Campus group urges Michigan State to hire outsider as president
- A Michigan State University (MSU) group has called for the college to choose a new president from outside the institution through a more transparent process, saying university leadership has failed to adequately respond to sexual abuse and assault.
- Reclaim MSU — a group of students, faculty, staff and alumni formed over the university's handling of allegations against convicted sexual abuser Larry Nassar — wrote that any internal candidate in the university's "calcified, top-down, secretive and retaliatory culture cannot effectively change it."
- The group also noted an investigation that led to charges against its former president alleging she lied to police about her knowledge of the abuses. "Any candidate who has risen high enough within MSU to be a candidate for the presidency has risen high enough to be a potential subject of this ongoing investigation," the group wrote.
Whoever takes over MSU's presidency will have their work cut out to restore the university's reputation as the fallout over the Nassar scandal continues.
An independent special counsel report released in December said MSU has been stonewalling the investigation and fostering a "culture of indifference toward sexual assault, motivated by its desire to protect its reputation." It also found MSU employees tended to give the "benefit of the doubt" to Nassar due to his presumed medical expertise and not to the young women who came forward with allegations against him.
Simon is not the only MSU leader to face allegations of participating in a cover-up or of lying to investigators about Nassar. A former MSU gymnastics coach has also been charged with lying to police, and Nassar's boss at the university was charged last year with committing sexual abuse as well. Investigators are still fighting to obtain documents that MSU has used claims of attorney-client privilege to withhold.
The potential legal consequences for MSU employees are not without precedent. Graham Spanier, the former president of Penn State University, was convicted in 2017 for endangering the welfare of a child after he failed to notify police that someone had seen Jerry Sandusky, the former assistant football coach, sexually abusing a boy in the university's locker room showers.
Amid the unrest at the university, Reclaim MSU has sought more student and faculty governing power to increase transparency of the presidential search. In addition, the group points out in its letter that MSU's faculty senate has sought the resignation of the board of trustees. However, two female, Democratic candidates were elected to the board in November and are seen as critics of how the university handled the controversy.
The tension at MSU is heightened due to the nature and extent of Nassar's crimes and the allegations that university leadership knew about and covered up the complaints. But college leadership nationwide has increasingly faced thorny issues. Last spring, departing University of Texas System Chancellor William McRaven said being president of a college or health institution was "the toughest job in the nation."
In the immediate aftermath of the scandal, MSU has also seen a drop-off in undergraduate applications, though university officials attribute the decline to a shrinking pool of high school graduates. Penn State saw similar declines in interest among prospective students after its scandal, though applications rebounded shortly after as the university invested heavily in marketing to recover its reputation.