigan State. More than a half dozen women say they complained about Nassar to coaches, athletic trainers and other employees at the university.

The complaints, which did not result in any action against the former doctor, started as early as 1997.

Nassar was cleared of wrongdoing by the university's Title IX department after a 2014 complaint from former patient Amanda Thomashow. Strampel reminded Nassar in the wake of Thomashow's complaint of certain protocols that he needed to follow while treating patients, but he failed to put any measures in place to make sure Nassar was following those steps.

Strampel was sentenced last month to spend a year in prison for misconduct of a public official and willful neglect of duty. An investigation into Strampel's past also revealed that university leaders did not act despite a list of sexual harassment complaints made against Strampel starting as early as 2005. Former medical students accused him of suggesting they could receive preferential treatment in exchange for sexual favors or nude photos.

The Department of Education began its investigation into Michigan State in February 2018, shortly after Nassar finished the second of two sentencing hearings in state court.

Along with the record fine, Michigan State will be required to hire an independent Clery compliance officer and establish a Clery compliance committee. The Clery Act is a federal law that requires colleges to accurately and transparently share crime statistics and information about campus crime policies with the public.

Michigan State also agreed to hire an outside firm to review the Title IX department's decisions in sexual assault cases and report findings back to the Department of Education. The university's board and president will also receive regular updates on Title IX cases and decisions in the future. Simon, the former president, is currently facing criminal charges of lying to police officers based on what she knew about accusations against Nassar made in 2014. She had told police she was not aware of any of the complaints about Nassar prior to 2016.

Several of the new regulations are similar to proposals first made by trustee Brian Mosallam more than a year ago. The university did not adopt those suggested policy changes when they were originally made.

Samuel Stanley, who took over as Michigan State's president last month, said the fine and report were further reminders that the school's leadership failed sexual assault survivors and its community. In a statement from the university, Stanley said a five-person oversight committee would take the lead in implementing necessary changes brought to light by the agreement with the Department of Education and its Office for Civil Rights.

"OCR's letter of findings is very clear that the provost and former president failed to take appropriate action on behalf of the university to address reports of inappropriate behavior and conduct, specifically related to former dean William Strampel," Stanley said. "In my effort to build a safe and caring campus, we must have a culture of accountability."

Dianne Byrum, the chair of Michigan State's board of trustees, said they understand the serious nature of the report and the significance of the fine -- which was nearly twice as much as the $2.4 million Penn State was required to pay for the way it handled the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.

"We know there is more work to do," Byrum said.