Friday, June 5, 2020

Letters to the editor: Community reacts to administration response

<p>Interim president John Engler addresses the media with the Board of Trustees backing him on Jan. 31, 2018, at Hannah Administration Building. (C.J. Weiss | The State News)</p>

Interim president John Engler addresses the media with the Board of Trustees backing him on Jan. 31, 2018, at Hannah Administration Building. (C.J. Weiss | The State News)

Editor's note: The following are letters sent to The State News about recent events. Only mild edits have occurred for spelling or brevity. 

William Hansen

Telecommunications, 1985

I pose a question, to show leadership, should the board of Trustees also resign??

Kelly Walsh

Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Management, 1984

The Nassar crimes and MSU's woefully delayed response has been incredibly tone deaf. I believe a new president is step one to earning our good name back. 

However, if reports are true, there were 13 others employed at the University that were informed of the abuse and did not correct it. I don’t know how they are able to look in the mirror. They should all resign. Also, I continue to hear about the athletic side of the story but what about the medical side? 

MSU had a renowned Sports Med program. Who was in charge and why is he or she not in he papers. In my opinion this person is the most culpable of them all. If anyone should have known this perverted behavior fell outside the realm of accepted medical practices, it was not the president, AD or lawyers, it was another doctor.

Time to clean house so we can be proud Spartans again.

Andy Spencer

Biochemistry, 1998

In the shadow of the Nassar scandal, two members of the MSU Board of Trustees have announced they will not seek re-election this fall. Others may be forced to resign in the coming months as additional facts are uncovered through multiple investigations. Hiring a new president is one of the most important functions of the Board of Trustees, but the current Board is not in a position of trust with Michigan voters today. As a result, I believe they should only appoint an interim president and that the next president be hired after the 2018 election when Board turnover has stabilized. 

Editor's note: Spencer plans to run for the MSU Board of Trustees this fall.

Kathryn Beard

B.S., 2004; J.D., 2009

MSU has the opportunity to be a world leader in responding to and preventing sexual abuse and harassment. Like many Spartans, I am looking for ways to be heard — I sent letters to each Trustee with the following demands:

1. Make public the results of any and all internal investigations related to Nassar. The Spartan community, Michigan taxpayers, and all Americans deserve answers about how Nassar was able to assault athletes for more than 20 years.

2. Hold accountable everyone who, by action or inaction, enabled Nassar’s abuses to continue. 

3. Take significant, meaningful, transparent actions to ensure that no other individual affiliated with MSU is able to abuse his or her position, including evaluating and updating all policies and procedures for reporting and investigating abuses, and providing mandatory training to all faculty, staff, students, and other individuals affiliated with the University.

4. Significantly increase the Healing Assistance Fund. 

Join me in helping to make sure that "Our Commitment" is real, lasting change. Let's show everyone that #SpartansWill hold our beloved university accountable.

Berndan Geraghty

International Relations, 2016

Let's not talk about Larry Nassar for a moment. He is a monster who is getting what he deserves.

Let's also not talk about Simon, who is, whether guilty of any actual criminal negligence or not, doing the right thing.

Instead, let's talk about Mark Dantonio and Tom Izzo. Two of the greatest college coaches in their respective fields. 

Two men that have been role models, mentors and likely father figures to young athletes, some of who do not come from economic privilege or comfort.

ESPN has drafted their death warrants. Now it is waiting to be signed by the masses. 

If they are found guilty of wrongdoing within their programs after thorough investigation, then so be it. 

For now, though, they do not deserve the swift and damaging judgement from a public so quick to draw conclusions from loosely connected dots informed by lackluster evidence detailing a myriad of administrative missteps. 

"It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have." 

Please, unless detail from fair and thorough investigation tells us otherwise, do not let the power of the majority fueled by the vices of ignorance or vengeance bring down some of the greatest men MSU has ever known in the name of apparent justice. 

Go Green. Forever. 

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Andrew Gonynor

Supply Chain Management and German senior

Dear Board of Trustees,

It has come to my attention, as well as numerous other MSU students, that your actions as a board are having a deleterious effect on my, and hundreds of thousands', alma mater.

Michigan State University has two perennial problems that it has been historically faced with, and have been moderately well-addressed by the board in the past couple years. Our dearth of funds and a shabby reputation, when compared with our Maize and Blue friends, have always been the bane of MSU's existence. The latter problem, I need not explicitly mention, is sure to to get worse in the coming weeks and months, if the student body does not provide constant admonishments of the board, its bureaucratic faculties, and the actions of these two. It is because of this, that I felt the need to write you today.

The #MeToo movement is a movement that shifts the idea of what causes sexual assault, changing the cultural ideology from one person violating another, to an institutional paradigm that tacitly states that sexual assault happens because the system, in this case MSU and the governing apparatus therein, is flawed. 

The conflation of culture and systems is a very dangerous one. The third-party review that you are initiating, my understanding of which is from my reading of the email and not of an RFP or Statement of Work that would probably illuminate the problem more so than the couple sentences afforded to it in the email, is one that thinks processes breed culture. 

Processes do not breed culture, they are determined, interpreted, and enacted via culture. The goal that you are aiming for, is a culture that places a hypersensitivity towards any possibility of sexual misconduct, or any misconduct for that matter, that relates to a student's health or safety. How to achieve that via structures of power in this university, is the 3rd party reviewer's task to figure out, but I am skeptical that changes in procedure will have any significant impact. 

However, I am writing today in regard to a large confusion that has arisen due to the media coverage of our university. Why have the officials in power resigned, rather than being fired? 

It seems odd to me, that the board would preserve the dignity of these individuals when hundreds of individuals' safety was not, as well as the reputation of thousands of MSU students that will be graduating this semester, as well as the coming semesters, and the first thing that each coworker will think of them, will be in regard to this court-case and the limpid handling thereof. 

The answer to this question unnerves me. If it were because we want to preserve the dignity of these officials, I am deeply saddened, as they have forfeited their dignity in the same way the school has forfeited its reputation. If it is because of the relative powerlessness of the board, then the review is a PR scheme and laughable. If it is because the board is nervous about firing someone wrongly in regard to this case, then the board is dangerously under-informed. 

And lastly, and unfortunately most probably, if it is because of the ideal that the word "fire" is not acceptable or appropriate, then we have arrived at the very beginning and cultural impetus that caused this in the first place — a culture that is okay with following and using the status quo when dealing with crimes against humanity, crimes allowable by that status quo. 

I am nervous that this understanding is not one present in the board, or at this university, and the potential positivity that may result from the realization that the cultural understanding we have, one that asks individuals to resign for their neglectful use of power, is one that still places power and success in the hands of those that fumbled human travesty, leaving it up to the students of MSU and the media to pass judgment on the morality of these individuals' performance, a job that should be done by the university itself. I understand the need to not engender fear in the MSU faculty, that somehow a capricious board will end their career for the briefest suspicion of sexual misconduct in people below them, that they might not even know by name. However, this is merely a new understanding of what it means to be in power. In the same way the civil rights movement changed our view of discriminatory workplace ethics and put the onus on the people in power to fix and monitor this problem, this is the new paradigm for sexual assault. This fear is earned and deserved, and I am terrified to think that the board would view it in any other way.

I am not sure of the boards reasoning for their decision to allow the officials to resign, albeit under substantial pressure, and I am not well-read enough to pass judgment on the entirety of the board, but it unnerves me that any of the above would be true, or could be the reason for the board's language. If that is not the case and my understanding of the situation is flawed, please let me know. I would be thankful that my alma mater, nourishing motherland — or some form of origin — in Latin, is not blind to the fundamental understanding that underlines its culture, but to the individuals in power and their reputation, like Lady Justice would view them.

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Greg Coverdale

Science Education, 1995

Full disclosure, I got my Ph.D. from MSU in '96 and am a Spartan through and through. I have been a HUGE MSU sports fan since I attended in 1991-1995. But I am now seriously re-thinking whether I can continue to support these players and coaches who seem to think they can abuse others with impunity and get away with unthinkable crimes and tarnish a great university's reputation and the safety of its students. 

I think the OTL report issued (Friday) was a thorough beginning to the exposure of MSU's mishandling of these ongoing allegations. ESPN's Sportcenter "personalities" and commentators like Dickie V constantly laud and almost worship these b-ball coaches like Tom Izzo, Roy Williams, Rick Pitino, John Calipari, Coach K. and others as if they were gods. 

They comment how great they are as "teachers" as the coaches scream their lungs out at refs and players during games. ESPN is in the business of promoting these multimillion dollar per year coaches no matter their transgressions against students or their universities... why? Money! It is all about money. 

University athletics will continue to breed these scandals across the country so universities can bask in the glory, exposure, and money sports bring to them. It is as simple as that. Don't count on the NCAA for any help in this. Despite several years of confirmed academic scandal with the basketball program at North Carolina, the NCAA couldn't find any evidence. It is simply not in the interest of university management nor the NCAA to come down hard on these big-time athletic programs unless and until they are backed into a corner and have no other choice. 

If it turns out MSU'S athletic department indeed protected its athletes at the expense of abused young women, it should get nothing less than the Athletic Death Penalty.

Maria Vicini

Graduate student

Spartans will… what?

The phrase has rubbed me wrong since my freshman year English professor had us write an essay about the slogan. Ultimately, I only understood the inherent ambiguity. It reads like an unanswered question, a wavering inflection in its incompleteness. Suspended in an uncertain universe. “We will…?”

And what “will” we do? What will we be? Because lately, here’s what I’ve seen:
Spartans will be paralyzed with inaction. Spartans will release statements of resignation still accepting none of the blame, not even acknowledging a sliver of the apathy that contributed to atrocious sexual abuse. Spartans will let a female be dragged into a bathroom by their football players and forced to perform oral sex. Spartans will “not get involved.” When my friends have reported their own sexual harassment claims, Spartans will say, “We can’t do anything about it.”

I could go on. Believe me, I’ve gone on... and on and on, in an endless circle in my mind over the various systematic failures this university has presented to us the past few weeks. MSU has shown us that the top-level administration is filled with cowards who hide behind salaries, reputations, sports contracts, or layers and layers of reports they either don’t have the time to read, or don’t care enough to read. They are blinded not by true passion for school colors but for the type of green that comes in the form of tuition checks and donor contributions.

However, these are only some of the Spartans. A small handful, so removed in their ivory towers they couldn’t spot the difference between a sexual assault claim and something to be taken seriously (Oh wait, there’s no difference.) The beauty of the “Spartans will” phrase is that it leaves the ending of it up to us. We are given the incomplete sentence, tarnished and beaten up and less shiny than it may have looked otherwise, but not yet broken. Their apathy has given us a chance to complete what they were too cowardly to commit to.

It is not in my nature to give up, nor is it in the nature of the wonderful people I’ve met through this university. I’ve watched people’s resilience. I live alongside the determination of everyone I know. My roommates’, my boyfriend, my classmates’. My professors’ and my program director’s. My work supervisors’ and my coworkers’. In each of their own ways, they HAVE impacted my life. They have done things. They have studied abroad, or volunteered. They have reported sexual harassment, or protested for their political beliefs. They have testified in court against a sexual abuser. They have stayed up late during finals week. They have been honest with me. Upfront. They have called me out on my shit and they have owned up to their own shit.

I’ve spent several of the past days ashamed to be a Spartan. But I’m not ashamed anymore. I finally understand that we are here to complete the phrase, “Spartans will” on a personal level. Michigan State is nothing but a malleable symbol that reflects our beliefs and transforms with what each one of us do. 

So yes, MSU “leaders” have failed us. MSU treats certain athletes like gods and let’s others become a group of 150 victims who have to not only… ya know…. compete in the Olympics, but also go to work, or get degrees, or stare their abuser straight in the face and testify against him in court. (Why did it take over 150 people for MSU to listen? It should have only taken one.) 

But here we are now, the real leaders. Spartans. The people who live this every single day. MSU (and our entire country) has shown it only listens to LOUD voices, voices that TAKE UP SPACE. People who won’t shut up anymore or “chill out,” because we’ve been degraded and ignored and patronized for too long. We have to keep being loud, and we have to keep being brave. We are the end of the sentence, and the future of this university. 

While we’re at it, let’s add an apostrophe too. I want it to read as “Spartans’ will.” Our collective refusal to give up. It’s no longer about what our supposed leaders didn’t do. It’s about our own will to move forward, to have strength. 

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Eric Grunor

Telecommunications, 1990

As an MSU Alumni I listened to the brave women who gave their testimony this week regarding the Larry Nassar abuse and I had many mixed emotions. Very sad for these women who had to suffer for years and feel as if no one cared, especially those who may have been in a position of power to stop it. 

They are brave women who endured both physical and emotional pain in a place that was supposed to be safe and educational. They are heroes to all of us and will be in our prayers as they start their road to recovery. It also reminded me of the state that much of our country has been in for many years. 

We have seen the recent exposure in Hollywood of those in power using their influence to abuse others. We have seen those in Congress and the Media who did the same thing. It seems on a weekly basis we also hear of High School teachers having a sexual relationship with students. These acts of abuse have been going on for years. The many victims who have had the courage to come forward are exposing a long pattern of abuse by the powerful. 

Universities are a microcosm of society and the issue at MSU was not the first university and sadly won’t be the last. The culture in America over the past 50 years has seen the acceptance of Movies, TV Shows, Music and other forms of entertainment that would have been unacceptable or at least shunned by the majority of society. We have seen lawsuits to stop those that want to pray in public or those that want to mention GOD or put up religious symbols in a public place (The Ten Commandments etc.). 

We listen to the constant middle school bickering and name calling by elected officials and professors at universities all across this country speak out with vulgar and intolerant language. Yes, those in a position of power who could have stopped the evil acts of Larry Nassar need to be punished both at MSU, the NCAA, USA Gymnastics and any other entity that had an ability to stop this. 

Beyond that, we as a society need to look at how we let the culture of the United States of America get to the point of allowing those in a position of authority to use their power to hurt others and use fear of repercussions as a deterrent to stop it. We are all responsible for the culture that has evolved in our society and all of us are responsible for changing it. We need to move more towards a country that respects one another and need all the influences from the Media, Hollywood and Washington to reiterate the importance of moral values. 

If we can change our culture then maybe the evil actions of a person like Larry Nassar will be the rare exception and not a common occurrence. Praying.

Payton Virsik

Psychology senior

To The Board of Trustees of Michigan State University,

​I write to you today with concern regarding the next president of our university. In light of recent events, it is apparent that Michigan State University has much to overcome in the following months. I was disheartened by the way the Nassar case was handled and it has become clear that dealing with sexual assault is not our strong suit. I have always carried the Spartan name with pride but the current happenings on campus have weighed me down with doubt.

I want that to change. I hope you take into consideration the following suggestions when selecting the next leader of our great university. I desire a leader who acknowledges the student body as their number one priority. With that comes someone who listens eagerly to concerns and takes appropriate action on behalf of their students wants and needs. I hope for a leader who understands that strength lies in diversity and will pour efforts info building a more inclusive and diverse campus. I want a leader who understands that sexual assault is a campus wide issue. Admitting we have a problem is step one. Working to create a more consistent dialogue about sexual assault on campus and creating zero-tolerance policies is how we move forward. Standing up for what is right is often a very challenging thing, especially when representing a wide range of students. But a leader who fights fiercely for the protection of all under their care is not a leader who will soon be forgotten, they are one who will be lifted up among the greatest.

It is my hope that our next leader will rekindle that flame of pride we all carry within us, someone who really understands what it means to be a Spartan. Spartans stand together. We love each other. We learn from each other. We help each other to succeed. We lift each other up. We celebrate our victories. And we mourn each others losses. I love this university, but I see plenty of room for improvement and know that together we can work to make Michigan State University better and stronger than it ever was before.

marchforchange_5

Jon Huhtala

Mathematics, 1969

Something tangible must be done to heal “Spartan Nation” and the university community.

I suggest a monument located near “Sparty” that depicts his mission to protect the vulnerable in our community (the duty of a warrior) and provides a renewed sense of direction and purpose for us all.

I’m no poet, but an inscription along these lines might be added:

Evil was here and we let it happen.
Some didn’t see, for we’d failed to keep watch.
Some of us saw, but we’d turned away.
Our leaders and most respected among us let us down.
We’d forgotten to be Spartans.
We’d forgotten our legacy.

Spartans watch over their community.
Spartans are vigilant in protecting the vulnerable.
Spartans see evil as it approaches.
Spartans stand united, confront it, and defeat it.

We hereby rededicate ourselves to this mission;
that our future be as in ancient Greece.
When the people ask, “Who will protect us?”
Our response must always be, “Spartans will.”

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