Saturday, July 24, 2021

Survivors, community make final plea for MSU to release 6,000 document investigation into Nassar

March 24, 2021
POSSE hung up teal ribbons outside of Former President Lou Anna K. Simon's office in April 2018 with a name of each survivor on a ribbon.
POSSE hung up teal ribbons outside of Former President Lou Anna K. Simon's office in April 2018 with a name of each survivor on a ribbon. —
Photo by Jared Ramsey | The State News

The final deadline, March 26, is rapidly approaching for Michigan State and the Board of Trustees to allow the Attorney General’s office to complete its investigation of Michigan State’s handling of the Larry Nassar scandal. 

The Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel notified Michigan State and the Board of Trustees with a letter Feb. 24 that Michigan State has until March 26 to release approximately 6,000 documents regarding the investigation of its handling of the Larry Nassar scandal.

In her letter to the Board of Trustees, Nessel said that if Michigan State does not comply with the request from the Attorney General’s Office and waive its assertion of privilege on the documents, they would end the investigation into MSU without a proper conclusion. 

According to the letter, the Attorney General’s office has explored every legal avenue to obtain the documents, but cannot continue the investigation without access to the documents with permission of the Board. 

Kaylee Lorincz, one of the survivors that testified against Nassar in court, said that if Michigan State wants to live up to their word in helping survivors heal, they need to waive its privilege on the documents.

“From the beginning, MSU and the Board of Trustees specifically have always talked about wanting to do the right thing and how important it is to them to do the right thing for the school,” Lorincz said. “They said that since day one, and they have not done the right thing at all. With these 6,000 documents, they've had every opportunity for so long to release them. And now the pressure’s on, this is your last shot, the time is now. Release these documents. Let myself and these other survivors and their families heal.”

Lorincz said cooperation from the Board with the investigation would help provide closure for survivors in their healing process, whether or not the information in the documents provides new information or not.

“Prove to people that there really is nothing in those documents ... or if they're released and there's something that can be investigated or resolved or whatever needs to happen, that helps in the healing process," Lorincz said. "If there's something to hide, will it hurt? Absolutely. But they were released, and we know about it and we can do something in order to help that.”

Michigan State has reiterated that the contents of the documents do not contain any information that is not already known by the investigators and public. 

Trustee Renee Knake said that she reviewed the documents throughout 2020 in an address during the final Board of Trustees meeting of the year.  

"I am treating them as privileged," said Knake in the December Board meeting. "... I can report, however, that what I learned from these documents is consistent with information that is already in the public domain." 

Knake was appointed to the Board of Trustees in December 2019 following the resignation of former Trustee Nancy Schlichting that stemmed from the University’s handling of the investigation and the failure to move forward with an independent investigation. 

In her resignation statement, Schlichting wrote, "During the last year ... it has become very clear to me that my commitment to have an independent review of the Nassar situation, and to waive privilege so the truth can come out, is not shared by the MSU Board Chair, legacy Board members, and some newer trustees." 

Valerie von Frank, the founder of Parents of Sisters Survivors Engage (POSSE),  said that she believes that Michigan State should have nothing to hide if Knake was being truthful in saying that the documents contained no new information.

“If these documents, as Renee Knake, who read them, has said, contain no new information, then they should be released,” said von Frank. “If the information in them is new, then we need to know what it says, the AG needs to know what it says.”

In von Frank’s eyes, the drawn-out fight over the documents has been a “slap in the face” to survivors and their families that have been pushing for transparency.

Lorincz said the prolonged fight over the release of the documents has diminished her hope to regain trust in the University and that their actions have not matched the statements they have made to survivors. 

“I think that we have been waiting so long and have been so hopeful that as bad as it sucks to say I've kind of run out of hope,” Lorincz said. “As much as I would love to see these documents released, and we can have these answers, I mean, they have three days left to do so. So I would love to say I'm hopeful, but I think if they truly want to turn things around and really put survivors first, they'll release these documents. But if they don't release these documents, it speaks volumes of their priority in helping us heal and wanting us to move forward, and, you know, stop this cycle of trauma.”

MSU community supporting the release of documents

ReclaimMSU, an alliance of students, faculty and alumni demanding transparency and accountability from Michigan State, penned an open letter to the Board of Trustees to cooperate with the Attorney General’s request and waive its privilege to the documents. 

As of March 7, the open letter has garnered 476 signatures in support of the letter asking Michigan State to reconsider its decision to not waive its privilege. The signatures include survivors and family members of survivors, current students and staff, alumni and former staff members, and members of the Michigan Legislature. 

Andaluna Borcila, an associate faculty professor of James Madison College and member of ReclaimMSU, said that Michigan State cannot move forward until it makes a commitment to full transparency and accountability, which starts with releasing the documents in her mind.

“We believed from the very beginning that an absolutely critical step in this direction of transparency and accountability is to release these documents,” said Borcila. “The sister survivors have repeated this as well and have asked for this to happen and have pointed to the crucial importance that releasing the documents and having this transparency will have for them.”

Borcila said that Michigan State needs to rebuild its culture to focus on the community and their voices, rather than using a top-down administrative approach to problems.

“We need to no longer have a top-down administrative culture,” Borcila said. “We need to have people encouraged to speak up. We need to have the voices of people listen to voices of students, voices of faculty, voices of staff, particularly when they're bringing forward ways in which the institution is not providing the safety, and the security that they need.”

Neil Wolf, a lawyer that specializes in legal matters for institutions such as universities and previously served as general counsel for Benedictine University for five years, said that he co-signed the open letter because he took issue with the use of attorney-client privilege to shield MSU from waiving its privilege. 

“Attorney-client privilege is really important, and attorneys go nuts when you suggest, ‘well, would you ever talk to your client about possibly dropping privilege in the public interest?’ If there's ever such a case, if this isn't it, then there's no such case that could exist,” Wolf said. “Because many completely innocent girls and women were harmed. And yes, we call them survivors. But that doesn't take away the fact that they had something to survive through.”

The East Lansing City Council also passed a resolution during a meeting on March 23 to support sister survivors and asked Michigan State to cooperate with the Attorney General’s investigation.

The East Lansing City Council cannot compel Michigan State to comply with the Attorney General’s request but adds to the mounting public pressure on the University to cooperate with the investigation. 

“THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the City Council of the City of East Lansing honors the Sister Survivors who turned adversity into a national movement for truth and healing, and respectfully requests that Michigan State University be a leader among universities by immediately releasing the remaining documents,” wrote the East Lansing City Council in the resolution. 

In the Resolution, the City Council called on Michigan State to be leaders in how institutions should respond to sexual abuse by cooperating with the investigation.

“What happens at MSU actually sets an example for how to deal with this,” Borcila said. “We've set some bad examples here with how to, you know, deal with this. We've also made some progress, but without this release of the documents, things will just not move forward.”

In an email, Vice President and University Spokesperson Emily Guerrant said that the university did not have a comment on the resolution itself, but said that they are aware of Nessel's request and the Board is discussing the issue.

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