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Trustees affirm faith in Simon, survivors 'appalled'

January 19, 2018
<p>Former MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon walks into the Red Cedar Room before a press conference on Sept. 23, 2017 at the Kellogg Center.&nbsp;</p>

Former MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon walks into the Red Cedar Room before a press conference on Sept. 23, 2017 at the Kellogg Center. 

Photo by Carly Geraci | The State News

The MSU Board of Trustees affirmed its support for MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon Friday afternoon, despite widespread calls for her resignation for mishandling the situation regarding ex-MSU and USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar.

Survivors of Nassar's abuse are "appalled."

The statement, read by Brian Breslin, followed a "work session." The board also stated it "acted" by calling for Attorney General Bill Schuette's office to investigate MSU's handling of the Larry Nassar case.

“Through this terrible situation, the university has been perceived as tone deaf, unresponsive and insensitive to the victims," Breslin said. "We understand the public’s faith has been shaken. The Board has listened and heard the victims. Today, the Board acted and has asked the Attorney General’s Office to review the facts in this matter, and as information is presented, the Board will act. This can never happen again."

Simon was not in the board room while the trustees addressed members of the media. She did, however, release a statement:

"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 wrote. "I have always done my best to lead MSU and I will continue to do so today and tomorrow."

The trustees did not take any questions following the statement. Vice Chairman of the Board Joel Ferguson was briefly confronted by members of the media as he waited for the elevator, but did not answer any questions directed towards him.

Rachael Denhollander and Tiffany Thomas Lopez, survivors of Nassar's abuse, said they are "disappointed" and "appalled" in the trustees' decision.

“I’m going to just keep it really simple. Once again, I’m disappointed in Michigan State," Thomas Lopez said. "I can’t believe that we’re once again being dismissed. Once again getting a slap in the face by a university that we gave our lives to. That I gave my life to. She’s not, in any way, shape or form, appropriate for the job. She just shouldn’t be in position at all. I can’t, I don’t even know what to say.”

Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to publicly attach her name to allegations against Nassar said she is also upset with MSU.

“I am absolutely appalled," Denhollander said. "President Simon has done nothing to rectify the problems that led to the greatest sexual assault scandal in sports history. We have just heard from approximately 80 women, most of whom were sexually assaulted after Kathie Klages received reports of sexual assaults in 1997. After Christie Achenbach reported to her track coach in 1999. After Tiffany Thomas-Lopez reported to trainers and athletic supervisors."

Morgan McCaul said she can't help but wonder how many girls could have been "spared from this lifelong battle" if MSU had listened to original allegations of Nassar's misconduct in 1997, two years before McCaul was born.

“The fact that she has yet to (resign) is so insulting to the hundreds of survivors like me,” McCaul said. “It is, in fact, 42 months, countless slanderous public statements from (MSU spokesperson) Jason Cody, calls from numerous congressmen and women, and a $150,000 slap-in-the-face of a raise too late.”

The trustees' informal meeting was not announced beforehand and began at 10 a.m., lasting until roughly 3 p.m. 

The meeting coincided with the fourth day of Nassar's sentencing for seven first-degree criminal sexual conduct charges in Ingham County. Nassar previously pleaded guilty to the charges. 

Ingham County Circuit Court Judge Rosemarie Aquilina has allowed survivors of Nassar's abuse as much time as necessary for all of his victims to be heard. In victim impact statements read by survivors of Nassar's abuse, many have called for Simon's resignation, saying the university failed to stop Nassar on her watch.

Hours after MSU's Board of Trustees signaled she had its full confidence, MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon sent a statement to MSU staff members via email asking for their patience as litigation proceeds.

The statement does not appear to have been sent to students and is not posted on the Office of the President website, where public letters from Simon are usually hosted.

Simon addressed MSU's recent motions to dismiss Nassar-related lawsuits against the university "for a number of arguments." MSU claims they are not legally responsible for Nassar's actions, according to court documents.

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"Given Nassar's horrendous acts, these arguments can seem disrespectful to the victims," Simon wrote. "Please know that the defenses raised on MSU's behalf are in no way a reflection of our view of the survivors, for whom we have the utmost respect and sympathy, but rather represent, as the Board has said, our desire 'to protect MSU's educational and research missions.'"

Simon said MSU is entitled to and required by its insurers to an "appropriate" defense of these cases, and that the actions of MSU's lawyers are typical at this stage of civil litigation.

"So, as the litigation progresses in the months ahead, you will likely continue to hear a variety of allegations and accusations against the university," Simon wrote. "I ask for your patience as well as your understanding that MSU cannot litigate the cases in the media and that many public assertions may go unchallenged unless or until they are addressed in open court."

Stay with The State News as events continue to unfold.

Editor's note — This article was last updated at Jan. 19 5:55 p.m. after President Simon sent a statement to faculty. The article was also updated Jan. 19 at 4:15 p.m. with an interview from Morgan McCaul.


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