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“Healing won’t be complete until there’s new leadership” at MSU, says LSJ executive editor

Dec 4, 2017

It's time for Lou Anna Simon to go, says the Lansing State Journal.

A front-page editorial in Sunday's paper called on the Michigan State University president to resign over her handling of an array of sexual assault and harassment problems. The paper compares MSU's problems with Penn State's Jerry Sandusky scandal.

Stephanie Angel, executive editor of the Lansing State Journal (LSJ), joined Stateside to discuss the editorial board’s position on what Michigan State University needs to do to move forward.

Listen above for the full conversation, or catch highlights and a response from the MSU Board of Trustees below.

Calling on President Simon to step down

“Dr. Nassar said one of the reasons he was pleading guilty was so that the victims and the community could start to heal. The editorial board at the Lansing State Journal felt that healing won’t be complete until there’s new leadership at Michigan State University.”

“We thought it very important to outline in the editorial some of the things that she has done as president, because she has had a strong presidency. I think her legacy, had it not been for what has transpired in recent years, would have been among the best presidencies in Michigan State’s history. The positive work she’s done, however, does not outweigh the situation — and it’s a very serious situation — with Dr. Nassar and then with other sexual assault Title IX things on campus that we found in our conversation amongst ourselves that that was such a significant failure and a lack of leadership that it requires her to move on and open that opportunity to move the university forward to a new president.”

“We are calling for a cultural shift at MSU with President Simon being the person that must move on to help the university heal.”

Title IX investigations at the university

“We have done a lot of reporting on the Title IX issue at Michigan State University. The Department of Education did an investigation of the university, I believe it was of complaints from 2009 to 2014, and it was the Office of Civil Rights that did that investigation and they found the way the university handles sexual assault to contribute to a sexually hostile environment at the university. I don’t think anybody would say that’s OK.”

A need for transparency

“As we’ve called for greater transparency, it would appear that the university continues to close its ranks, become more insular, and is not sharing that. Now, the university would say they’re not able to be transparent because of whatever is going on legally, but the editorial board still felt strongly that there were things and are things that President Simon could be doing to put herself out there and the university out there in terms of letting the public know that they are taking the Nassar situation seriously.”

A response from the Board of Trustees to the LSJ editorial:

While we respect the role newspapers such as the Lansing State Journal play in asking tough questions of our leaders and institutions, we disagree vehemently with the conclusion drawn in today’s editorial. Our full confidence in President Lou Anna K. Simon has not wavered. We firmly believe she is the right leader for this university.

As publicly elected officials overseeing MSU, we are provided a unique perspective on actions taken and decisions made regarding the university’s response to sexual assault and Title IX issues, particularly the Larry Nassar case. We have been kept fully informed and regularly updated about the legal team’s work on that case, and they have repeatedly assured us that if they learn of criminal wrongdoing by any employee, at any level, it will immediately be reported to law enforcement authorities. None has been found by anyone other than Nassar.

We recognize that the past several years have been challenging when it comes to the critical issue of sexual misconduct here at MSU and across the country. We sympathize with all survivors in the MSU community. When these horrible incidents do occur, our priority is to ensure justice for survivors and to make sure they have access to the caring support and resources they need. No one should be threatened with sexual violence. We must continue to do everything we can to eradicate it.

Whether it is the creation of the Office of Institutional Equity, improving resources on campus for survivors or the recent external review of our Title IX program, active steps have and are being taken to better serve the MSU community. Sexual assault complaints are complex and challenging to investigate and adjudicate, and universities must provide a neutral, timely process that is fair to both parties.

When it comes to these critical issues, MSU is unfortunately often limited in what it can discuss. We respect the public’s desire for information and details, but whether due to federal privacy laws or ongoing litigation, we simply are not always in the position to discuss details of specific incidents. This situation is exacerbated by those who selectively ignore other facts about MSU’s continuous improvement and the many details available about our progress, which is available on the university’s Our Commitment website.

As we stated earlier this year, the law firms of Skadden Arps and Miller Canfield have been engaged to represent the university in all aspects of the Nassar matter. This representation includes defending the university in more than 10 lawsuits, as well as an ongoing factual review necessary to address the allegations being made by plaintiffs. As a state institution, MSU is obligated to be a responsible steward of public funds and, as a defendant, MSU is entitled to legal advice protected by attorney-client privilege. There is nothing unusual or nefarious about MSU’s relationship with its counsel.

Discussing details during litigation or continuing to fuel speculation is inappropriate and unfair to the very people involved, including survivors. That said, as a university, we are absolutely committed to being as transparent as possible when discussing and making decisions on this topic.

President Simon has proven her commitment to helping the university when it comes to the societal issue of sexual misconduct. She has the complete confidence of the Board of Trustees to lead the university in this and all endeavors.

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