Key stories students may have missed during winter break
The appointment of a new MSU trustee, an investigation update from the Michigan Attorney General's Office and calls to reopen the Healing Assistance Fund all occurred while MSU students were away from campus during winter recess.
Here's a breakdown of the three most significant pieces of MSU-related news to come out during the holidays.
Snyder takes input, appoints new trustee to the board
George Perles resigned from the MSU Board of Trustees Nov. 28, citing health issues. Then-Gov. Rick Snyder oversaw the appointment of a new trustee to the board.
Representatives from MSU student groups held a Dec. 17 meeting with Dick Posthumus, Snyder’s chief of staff. The student-led coalition listed qualities they wanted to see in a new trustee. They also gave the Governor’s office a list of candidates they wanted to be considered for the role, according to a previous State News article.
Before he left office, Snyder appointed Nancy Schlichting on Dec. 21 — the former CEO of Detroit’s Henry Ford Health System — to fill the gap on the board.
Schlichting is the fifth woman on the current board. She’ll serve the remainder of Perles’ term, which lasts until 2023. She has served on many governing boards – including Duke University’s Board of Trustees, on the boards of the Duke University Health System and with the Kresge Art Foundation, among others.
Snyder said he chose Schlichting because she has the leadership abilities to help the MSU community "be a catalyst for change."
“With the right leadership taking the appropriate actions, the entire MSU community can come together to help survivors heal, ignite culture change, and help the university move forward stronger than ever before,” Snyder said in a press release. "I am confident that with Nancy’s experience and expertise, she is the right person to help shape MSU’s future because she can be a catalyst for change in culture to ensure students have the best possible learning environment at this outstanding university."
Forsyth's update on MSU’s handling of Nassar
Special Prosecutor William Forsyth gave an update Dec. 21 on the Michigan Attorney General’s investigation into MSU’s handling of ex-MSU doctor Larry Nassar.
In a press conference, Forsyth said 105,000 pages of documents have been reviewed and more than 550 people were contacted as part of the investigation. The 16-page draft report detailed instances of MSU withholding information critical to the attorney general’s investigation.
In a Nov. 30 interview with The State News, Engler claimed the Attorney General's investigation ended when charges were brought against former MSU president Lou Anna K. Simon.
"... In terms of Michigan State, there’s really nothing left pending because the charges brought against former President Simon conclude the Attorney General’s investigation," Engler said.
Engler did believe the investigation "had concluded," which is why he made the statement, according an email from MSU Spokesperson Emily Guerrant.
That's not the case, Forsyth said. The Attorney General's Office is still waiting for 177 documents to be released by the university. Some of the documents already released were useless to investigators, and some can't be obtained because MSU is claiming attorney-client privilege. Forsyth said the Attorney General's Office won't know the extent of what happened with MSU and Nassar until attorney-client privilege is waived.
The report also said MSU issued misleading claims to the public, gave investigators unnecessary documentation and maintained their position on attorney-client privilege when it was not necessary.
“These actions warrant extended discussion because they highlight a common thread we encountered throughout the investigation into how the University handled allegations against Nassar,” Forsyth said in the report. “Both then and now, MSU has fostered a culture of indifference toward sexual assault, motivated by its desire to protect its reputation.”
The investigation now transitions to new Attorney General Dana Nessel's oversight. She succeeded Bill Schuette Jan. 1.
The investigation hinges on two things, according to Assistant Attorney General Christina Grossi: working to obtain more documents incorrectly classified as privileged and moving ahead in criminal prosecutions of individuals already charged in the investigation.
Those individuals include former MSU Dean William Strampel, former head MSU gymnastics Coach Kathie Klages and former MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon.
Calls to reopen Healing Assistance Fund continue
Multiple calls to reopen the Healing Assistance Fund — established to provide Nassar survivors with resources needed for counseling services — were also made over winter break.
Following MSU making the payment on a $500 million settlement with more than 300 women who sued the university after being assaulted by Nassar, the fund — which had been suspended since July 2018 due to an investigation into fraudulent claims — was closed.
In response to a memo from a sexual misconduct expert advisory group against discontinuing the healing fund, Engler sent an email saying the decision was "consistent with the board's position that the healing fund would be used as a bridge transition to a global settlement."
News of the Healing Assistance Fund's status as a "bridge" and would not be reopened came as a surprise. On Dec. 5, several trustees — including Brian Mosallam, Dianne Byrum, Brianna Scott and Kelly Tebay — issued a statement saying they didn't support Engler's decision.
A petition calling for the reinstatement of the fund also reached over 1,000 signatures over break.
Schlichting joined Mosallam, Byrum, Scott and Tebay in signing the petition. That makes five out of eight trustees who have publicly advocated for the fund's reopening. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, former Gov. Jennifer Granholm, Ingham County Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, Rachael Denhollander and multiple survivors have all signed the petition as well, according to a previous State News article.