7 quotes from President Simon on sexual assault, student services, and more
The State News had the opportunity to sit down with President Lou Anna K. Simon on Thursday to address questions of the staff and talk about a number of issues the university has been dealing with as of late. Here are the seven most poignant quotes which came out of the conversation.
On sexual assault: "The real issue I think is how we deal with this as a society and as culture."
Data shows most reported cases, formally or informally, of sexual assault occur "in the community and not on-campus," Simon said.
A survey conducted by the Association of American Universities published in September revealed 52 percent of respondents had experienced nonconsensual touching involving physical force or incapacitation on campus or affiliated property while 48 percent responded their experiences were off campus. 8,352 MSU students responded in the survey.
"The way in which students can engage with other students to protect your fellow Spartan, most of that will occur on this side of Grand River (the off-campus side)," Simon said. "We are really worried about how the community can continue to move forward because the residence halls are still a problem, I'm not going to say they're not, but the data suggests most of the problems we are having are emanating from the community."
Simon said MSU police have reached out to local jurisdictions offering special victims units to help mitigate the problem of sexual assault in the community surrounding MSU's campus.
In addition, Simon noted more positions have been added to the sexual assault counseling unit and resources are being pulled from other departments to help with sexual assault counseling when necessary.
"Students are being seen in a much better way this year than last year," Simon said.
On George Will: "There was a purpose to that commencement, and all the people, I thought it reflected the strength of the university to be a player in the fundamental issues facing society."
MSU's president took time to address the decision to have George Will, author and columnist, speak at commencement in December 2014.
Will wrote a controversial column in June 2014 for the Washington Post in which he said college rape statistics are extremely exaggerated and declared victimhood a “coveted status that confers privileges.”
Several graduating seniors turned their backs on Will as he spoke during commencement, and more students and faculty members protested outside Breslin Center.
"Part of the purpose of that commencement was to say we are a strong enough community to have a Michael Moore on one side, and a George Will on the other," Simon said. "And somebody who was an MSU student who was in Ferguson. And somebody who worked for George Bush who was an MSU graduate."
On expelled student's attendance at graduation: "The commencement decision was one that I learned about after the fact."
Simon also spoke on specific action taken by the Department of Student Services in which a student was expelled after being found in violation of MSU sexual harassment policies, but was allowed back on campus for a commencement ceremony less than two years after the incident. A letter was written to The State News from the victim of the incident.
Simon said she learned about the decision to after the fact.
"The view of the judicial process was that the commencement was a public event," Simon said. "The individual involved was not a part of that college and that by controlling the way in which that individual entered and left the campus. ... There was a way of balancing a public event for families with not having the individual being a formal part of Michigan State. It's a debatable argument."
Simon said it's a difficult balance, which is one of the reasons MSU is trying to speed up the judicial process. Simon said the university is looking to eliminate portions of the anti-discrimination board which she said have slowed down the process.
In regards to the accused staying in residence halls with their accuser, Simon said she wasn't sure if people have stayed in the same residence halls, but policy is to move people.
"I am not sure the people have stayed in the same residence halls, I’d have to look at that case because our policy is to move people and we’ve done that consistently based off allegations. It’s still a big campus," Simon said.
On the state of Intramural sports facilities: "There are plenty of academic needs, like spiffier classrooms and more TV's, more technology that will have a bigger impact when you leave here, than an IM facility."
It's no secret a number of students and faculty see MSU's Intramural sports facilities as a blemish when compared to the state of facilities used by the football and basketball teams. Simon noted the state of the facilities had no real bearing on attracting students to the university.
Simon said there is money identified for facility improvement in MSU's budget, but the university can't spend it just to have to re-do the IM facility five years later. Simon said she would want to build a facility which will remain relevant 10 to 15 years after construction.
"There's no indication that the IM facilities are a barrier to student recruitment, there's no indication that the IM facilities are a barrier to student retention or graduation rates, which is our main purpose for being here," Simon said.
On ESPN vs. MSU lawsuit: "They might be students in which the public has more interest, you may have more interest in them because they are student athletes, but for me they’re just students, one of 50,500."
A court case involving ESPN and MSU could soon be heard in the Michigan Supreme Court involving the records of 301 student athletes' criminal records.
In September 2014, ESPN filed a Freedom of Information Act to MSU for public police records that involved student-athletes as suspects, victims or witnesses. MSU provided the records, but the names of the athletes were redacted. ESPN then sued MSU in order to obtain the redacted information.
The records were requested as part of an Outside the Lines investigation that investigated police departments at 10 major universities to determine if student-athletes and students are prosecuted at the same rate.
Simon said the university's position is that student-athletes are students first and are treated the same way any student would be treated regarding legal matters, academic matters or any other matter.
On the success of Basketball and Football programs: "That's what builds the credibility and then that way people see the university in that same light."
Simon said MSU's football program, which is currently ranked second in the country, and basketball program, which enjoyed a trip to the Final Four last season, reflects positively on the university as a whole.
"I think in both Tom's (Izzo) case, who I have known a long time, and Mark's (Dantonio) , who we were fortunate to hire and keep, it's about those values, how he talks about his players, the fact that the family atmosphere, people can feel it and its not just the hype that any coach will say at any given time," Simon said.
Simon said the university uses visibility gained through athletics as a venue for advertisement as well as "friend-raising" and fundraising.
“One of my great successes as president was getting Kermit the Frog as the Grand Marshall for the parade and Kermit and I read together."
Simon can be seen holding a Kermit the Frog stuffed animal in the new Spartans Virtual Choir sings "Victory for MSU" video. Although most MSU fans and students can relate to being green, there seems to be a special bond between Simon and Kermit the Frog.
Simon said Kermit the frog joined her on a trip to read to children at local schools and that he wore a black tie to the gala in 2006 when he was Grand Marshall in MSU's Homecoming parade.
When asked if Kermit was her favorite muppet, Simon shied away from the question.
“I like Kermit because he is green. I am not necessarily a Miss Piggy fan, no offense," Simon said.
Simon said she also keeps Mickey Mouse ears and a stuffed bear in her office for "folks to hold onto when they feel particularly distressed."