Sunday, September 27, 2020

Spring 2019: A semester in review

April 25, 2019
Media surrounds Dianne Byrum and newly named interim president Satish Udpa during a Board of Trustees meeting on Jan. 13, 2019 at the Hannah Administration Building.
Media surrounds Dianne Byrum and newly named interim president Satish Udpa during a Board of Trustees meeting on Jan. 13, 2019 at the Hannah Administration Building. —
Photo by Sylvia Jarrus | The State News

Several changes and events took place at Michigan State in spring 2019. As the semester comes to a close, here’s a look back on some notable stories:

Engler resigns, Satish Udpa replaces him 

On Jan. 16, John Engler resigned as interim president of Michigan State. 

Engler’s resignation came after he made several comments about survivors of Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse — in one interview with The Detroit News Editorial Board,  he said survivors were “enjoying” the “spotlight.” He also moved forward with the decision to discontinue the Healing Assistance Fund, a $10 million fund established in December 2017 to provide resources needed for counseling and mental health services to Nassar survivors. 

Survivors, student and faculty group Reclaim MSU and other members of the university community called for Engler’s resignation numerous times throughout his tenure. 

Trustee Brian Mosallam made a motion at a June 2018 Board of Trustees meeting to terminate Engler from his position “for failing to uphold the standards of conduct expected from a leader of this university.” Only Mosallam and Trustee Dianne Byrum supported the motion — it failed, 6-2.

At an emergency meeting on Jan. 17, the board unanimously approved Engler’s resignation — effective immediately — and appointed former dean of the College of Engineering Satish Udpa as the university’s acting president.

“A wrong has been righted today, and the first thing I have to say is I’m sorry it took so long,” Trustee Kelly Tebay said at the meeting. “To the survivors, to their families and this community: We hear you, and we’re listening, and we are sorry it took so long. I really hope this is the first step in a long road to really changing the culture of this institution.”

Udpa has continued to apologize to survivors at board meetings.

“I’ve also had an opportunity to meet with some of the survivors and some of the parents,” Udpa said to The State News Editorial Board in April. “I’ve personally met with them, acknowledged the issues that we’ve had in the past.”

On Feb. 28, a temporary Healing Assistance Fund was set up for Nassar survivors with the goal of providing resources until a permanent fund is set up. 

The board is in the process of reinstating the permanent Healing Assistance Fund, Udpa told The State News. He said it will be reinstated “shortly” and that there have been extensive discussions among trustees.

Michigan State suspends classes amid polar vortex

When Central Michigan University, Grand Valley State University and multiple other schools closed due to extreme weather in late January, Michigan State students still had to trek through sub-zero temperatures and a blizzard.

Many students expressed frustration with the university for not cancelling classes initially.

However, MSU cancelled classes Jan. 30 and Jan. 31 due to dangerously cold temperatures and poor road conditions — the first time MSU cancelled classes since 2014.

This was also the seventh time in MSU’s history classes were cancelled due to weather. 

In an attempt to cut back on gas consumption, MSU Culinary Services also changed dining hall menus to require less cooking time and the university reduced the temperatures in academic and administrative buildings.

Ex-MSU President Simon begins her preliminary hearing, ex-Dean William Strampel hit with new charge

Former President Lou Anna K. Simon was charged with four counts of lying to a peace officer during the Michigan Attorney General’s investigation into the university’s handling of Nassar’s sexual abuse in November 2018. In February, Simon began her preliminary hearing.

Several witnesses — including survivor Amanda Thomashow, former head of MSU’s Title IX Office Paulette Granberry Russell, Kristine Moore, who led the 2014 investigation that ultimately cleared Nassar of any sexual misconduct, and more — spoke during the four days of Simon’s preliminary hearing.

The preliminary hearing will resume June 11 with the defense’s cross-examination of Marti Howe, the retired former executive assistant of Simon.

An additional charge was added in the criminal case against former dean of the MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine.

A more in-depth look at the criminal cases involving Michigan State this school year can be found here.

Basketball goes to Final Four, Cedar Village burns couches in celebration

After Michigan State’s 68-67 win against Duke in the Elite Eight on March 31, fans celebrated in Cedar Village by burning a couch and setting other small fires. The crowd consisted of 600 to 800 fans. 

The last time MSU beat Duke was in 2005. 

Members of the crowd burned coats, pizza boxes and a couch. People danced and jumped close to the fire.

After a reported 12 fires were set after MSU’s win against Duke, Michigan State and the East Lansing Police Department warned that participating and attending “destructive gatherings” could result in consequences, like suspension or expulsion from the university in addition to criminal charges. 

Shortly after MSU’s 61-51 loss against Texas Tech in the Final Four on April 7, Cedar Village was heavily monitored by police. 

Large crowds of disappointed fans were formed. Some people threw bottles and cans. 

As the crowd headed to the middle of Grand River Avenue, one person picked up a “Road Closed” sign. That person and several others  were arrested that night. 

"Finding Our Voice: Sister Survivors Speak" exhibit opens at the MSU Museum

A committee composed of survivors of Nassar’s abuse, their parents, allies and members of the MSU Museum staff spent months curating the exhibit that will remain open until early 2020.

Outlining the exhibit is a timeline covering decades of abuse, institutional failings and forms of advocacy among MSU students, staff, faculty and others. The timeline, several pieces of artwork, signs of protest, teal ribbons and more urge to encourage conversations surrounding sexual assault and to “consider together strategies to promote institutional change and nurture cultures of safety, compassion, and healing.”

“When people see this, they’ll understand the magnitude of the situation and also the fact that it extends so far beyond the 505 girls," said Grace French, survivor and creator of the Army of Survivors. "There’s a huge cultural problem in East Lansing and at MSU, but also across the country and the world that needs to be addressed. That only happens when we’re having these conversations and we’re educating ourselves. That’s a huge first step.”

Last public update on presidential search

Michigan State sent out a final update on the presidential search to the university community Feb. 7. 

In the update, Trustees and co-chairs of the Presidential Search Committee Byrum and Melanie Foster said the committee has assembled a diverse pool of candidates for consideration.

According to the presidential search timeline, the committee has been collaborating with the Board of Trustees to review applications and conduct interviews with candidates since February. The interviews will be completed in May. 

It was decided in the fall that the presidential search would be closed to the public in order to “draw the strongest pool of candidates.”

Reclaim MSU, the James Madison College Student Senate, news outlets like the Lansing State Journal, activists on campus and other members of the community have expressed concern with this, and more than 400 people have signed a petition on Change.org calling for an open presidential search. 

“There is no empirical evidence that a closed search yields ‘better’ results, even in normal circumstances,” the petition reads. “The circumstances at MSU are far from normal. There will be no confidence in a search that omits open dialogue between the community and the top candidates.”

Byrum said she and Foster have tried to make the process as transparent as possible. 

The presidential search committee conducted more than 22 input sessions, compiled notes from these sessions and will use them to evaluate candidates. 

Once interviews are completed in May, the Board of Trustees will choose — and the committee will announce — who the university’s permanent president will be. Byrum said she hopes the chosen candidate will begin as MSU’s next president by June or the start of July. 

Udpa told The State News that the “one non-negotiable personal attribute” the next president should have is integrity. Before he or she is announced, Udpa said he wants to help in the transition. 

“I want to make his or her job as easy as possible because at the end of the day, we want that person to focus on things that are important,” he said. “That’s the goal.”

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