MSU needs new leaders to help healing

My dad sat in the front seat, riding across the Michigan State campus, looking at a place he didn’t recognize anymore.

This did not look like the school he graduated from in 1953.

“Everything has changed!” he said, looking at the new buildings — which was, for him, anything built after 1960.

My dad is 87 years old. He’s an incredibly proud MSU alumnus. He is the son of an MSU graduate and he was on campus for the first time in several decades, wearing a Spartan pullover, to watch his grandson graduate from MSU.

We drove past the Breslin Center.

“I’ve never been in there,” he said.

It was the first week of May and the campus was full of excitement. It was graduation weekend for more than 5,600 undergraduates. Everywhere you looked, there were students wearing caps and gowns, walking around with packs of parents and friends, posing for pictures in front of anything with an MSU logo. The weather was perfect.

It looked perfect.

But underneath that pride and joy, there was something dark and gut wrenching.

It’s impossible to go on the MSU campus and not think about Larry Nassar, a serial pedophile and child molester.

It’s impossible not to think about the hundreds of survivors. I marvel at their courage. At how they brought this to light.

As we continued to tour campus, my dad brought it up, out of the blue. Instead of being washed in nostalgia, he was full of sadness for the victims.

“One sick, sexual pervert,” my dad said, shaking his head in disgust.

I nodded my head.

But days later, the more I thought about it, it was more than one sick evil man.

It took a village for Nassar to find the space and time and freedom to do his devil’s work.

He could have been stopped. He should have been stopped. But he wasn’t, because of a culture that still needs to be fixed, starting with the removal of the school’s leadership.

At the root of the problem is something very simple: A desire to protect the MSU brand more than individuals.

And it has injured this university to the core. The school announced on Wednesday it had settled with more than 300 survivors for $500 million. Which is welcome news, the first step in the healing process.

But it’s only a start.

“The Red Cedar!” my dad said, looking out of the window.

Finally, something he recognized.

Time for clean sweep

A few hours later, we sat in the Breslin Center, waiting for the ceremony to start, looking at the new 2018 Big Ten championship banner, hanging from above.

I leafed through a fancy commencement program and looked at a list of the Board of Trustees. How in the world do they still have their positions? They have botched this so many times I lost count. This settlement is the first thing they have done right.

Now, I have to admit I don’t know any of them. I’m sure some are fine people. And maybe, it’s unfair to lump them all together. But this university has to be fixed from the top down. It needs a clean sweep. A fresh start.

On the first page of the program, there was a picture and a quote from John Engler, the interim MSU president: “With the seal on your diploma, you carry the great tradition of the land grant university forward. So be bold. Continue your transformation from learners to leaders.”

I just about threw up. At my kid’s graduation.

Engler disgusts me. You might remember, he allegedly offered Kaylee Lorincz, one of the survivors, a payoff to go away.

“Mr. Engler then looked directly at me and asked, ‘Right now, if I wrote you a check for $250,000, would you take it?’ ” Lorincz said, according to reports.

It was disgusting and inappropriate and, now, in the wake of the news about the settlement, it is even more sickening, how Engler low-balled her like this was a simple business transaction. Appalling.

“Our memories and interpretations of the March 28 meeting are different than hers,” Engler said later in a news release. “I am sorry if anything said during the meeting was misunderstood.”

Right.

You want this Board of Trustees running this place? After it followed one sickening move after another, all the way to bringing in Engler?

You want any of them to have any influence on hiring a new president? Or even a new athletic director? Or trying to figure out how to pay for this settlement?

You want them to be the ones who will try to create a new culture here?

To learn from the mistakes and ensure it won’t ever happen again?

This university won’t move on until this leadership is totally changed.

Renewed hope

During one of the graduation ceremonies, some students dropped teal flowers at Engler’s feet. It was a wonderful moment that did not go unnoticed by some of the survivors.

“Today is the first day in a long time I have felt proud to be a Spartan,”  Lindsey Lemke, one of the Nassar survivors, wrote on Twitter. “Because of the study body who show support for change for themselves, their friends & even some they don’t know. THIS is what being Spartan resembles.”

This settlement is just the first step of a painful, necessary healing process.

The next is for investigations to continue. For more heads to roll, if need be. For more charges, if need be. To find every single reason this happened. And hopefully, to go after the pensions of those involved.

But the culture won’t change until this university learns that protecting people is more important than protecting the brand.

Can that happen? I truly believe so.

And my faith comes from those graduates.

From the teal flowers at Engler’s feet.

After my son’s graduation ceremony, several hundred students got up and started to walk out of the arena. And that’s when everything changed for me.

It was like watching a wave of youthful excitement and possibility. When you see hundreds of graduates in their caps and gowns, when you look at all of those young faces filled with excitement, marching toward their futures, you realize how big this university is. How great it is. This place is filled with too many great people, too many smart alumni, too much passion, for them not to find a way out of this and come back from this.

The settlement was the first step.

But these survivors need more than money.

They deserve to have this fixed. They deserve for the culture to be changed.

The next step is a change at the top. A change of leadership. A clean sweep and a new start and a new vision.

So I ask these new graduates to use Englers’ own words against him. To be bold. To transform from being learners to leaders. To join with all the others and transform this place.

To return MSU to a place it once was.

The place where my dad went to school.

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