Monday, October 19, 2020

From Simon to Stanley: MSU's struggle to find leadership after Nassar

January 24, 2020
<p>Former Michigan State University President Lou Anna K. Simon appears at a preliminary hearing at Eaton County District Court on April 16, 2019. Simon is charged with four counts of lying to a peace officer, including two felonies.</p>

Former Michigan State University President Lou Anna K. Simon appears at a preliminary hearing at Eaton County District Court on April 16, 2019. Simon is charged with four counts of lying to a peace officer, including two felonies.

Photo by Anntaninna Biondo | The State News

After the official resignation of ex-Michigan State University President Lou Anna K. Simon, MSU has encountered three changes in leadership after the abuses of ex-Olympic doctor, MSU physician Larry Nassar surfaced. Nearly two years later, court decisions regarding Simon have yet to conclude.

"As tragedies are politicized, blame is inevitable. As president, it is only natural that I am the focus of this anger," Simon said in her letter of resignation to the MSU Board of Trustees in January 2018.

Simon officially resigned on Jan. 24th, 2018 only hours after Nassar was sentenced to a maximum of 175 years in prison.

Shortly after Simon's resignation, former Gov. John Engler was appointed MSU's interim president on Jan. 31st, 2018. His appointment was met with backlash from Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to go public with her story about the abuse she endured at the hands of Nassar, as well as MSU College Democrats.

"I am beyond disappointed to hear this," Denhollander wrote in a Facebook post in January 2018. "Engler is a deep political insider at MSU. At a time the university desperately needs, and survivors pleaded for, outside accountability and leadership, the Board chooses one of the most entrenched insiders. Despite the Board's words about accountability, it is business as usual."

In April of 2018, Nassar survivor Kaylee Lorincz alleged that Engler had tried to coerce her into settling the lawsuit between the over 300 survivors of Nassar's sexual abuse and the university in a meeting without her lawyer present. Lorincz also alleged that Engler tried to offer her a monetary sum of $250,000 to settle the lawsuit.

"He's manipulative. Larry was a manipulator and now we have (Interim) President Engler being a manipulator," Lorincz said. "It's MSU for you, I guess."

In May 2018, U.S. marshals subpoenaed Simon to testify in front of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance and Data Security investigating the Olympic community's role in handling sexual assault. At the hearing the following month, Simon maintained that she had no knowledge that Nassar's practices were of a criminal nature.

Engler also appeared before the same subcommittee in July 2018, where he provided testimony describing the actions MSU had taken after Nassar. Some of the changes included assisting survivors, improving investigations of sexual assault reports and removing those who enabled Nassar. He said the most important change MSU had made was increasing accountability.

At the first Board of Trustees meeting of the 2018-2019 academic year, Grace French and Natalie Venuto Hawkins, survivors of Nassar, and Joan Meinke, the mother of Nassar survivor Emily Meinke, appeared to show they weren't happy because the Board of Trustees had failed to included them in the MSU presidential search committee.

Reclaim MSU, a student and faculty group formed due to the university's handling of reports against Nassar's abuse, also proposed that the presidential search process be written into the MSU Board of Trustees' bylaws as an open, transparent and inclusive search.

Despite calls for inclusion in the presidential search committee by survivors, students and faculty, the committee announced, in November 2018, the search would be closed to the public.

Around the same time, ex-President Lou Anna K. Simon was officially charged with two felony charges and two misdemeanor charges for lying to investigators. All charges come from the Title IX investigation into Amanda Thomashow’s 2014 complaint against Nassar.

Simon allegedly discussed Nassar's sexual abuse in a meeting in May 2014, according to court records. Initially, she told investigators she didn't know the "nature of the complaint" that launched the investigation. When asked by investigators if she was aware of an investigation into Nassar before 2016, she gave a statement implying she did not know Nassar was the subject of the 2014 investigation.

Without a conclusion to the presidential search, in January 2019, Engler resigned after calls for his resignation by those inside and outside the university. His resignation occurred after comments he made about survivors in an interview with The Detroit News Editorial Board, where he said they were “enjoying the spotlight."

After Engler's resignation, Satish Udpa, former dean of MSU’s College of Engineering, was appointed as MSU's interim president the next day.

In February 2019, Simon's preliminary examination began. Amanda Thomashow, a Nassar survivor, delivered a testimony detailing the report she made to MSU about her March 2014 abuse. This was the first court testimony Thomashow had made in any proceeding related to her assault.

The prosecution showed evidence against Simon, including email communication between Paulette Granberry Russell, a former senior presidential advisor, regarding an "incident involving a sports medicine doc," in May 2014.

Satish Udpa filled the role of interim president until current MSU President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. was chosen to permanently fill the position in May 2019. Stanley began his term the following August.

In an interview with The State News in August 2019, Stanley said his top goals were to make a safer campus, create a culture that’s more accountable, emphasize sexual assault prevention, promote education and awareness surrounding sexual assault, meet with survivors of Larry Nassar's abuse, restore trust in the university administration and be more inclusive and transparent.

In October 2019, Judge Julie Reincke ruled that Simon will stand trial for allegations of lying to Michigan State Police officials about her knowledge of Nassar's sexual abuse.

Simon was charged with two counts of lying to a peace officer in a violent crime investigation, a four year felony. She was also charged with two counts of lying to a peace officer in a four year or more crime investigation, which is a high-court misdemeanor with a maximum of two years. Each charge includes a possible fine of $5,000.

The defense plans to "vigorously defend" Simon, according to one of her attorneys, Lee Silver.

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