GUEST VIEW: Michigan State can’t rebuild or gain trust with Simon at helm

The following editorial was published in the Detroit Free Press:

(TNS) Although neither she nor the trustees she reports to appear prepared to acknowledge it, Michigan State University President Lou Anna Simon’s tenure as leader of the institution she has presided over for 13 years has come to an effective end.

Precisely when her position became untenable is debatable. Was it when the Indianapolis Star first reported molestation allegations leveled against former MSU physician Larry Nassar by young women he had treated as the team doctor for USA Gymnastics? When legislative leaders in both parties joined the legions demanding her resignation? When viewers around the world were transfixed by the sentencing hearing in which Nassar’s victims have confronted him, and the university that enabled his reign of terror?

But that argument has become an academic one, overtaken by MSU’s urgent and undeniable need for new leadership.

The embattled Michigan State president survived a weekend most observers thought she wouldn’t, backed by all save one member of the school’s Board of Trustees.

Both the board and Simon have seemed more focused on limiting the school’s liability than making its wrongs right. Simon drew fire for skipping the first day of victim impact statements at Nassar’s sentencing. The second day, she showed up, but her fumbling answers to basic questions did little to reassure victims that she understands how MSU’s passivity abetted their tormentor.

Confronted with a Detroit News report that she and other MSU officials had been notified that the U.S. Dept. of Education was investigating complaints against Nassar as early as 2014, Simon dismissed its significance, saying she’d never asked to see a copy of the investigators report.

On Monday, the three top members of USA Gymnastics’ board resigned. CEO Kerry Perry said, “We believe this step will allow us to more effectively move forward in implementing change within our organization.”

After former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky was accused of sexually assaulting boys, lots of folks wondered if that school would recover. It did; both enrollment and gifts from donors stayed strong in the years after the scandal, even as the university settled lawsuits in the tens of millions. But Penn State’s then-president Graham Spanier was forced out, and later convicted of child endangerment, as were other university officials. Trustees who’d served during Sandusky’s tenure left the board.

A report Penn State commissioned was released publicly; some of the charges filed against university officials derived, in part, from the report.

MSU has a lot to answer for. And a lot of work to do.

Two MSU board members up for re-election this year have decided not to run; they understand that at least in a popular vote, this scandal is not survivable. It shouldn’t be for Simon, either.

At MSU, “who knew”‘ is one question — “who should have known” is another. Nassar abused at least 140 girls and young women over decades. The university seems to be taking pains to cast Nassar’s crimes in isolation — a Nassar problem, not an MSU problem. After an internal investigation, the university said no report was produced, thus nothing could be released.

The school’s board of trustees has lost sight of its mission: A university is its people. Not a person. For the university to move forward, it has to change. The culture that allowed Nassar to flourish has to end. Simon, on whose watch Nassar’s crimes were committed, can’t credibly do that work.

avatar

Posted by Tribune News Services

Leave a Reply