Sunday, September 20, 2020

Udpa and trustees apologize to survivors, takeaways from board meeting

February 15, 2019
during a Board of Trustees meeting on Jan. 13, 2019 at the Hannah Administration Building. Satish Udpa was named the new interim president.
during a Board of Trustees meeting on Jan. 13, 2019 at the Hannah Administration Building. Satish Udpa was named the new interim president. —
Photo by Sylvia Jarrus | The State News

In addition to updates on the new Healing Assistance Fund and the establishment of a Department of African American and African Studies, members of the MSU Board of Trustees continued to strike a reconciliatory tone at its Friday meeting. 

Here are takeaways from the meeting’s discussions and actions.

Udpa’s formal apology met with praise

Acting President Satish Udpa began his first official meeting by making a formal apology statement to survivors, a move that was met with praise from members of the community during public comment.

In his statement, Udpa echoed a letter he wrote about Nassar survivors a year ago, in which he said MSU's first obligation to survivors was to help them recover and "become whole." He said what happened can't be changed, but MSU can help with healing and create a safe environment for the community.

"That was my feeling then," Udpa said in his statement. "It is still how I feel today, and I will work to establish the policies and procedures necessary to put us on that road."

Udpa also mentioned he met with a group of survivors last week, to whom he apologized that MSU "let them down." He reiterated this to survivors present at the meeting, and said he'd do the same for others if they came to the next board meeting in April.

"I want you to know that on behalf of this university I love, as acting president and an executive officer, and as a former dean and faculty member, I realize the need to formally apologize and to effectively atone," Udpa said.

Udpa also said he would not talk about "putting this behind us," and made a commitment to listen more, ask more questions, and "act more thoughtfully."

Members of the audience applauded at the conclusion of Udpa's statement. Bryan Tarrant, father of survivor Jessica Tarrant, thanked Udpa for his apology during his public comment.

“I think that’s the first time I’ve heard a sincere, caring apology from that table and I thank you for the tone change,” Tarrant said. 

Kelly apologizes for "adversarial position"

Vice Chair Dan Kelly also made an apology to survivors at the meeting. During his individual comment, Kelly said he appreciated Udpa’s comments, but said they were coming from the wrong person. 

“I, as a board member, want to acknowledge that over the past year I’ve allowed an adversarial position between the university and the survivors,” Kelly said. “That was my mistake and that’s on me, it was not the president’s fault for having done that. So I apologize for that.”

Kelly said he began meeting with survivors over the last two months with the help of new members of the board. He said he’s learned a lot from them, and said they can solve issues and move forward together when they understand each other’s positions. As a guest of survivor Morgan McCaul, Kelly attended a rally to commemorate the one-year anniversary of Nassar’s sentencing in January.

“I’ve always acknowledged the university has an ethical, humanitarian, moral and fiduciary duty owed to the survivors," Kelly said. "But what I’ve learned from the survivors is that they acknowledge that I, as a board member, also have an ethical, humanitarian, moral and yes, a fiduciary duty to the university, to the current students, to the future students as well as to the MSU community.

“I’m optimistic, and I wish I had done it a year ago.”

Trustee Joel Ferguson also showed interest in reconciling with survivors. He asked Udpa to set up a meeting between him and several survivors, so that they might “find common ground.”

“I feel kind of left out,” Ferguson said.

Second wave of Nassar survivors represented

In the meeting's public participation section, Tarrant spoke about “Wave 2” of the Nassar survivors — those who weren’t involved in the initial settlement. 

Tarrant also addressed Trustees Brian Mosallam and Kelly Tebay for reaching out and talking to survivors and their parents. But Tarrant voiced his concern for the way the board might view the second wave of survivors. 

“I hear discouraging things — and maybe they’re wrong, and I apologize if they are — that lowball offers are being sent to this Wave 2 of survivors,” Tarrant said. “They’re no less victims than the first wave of survivors.”

Tarrant said he wants equal treatment for the second wave. He added the board needs to take this into consideration in the ongoing search for the university’s next president.

“I would be here to tell you that I don’t want a president that is not willing to put their name out there publicly and is not going to go through the scrutiny of what a public forum would look like,” Tarrant said. 

Nassar survivor and former gymnast Selina Mirjavadi also spoke to the board.

She said what Nassar did to her was “horrible, hateful and humiliating” and described how the experience gave her severe post-traumatic stress disorder. Because of that, she said she felt like she couldn’t tell her loved ones what had happened to her.

“I was unable to be a part of the first group to come forward,” Mirjavadi said. “I was in too much pain and I did not want to hurt my loved ones.”

But it reached a point where she couldn’t hold it back any longer. She came forward with her story and joined the Wave 2 survivors. 

Mirjavadi said the board needed to realize how damaging it is for her and other survivors to experience suspicion from the university. 

“This happened to so many girls and every single case is as tragic as the next,” Mirjavadi said. “I’m addressing you today in the hopes that our stories will remain imprinted in your memories.”

The initial settlement for the Nassar survivors included $75 million for new claims, according to Michigan Radio. When asked if the $75 million would be enough for those in the second wave, like Mirjavadi, Udpa said he was unsure.

“I don’t know. I hope so,” Udpa said. “That’s the agreement, I think we should stick to that figure.”

New building developments

The board also approved leases and authorized planning for projects at the meeting, including a long-term lease for a Panera restaurant in the new Business College Pavilion.

Planning was approved for “refurbishment” of IM Sports-West’s outdoor pool, which is currently closed, said Barbara Kranz, director of Facilities Planning and Space Management.

“The outdoor pool opened in 1958 along with the building, and it’s essentially at the end of its useful life,” Kranz.

With planning now underway, Kranz said the pool should be reopened by summer 2020.

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