Thursday, October 29, 2020

Former MSU President Simon, USAG officials testify before U.S. Senate subcommittee

June 5, 2018
<p>On June 5, 2017, at the Hannah Administration Building. Statements were made by then-President Lou Anna K. Simon and Trustee Brian Breslin based on the findings of the Jones Day Law Firm's report on the MSU football programs compliance.</p>

On June 5, 2017, at the Hannah Administration Building. Statements were made by then-President Lou Anna K. Simon and Trustee Brian Breslin based on the findings of the Jones Day Law Firm's report on the MSU football programs compliance.

Photo by Jon Famurewa | The State News

Ex-MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon appeared before a U.S. Senate subcommittee on Tuesday to testify about her role in handling ex-MSU and USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar's child sexual abuse.

Simon, along with officials from USA Gymnastics, went before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance and Data Security. Through this hearing and others, the subcommittee aims to investigate the Olympic community's role in handling sexual assault of athletes.

Former USA Gymnastics President Steve Penny and Rhonda Faehn, former women's program director at USA Gymnastics, were also present at the 3 p.m. hearing in Washington D.C. 

Former USA Gymnastics officials questioned by subcommittee members

The Senate panel hearing began with opening remarks from Chairman of the subcommittee Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan. Subcommittee ranking member Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., also made remarks. Both senators thanked the Nassar survivors, some of whom were present in the room, for their cooperation with the subcommittee's investigation.

The subcommittee then directed rounds of questions from senators to Penny, Faehn and Simon. 

Penny denied answering multiple questions from Moran and Blumenthal and instead chose to invoke his Fifth Amendment rights, citing that he had been advised by his attorney to do so. Pleading the fifth allows due process of law to an individual under legal scrutiny and prohibits potential self-incrimination.

Penny was dismissed from the hearing shortly thereafter. Robert J. Bittman, Penny's attorney, later released a statement regarding Penny's refusal to answer the subcommittee's questions. 

Penny is accused of ignoring allegations of sexual abuse embedded within the Olympic sports governing body during his time as president. He resigned from that position on March 16, 2017. 

The subcommittee then questioned Rhonda Faehn, former gymnastics coach and gymnast herself. Faehn had worked her way up to a position of leadership within USA Gymnastics and served as vice president for the sports governing body. 

Faehn is believed to be the first USA Gymnastics official to know of allegations against Nassar. It was announced on May 17, 2018 that Faehn was no longer affiliated with the organization. 

Questions to Simon

The subcommittee then directed questions to Simon, former MSU president. 

Simon stepped down as university president on Jan. 24, 2018. Her departure came amid intense public criticism for how she had addressed Nassar's influence and campus sexual assault at MSU. 

Moran made the panel aware that Simon and Penny weren't appearing voluntarily. In previous weeks, Simon did voluntarily agree to appear before the Senate panel's initial hearing scheduled for May 22. However, that hearing was later moved to June 5 after Penny and other USA Gymnastics officials became unable to attend the May date. 

As a result of the change, Simon's lawyer refused a subpoena last week calling for Simon to appear before the subcommittee on the rescheduled June 5 date. Simon herself was then subpoenaed by U.S. marshals to appear at the June 5 hearing.

She did appear, and what she said marked her first public commentary on the Nassar crisis since her resignation from MSU. In her testimony to the panel, Simon said that she was troubled by what had occurred at MSU during her time in office.

"I am horrified that Nassar’s crimes happened during my tenure,"  Simon said. "Had I known that Nassar was sexually abusing young women, I would have taken immediate action to prevent him from preying on additional victims, including terminating his employment and reporting him to the police."

Simon then took numerous questions from senators, but maintained a defensive stance on the MSU administration's initial 2014 Title IX investigation into Nassar's practices. Nassar was cleared by MSU police and the university at the time, but a 2016 report by the Indianapolis Star revealed that the 2014 investigation ultimately failed to catalogue Nassar's predatory behavior. 

Rachael Denhollander filed the August 2016 Title IX complaint that went on to expose Nassar's abuse of young athletes at MSU and within USA Gymnastics. Nassar was terminated from MSU on Sept. 20, 2016.  

At the hearing, Simon said that she felt the investigators "did their best" during the 2014 investigation, which was first brought to the table by survivor Amanda Thomanshow.

U.S. Senator Gary Peters, D-Mich. and MSU alumnus, disagreed, calling the delay "inexcusable."

Simon testified that she had no knowledge that Nassar's practices and "treatments" were of a criminal nature. She said determining the credibility of Nassar's treatments, even when he was still employed by MSU, was under the jurisdiction of USA Gymnastics. 

She also told the panel that she had heard about complaints of Nassar's boss, former Dean of the MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine William Strampel, in 2004. As provost of MSU at the time, she did not consider Strampel's reported behavior to be more than inappropriate commentary.

Simon's testimony before the panel took place on the same day that Strampel faced a preliminary hearing in East Lansing for sexual misconduct charges.

As the hearing closed out, Simon was asked what could be done to further remedy the crisis at MSU. She admitted that MSU had acted "imperfectly" and told the panel that she would be willing to assist in finding a solution to prevent that in the future. 

End of the hearing

At the hearing's end, members of the subcommittee panel said similar hearings would likely follow the June 5 discussion. 

The hearing, which was televised live on C-SPAN, can be watched in its entirety here

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