Special counsel: MSU stonewalling Nassar investigation
- Michigan State University has stonewalled an investigation into its handling of allegations against sports doctor and convicted sexual abuser Larry Nassar while continuing to foster "a culture of indifference toward sexual assault, motivated by its desire to protect its reputation," according to an independent special counsel report released Dec. 21.
- William Forsyth, special prosecutor from the state Attorney General's office who has been investigating the MSU case, says that despite pledges from MSU to fully cooperate with the investigation, it has made the work more difficult by inappropriately using attorney client privilege and contesting the release of important documents, while "drowning investigators in irrelevant documents" and making misleading statements to the public.
- The report details several assaults and the manner in which they were addressed, finding in many cases "the tendency of MSU employees to give the benefit of the doubt to Nassar, not the young women who came forward."
MSU announced last month it was making most of an agreed-to $500 million settlement payment, punctuating a period where other universities faced a rash of charges and settlements over the mishandling of sexual misconduct by employees. The Wall Street Journal reported last year nearly two dozen public universities paid more than $10.5 million across 59 settlements related to sexual harassment claims in 2016 and 2017.
A year ago, The Washington Post reported Pennsylvania State University had settled all but one of the lawsuits related to former assistant football coach and convicted child molester Jerry Sandusky. Penn State paid more than $109 million to 30 people in settlements, with the scandal costing more than $250 million, The Post reported. MSU, for its part, has paid more than $17.5 million in legal fees, according to a review of invoices this past fall.
Leading Penn State officials were convicted of criminal charges because they knew of the complaint against Sandusky. Initially MSU officials claimed they did not know of Nassar's activities until media reports came out, though the new special counsel report as well as a host of lawsuits suggest otherwise. Former MSU President Lou Anna Simon was arraigned in November on charges of lying to police about her knowledge of Nassar's abuses and is scheduled for a preliminary hearing in the coming weeks.
In October, the University of Southern California agreed to pay $215 million to settle a federal class-action lawsuit involving potentially thousands of women who were mistreated by a former university gynecologist. Records of the sexual abuse were found dating back to 2000.
The publicity such scandals tend to draw can decrease the number and quality of applicants to the institution, one report found, though they tend to rebound. Preserving their reputation, and with it the applicants, donor dollars and other resources, is a key reason institutions attempt to cover up such events.
- State of Michigan Department of Attorney General Status of the Independent Special Counsel’s Investigation into Michigan State University’s Handling of the Larry Nassar Matter