Monday, September 28, 2020

MSU trustees appoint interim president, give emotional statements

January 26, 2018
<p>Bill Beekman is interviewed by the media after the MSU Board of Trustees public meeting discussing MSU's presidential transition Jan. 26, 2018, at the Hannah Administration Building. (Nic Antaya | The State News)</p>

Bill Beekman is interviewed by the media after the MSU Board of Trustees public meeting discussing MSU's presidential transition Jan. 26, 2018, at the Hannah Administration Building. (Nic Antaya | The State News)

William "Bill" Beekman is now acting president of MSU.

Beekman, the vice president and secretary of the MSU Board of Trustees, was selected by the board as acting president Friday following the Wednesday resignation of Lou Anna K. Simon as president.

“I was born in Sparrow Hospital, I grew up in the shadow of the university, I got my undergraduate degree here, I met my wife at North Case Hall, and I’ve worked here for 20 years,” Beekman said. “The land grant values of the university are values that are dear to my heart, and I think the university’s had some tough times, and anything I can do to make that better I feel is very important.”

The board held a public meeting Friday to discuss the future of the university following Simon's departure. Simon's resignation came amid backlash for how MSU handled complaints against ex-MSU and USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar.

Nassar was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison on Jan. 24 for sexually abusing women and girls under the guise of medical treatment. Nassar has already been sentenced to 60 years for child pornography charges and still has another sentencing scheduled for Jan. 31 in Eaton County.

After accepting Simon's resignation, Beekman was appointed acting president until a national search for a new president is completed.

When asked if he was aware of the Outside the Lines report detailing systematic cultural issues with sexual assault in MSU’s football and basketball programs, Beekman said he had not yet read the report. He said he is generally aware of public reports of misbehavior over the years.

Chairman of the MSU Board of Trustees Brian Breslin read a prepared statement on behalf of the board before the trustees moved into individual comments.

"We acknowledge their voices and say to the survivors, their families and everyone in our community affected by the sexual violence that we recognize that change is overdue," Breslin said. "It is also clear to MSU that MSU has not been focused enough on the victims. ... We must also acknowledge that there have been failures at MSU not only in our process and operations but in our culture."

More trustees cried while reading their statements, at least momentarily, than those who did not.

Trustee Brian Mosallam, often fighting and succumbing to tears, read a prepared statement following Breslin's.

"I'm so truly sorry. We failed you," Mosallam said.

Mosallam's full statement can be read in the tweet below.

Trustee Dan Kelly said MSU's focus needs to shift from litigation to the survivors.

"What I learned in the last two weeks was this is not about the litigation, that's only a part of it," Kelly said. "What this is about is the culture of MSU and I'm embarrassed to say that I learned that from in some cases, young teenage women who testified in front of a court."

Kelly also said he did not hear the women and girls who provided victim impact statements say that they wanted money, that they hated MSU or that they wanted to destroy MSU. He said he heard them say they wanted to love MSU again.

"All I can say is, I don't hate you, this university doesn't hate you, I am proud of you," Kelly said. "You will change this university, and you will change it for the better."

Trustee Melanie Foster also became visibly emotional when reading her statement.

"We need the truth," Foster said. "We need to know what went wrong. And going forward, to instill an environment on this campus that will never ever, ever allow such behavior to go unchecked again. Again, to the victims, and those who surround and love them, I am sorry."

Trustee Dianne Byrum, who broke ranks with the board and called for Simon's resignation Wednesday, said she should spoken up earlier.

"We've made mistakes, I've made mistakes," Byrum said. "I tried to work internally within the Board of Trustees and didn't raise my voice loud enough, and that was a mistake."


Trustee Mitch Lyons, who first called for Simon's resignation Saturday, teared up several times when discussing the survivors.

"It's hard for me as a father to fully grasp how this went unchecked for over 20 years," Lyons said. "I don't know that we'll ever fully understand, because I don't know what goes through people's minds. But I do look forward and am committed to finding out the who, what, why, where and when. What went unchecked, who knew what. In my heart of hearts, I really do not believe anybody here thought that Larry Nassar was the monster that he is except for, unfortunately, the survivors. And no one heard their voice."

Lyons also mentioned his daughters in his statement.

"I have a daughter here. I have a daughter that dreams about coming here," Lyons said. "And I want her to feel safe. I want all our daughters to feel safe here. MSU needs to be better than this, and we will be. We will be. It's going to take time to earn the trust back, but we're going to be better."

Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees Joel Ferguson, who came under fire earlier this week for controversial comments made during a Monday radio interview, said he should've never taken the interview.

"That week and this week, it should've been only about the victims and survivors, and for that, I greatly apologize," Ferguson said.

Ferguson said he apologizes beyond his choice of words, but also for his emphasis being in the wrong place to begin with.

"Once you start something off in the wrong vein, no matter how you do it, you're already way behind. And for that, I very much apologize," Ferguson said. "You happen to witness Brian Mosallam, Mitch Lyons, Melanie, all the trustees with strong emotions, strong feelings, and I apologize to them. Because how I handled an interview, I put a target on their back."

Ferguson said he would attend the town hall meeting Mosallam intends to hold, further apologizing for the collective inaction of the board and for his own. Details of when and where the town hall will be held are currently unknown.

"We're going to make Michigan State a poster child for how we deal with sexual abuse going forward," Ferguson said.

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Breslin gave the final personal statement. Breslin was also visibly emotional.

Breslin asked for victims to help with the review process as it's determined where change is needed. He said the board's focus needs to shift from lawsuits to pursuing the right decisions in helping victims and survivors with healing.

"Part of your healing objective was knowing that changes would be institutionalized here and elsewhere, but particularly here at MSU, to protect future generations of children from sexual predators," Breslin said.

Breslin asked for Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette to announce his investigation of MSU as soon as possible. Schuette announced Friday he will hold a press conference Saturday regarding the MSU investigation.

After the meeting, Breslin said MSU will cooperate with any investigation, affirming again after asked whether that included Thursday’s request for records by the Michigan House of Representatives.

When interviewed after the meeting, Mosallam said the board discussed succession at the Jan. 19 closed-door “work session” meeting, trying to put a plan in place that all eight board members agreed on.

Mosallam said the board has been discussing succession for roughly a year, as Simon stated in her resignation letter she originally intended to retire in December 2016, but the talks were accelerated by the Nassar case.

When asked why Ferguson's radio interview comments contradicted this by claiming Simon’s departure was rarely touched on, Mosallam replied, "Joel is Joel.” When pressed further, Mosallam replied, "He's wrong."

Following the Jan. 19 "work session" meeting, Breslin read a statement affirming the board's full faith in Simon.

Stay with The State News for continued coverage of Beekman, the Board of Trustees and Nassar.

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