President Simon, trustees apologize to Nassar survivors, say cover-up false
MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon and the board of trustees apologized to survivors of sexual abuse for the abuse suffered and the pain it has caused during their meeting Friday morning.
The board also announced it will establish a $10 million fund to go toward counseling and mental health services on campus.
But to some survivors of sexual abuse by ex-MSU and USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, apologies fell flat.
And for others, the timing for Simon's proposed pay raise to $150,000 — which Simon declined and donated to the Drs. Lou Anna K. and Roy J. Simon Scholarship Fund — was "insulting."
The meeting follows months of controversy at MSU, which was elevated recently following calls for Simon to resign, accusations of a "cover-up" by MSU and survivors growing more and more frustrated with MSU's silence.
During the meeting, Simon and all eight trustees addressed survivors and student protesters.
First was Simon, who thanked survivors for coming forward with allegations through a prepared statement.
"Without your voices and your courage, Nassar wouldn't be behind bars," Simon said. "I am truly sorry for the abuse you suffered, the pain it caused and the pain it continues to cause today. I am sorry a physician who called himself a Spartan so utterly betrayed your trust and everything this university stands for."
Simon also said MSU has restructured reporting lines, strengthened mandatory reporting compliance and created a new position for youth protection.
"I also have been focused on taking steps to strengthen every part of MSU's operations, policies and procedures that might in any way be improved to prevent something such as this from happening again," she said.
Simon wasn't available for comment following the board meeting.
Chairman Brian Breslin read a statement on behalf of the board. He said while the board understands the public's desire for information and details, MSU is still engaged in civil litigation. Breslin said it's simply not appropriate to offer specific details during this process.
"It is simply not true that there has been any kind of cover up," Breslin said. "From the outset, we have directed our counsel to report immediately to us and to relevant law enforcement any knowledge of criminal behavior. We stand before you today and tell you that no such person has been identified to us."
Breslin said when the board pushes back against accusations made by plaintiffs' lawyers about MSU, it's to "set the record straight" and to protect MSU's educational and research missions. He said that push back is not a reflection of how MSU views the victims.
All seven remaining trustees also addressed the survivors and protesters.
Trustee Brian Mosallam said the administration sometimes comes across as "tone deaf and maybe sterile" and apologized for everything the victims have endured.
"We have hired in this case what I believe to be one of the most ethical attorneys that we could have," Trustee Dan Kelly said, and he, too, apologized to survivors and their parents.
Trustee Melanie Foster said the board has worked collaboratively to make MSU better and said she is confident that no one was "hiding anything." She thanked Simon for her leadership.
"I want you to know that I'm listening, I care, I've read your victim statements and that I am absolutely committed to change the systems that embolden sexual predators like Larry Nassar to exist," Trustee Dianne Byrum said.
Byrum also said she hopes MSU will never have "another Larry Nassar" again.
"God bless those victims. And God bless our president who's leading us in the right direction when all the facts are on the table," Trustee George Perles said.
Trustee Mitch Lyons was another trustee who apologized to victims. He said the board has always put the victims ahead of MSU's reputation and brand.
Trustee and Vice Chair Joel I. Ferguson expressed his support for Simon during his comments and said MSU is in a "golden age."
"When we touch all the bases, we have one person who really took advantage — and, really, a kind man — that took advantage of so many colleagues that this person was working with," Ferguson said. "But the best foundation we have is Lou Anna Simon's leadership."
Kaylee Lorincz, a survivor, and mother Lisa Lorincz, said they do not believe the apology from Simon was heartfelt.
"To believe that they had no idea is ridiculous to me," Kaylee Lorincz said. "I do not believe that whatsoever."
Kaylee Lorincz said she believes some of the board's apologies were heartfelt and sincere, but that Simon's was not.
"I think the timing of things was really hurtful," Lisa Lorincz said. "They knew what the agenda was for today's meeting, so to applaud President Simon and the token of the $150,000 just was another assault, and that's what hurts."
Following the board's comments, survivors and student protesters took to the podium.
Kaylee Lorincz and Lisa Lorincz both asked Simon and the trustees to support calls for an independent external investigation into MSU.
Jessica Smith, another survivor, criticized MSU for failing to take ownership of the situation. Smith previously created Me Too MSU, a social media group for survivors of Nassar's sexual assault and for those who support them.
"How can you say you did a complete internal investigation without speaking to victims such as myself?" Smith said. "How can this university say they had no knowledge of Nassar's conduct when it was reported for 20 years?"
Another survivor, Morgan McCaul, 17, said MSU has a responsibility to protect women and failed to do so.
"You have the opportunity to do right by the hundreds of young women who endured this abuse at the hands of your golden boy," McCaul said. "Anything short of this is reprehensible cowardice and endangerment to every single little girl who steps foot on this campus."
McCaul is also listed as "Jane B. 21 Doe" in a federal lawsuit against Nassar and MSU among others.
Seniors Hannah Thomas, Anna Cumming and Ewurama Appiagyei-Dankah organized the student protest. Over a dozen students accompanied them, holding signs and wearing gags behind the speakers at the podium.
Thomas and Cumming both addressed the board and echoed calls for an independent external investigation.
Following the public comments, Simon suggested working with survivors and student protesters to provide input to preventative policies and practices at MSU.
Nassar is accused of sexually abusing more than 140 women and girls, ranging from local gymnasts to Olympic athletes, under the guise of medical treatment.
He was arrested in December 2016 on charges of possessing “at least 37,000” images of child pornography to which he pleaded guilty. He was sentenced to 60 years in prison for the receipt, possession and destruction of child pornography.
Nassar pleaded guilty to a total of 10 first degree criminal sexual conduct charges in November 2017 — seven in Ingham County and three in Eaton County. His sentencing for each of these charges could range from a minimum of 25-40 years to life in prison. The Ingham County sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 12, 2018, and the Eaton County sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 31, 2018.
Nassar is also a defendant in nine lawsuits, all of which also list MSU, MSU's board of trustees and USA Gymnastics as defendants.