Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Calls for Brianna Scott's resignation during Board of Trustees meeting, citing issues with Healing Fund

January 13, 2021
Prayer flags hang during the Finding Our Voice: Sister Survivors Speak Exhibition Opening Ceremony at the MSU Museum on April 16, 2019.
Prayer flags hang during the Finding Our Voice: Sister Survivors Speak Exhibition Opening Ceremony at the MSU Museum on April 16, 2019. —
Photo by Annie Barker | The State News

The Michigan State University Board of Trustees, during their Wednesday meeting, heard concerns about the handing of the Survivor Healing Fund with calls for the resignation of Trustee Brianna Scott during public participation. 

Scott is currently tasked with handling the Healing Fund, which offers support for counseling and mental health services to survivors of Larry Nassar in the form of expense reimbursement. Since its opening, many survivors have reported having issues receiving compensation due to issues with paperwork.

Alyssa Gorsling addressed the Board, calling on Scott to resign citing a continuous failure to ensure survivors are able to access the retribution they deserve.

“Trustee Scott has failed survivors, and in doing so, Trustee Scott has failed Michigan State," Gorsling said. "This healing fund she is supposed to oversee is an absolute mess. Nobody deserves the nightmare of abuse Brianna Scott has put these survivors through." 

In September, Scott and Joel Ferguson drew attention from the media after purchasing a building in downtown Muskegon, Michigan. News of the partnership saw an immediate reaction from the public who believe Scott to be the key in killing the independent investigation of the university’s actions regarding Nassar’s abuse. 

“By running a progressive platform based on reform and holding MSU accountable for the Nassar abuse and then doubling back and hindering an independent investigation to find out the truth, Brianna Scott has shown she is inadequate and unfit to make decisions and fulfill the promises her constituents elected her to do,” Gorsling said.

Elena Emory, who echoed Gorsling’s calls for resignation, underscored those concerns. Emory expressed a deep disappointment in Scott’s decision to obstruct the independent investigation which would hold the necessary powers accountable for Nassar’s abuse, stating she has turned her back on and betrayed survivors.

"Trustee Scott’s actions are reflective of a non-existent moral compass and a deep sense of self-empowerment at the expense of the Michigan State community," she said.

“In an astounding show of impropriety, Trustee Scott has chosen to leverage her position on this board to catapult herself forward and enrich herself financially at the expense of survivors of sexual assault,” Emory said.

Chair Dianne Byrum has also played a role in turning a blind eye to Scott's actions, Emory said. By appointing Scott to manage the distribution of funds to survivors through the Healing Fund despite knowing she has undermined efforts to help those struggling forward, Emory said Byrum should be held equally accountable.

During the meeting, Byrum along with Vice Chair Dan Kelly were unanimously reappointed to their roles for the following two years.

“Too long I have witnessed members of this board standing idly by looking the other way as grave wrongdoing was happening in your own backyards,” Emory said. “It is shameful. You were elected to serve this student body. We put our faith in this board and it has repeatedly let us down.”

In response during the meeting, Scott encouraged those with concerns about the Healing Fund to look at the website to see changes that have been made throughout the last year.

In a comment, Scott expressed confusion that all the comments during the meeting had been addressed to her given that she is not the only trustee in charge of the fund. Trustees Kelly Tebay and Melanie Foster also sit on the committee that handles the fund. Former Trustee Brian Mosallam also sat on the committee.

Scott said the group met with MSU Relationship Violence and Sexual Misconduct (RVSM) and the plan administrator multiple times to go through concerns and complaints that had been received in a letter from survivors. About 75% of the concerns addressed were able to be accommodated for, while the rest were indicated by the plan administrator that they would either not be proper or did not have the capacity to do so, Scott said.

"Everything that we've done in the updates you can find out what the changes were all on our website, so it was really interesting the comments that were made that they weren't aware of that or that they thought I had everything to do with it because I didn't," Scott said. "It was four people."

If there are any additional questions or difficulties, Scott said a number is available on the website that people can call anytime.

Jon Edwards, an MSU alumnus, also spoke at the meeting asking for reconciliation for suffering sustained by him and his wife Cheryl Edwards through a pattern of sexual misconduct at the hands of late MSU History Professor Harold Marcus. In a lawsuit filed against the university, the two claim Marcus used his position as Jon’s Ph.D. advisor to control and impede his progress toward his degree while sexually harassing him about Cheryl and wielding that influence to sexually harass and assault her. 

At Wednesday’s meeting, Edwards said Marcus had attempted to sexually assault his wife and had stalked her for a period of approximately two years. In defending his Ph.D. dissertation, Marcus imposed harsh new requirements, which resulted in Edward walking away without a degree after seven years, four languages, two years in the field and four years on a federal grant.

Under the influence of Graduate School Dean Thomas Jeitschko, Edwards said he was able to receive his Ph.D. retroactive to 1988 and Marcus’ honorific was unanimously excised by a committee vote. He said that despite this, after three years there has still been no progress made toward reconciliation from the history department.

Through the years, Edwards said not once has anybody asked what they can do to help him and his wife.

“No one asked a question remotely like that," Edwards said. "Marcus prevented me from completing my Ph.D. It was in essence, an academic fraud. My Ph.D., which I now have, is worthless without meaningful reconciliation and we have exhausted all the possible avenues at the university."

Pat O’Keefe, a newly appointed member to the board, acknowledged Edwards’ comments, stating that to him, words mean something but actions are essential.

“I’m a show-me person, and I can appreciate some of your concerns relative to the actions of the university relative to words that have been presented and I know that that’s a difficult decision,” O’Keefe said.

This article has been updated to include a comment from Trustee Brianna Scott.

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