MSU students call for more Nassar scandal transparency from leaders

By: - September 14, 2019 6:03 am
A statue on MSU's campus adorned with a teal ribbon

A survivor ribbon pinned on the statue of former MSU President John Hannah after John Engler’s resignation | Michael Gerstein

Amid the ongoing controversy of the Larry Nassar scandal with the Michigan State University Board of Trustees killing an independent probe, students are calling for more transparency.

Mario Kakos

“We hope the university moves toward a culture that promotes transparency, prioritizes accountability and fosters a safe environment for all students through collaboration and advocacy,” said Mario Kakos, Associated Students of Michigan State University president and a senior from West Bloomfield.

In December 2017, Nassar was sentenced to 60 years in prison on federal child pornography charges. The following month, Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison for seven counts of felony criminal sexual conduct in Ingham County Circuit Court. And in February 2018, he was sentenced to an additional 40 to 125 years in prison for three counts of felony criminal sexual conduct in Eaton County.

Earlier this week, the Detroit Free Press reported that four trustees — Democrats Dianne Byrum, Brianna Scott and Joel Ferguson and Republican Melanie Foster — stalled and blocked an independent investigation into MSU’s handling of the scandal. Scott was elected in 2018 on a reform platform.

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Rachael Denhollander, Sarah Klein and Sterling Riethman, three of the women who accused Nassar of sexual abuse, issued a joint statement saying they were “deeply disappointed and disgusted” with the four trustees’ conduct.

Rachael Denhollander | Twitter

“These four trustees have continually demonstrated a complete lack of moral conviction to pursue the truth and ensure that what Larry did to hundreds of women and children never happens to anyone ever again on MSU’s campus.

“Moreover, Trustee Dianne Byrum’s weak, deceitful leadership and Trustee Brianna Scott’s complete lack of ethical integrity to do what is right is a complete betrayal of the promises and representations they have made in public to support survivors.”

They called for new MSU President Samuel Stanley to step in. He was hired in May, after the last two presidents were engulfed in the Nassar scandal. Former President Lou Anna Simon resigned and is now facing charges for lying to investigators and interim President John Engler, a former GOP governor, stepped down in January after repeatedly clashing with survivors, including Denhollander.

Engler resigns from MSU, blames Democrats

Byrum, who chairs the Board of Trustees and is a former state lawmaker, told the Advance on Thursday that MSU is strengthening its reporting to students and others.

Dianne Byrum
MSU Board Chair Dianne Byrum | Michael Gerstein

“Copies of the reports, and our responses, are available for the public,” Byrum said. “In addition, we’re creating a dashboard which will show all the action items required of the university moving forward, and timelines associated with the changes that need to be made.” 

The dashboard will be available online here, Byrum said.

But Jasmine Jordan, an MSU junior from Detroit, wants to see more information available to students.

Jasmine Jordan

“A lot of students are frustrated,” Jordan said. “Our tuition gets raised to pay for what some terrible people did and we don’t know 100% what is going on.” 

Ronnie Cromer, a sophomore from Southfield studying journalism, added that he’s also concerned about the post-Nassar university environment and he said it is being talked about on campus.  

“We discussed it in my Journalism 200 class,” Cromer said.  

The push for an independent investigation came after a report issued last year from Michigan Attorney General Special Independent Counsel William Forsyth accusing MSU of stonewalling an investigation into Nassar’s abuse.

And last week, the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights issued findings critical of the university related to the scandal. MSU will be fined and will pay $4.5 million. 

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That resulted in MSU Provost June Youatt resigning from her post, but she will continue to be on faculty at MSU. Youatt’s salary is $480,000, the Lansing State Journal reported, and she will now take a six-month sabbatical.   

Byrum responded to the federal government, saying, “These investigations were an independent, comprehensive review that provide Michigan State University with a blueprint for moving forward on making necessary changes and improvements. The findings also highlight some of the failures and weaknesses that we need to be accountable for.”

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman writes about Southeast Michigan, history and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on Black life in Detroit.