MSU is in serious trouble. Former MSU physician Larry Nassar pleaded guilty last month to criminal sexual assault; at least 125 women and girls have made complaints to police. News broke last week that the university allowed Nassar to see patients for 16 months while he was under investigation for sexual assault by MSU's own police force.
The university is bracing for an onslaught of civil suits. Penn State paid $100 million to settle claims brought by one-third the number of victims. And the steps it has taken to avoid documenting an outside investigation suggest it is more interested in self-preservation than in restoring public trust.
Atop this mess is MSU President Lou Anna Simon, whose administration has been criticized not just for its failure to detect and stop Nassar, but for what many regard as its anemic efforts to combat sexual assault on campus.
In a front-page editorial earlier this month, the Lansing State Journal called on Simon to resign and said trustees should fire her if she refused to do so. Instead, the Board of Trustees offered her a raise.
The most charitable excuse we can conjure for the trustees' insensitivity is their apparent desire to express support for their beleaguered chief executive. But even if that support were warranted — a dubious proposition at best, and one that cries out for more evidence than the board has supplied to date — the timing of the board's gesture was an affront to Nassar's victims, many of whom were present during the Dec. 15 meeting.
It's a blinkered denial of the peril MSU finds itself in, the cost of potentially devastating payout to settle lawsuits compounded by a crisis of public trust.
And it signals a serious misunderstanding of the obligations of the Board of Trustees, whose undeniable fiduciary responsibility should surely not tip the scales, when balanced against protection of the youngsters and young adults entrusted to the institution's care.
Simon, to her credit, declined the $150,000 raise; she has repeatedly rejected offered raises over the last decade. Her annual salary is $750,000, with $100,000 in bonus pay.
How much blame should Simon bear for Nassar, for the university's decades of failure to detect and prevent his crimes, even in the face of complaints by the women and girls he assaulted?
The trustees' response to the Lansing State Journal's call for her resignation is a marvel of obfuscation. But what it doesn't occlude, it illuminates.
The response is at pains to defend the board's own performances, and to explain why it simply cannot release the information that would offer significant insight into the school's handling of sexual assault complaints. It defends the university's retention of high-priced law firms to defend against complaints; just two paragraphs mention justice for assault survivors.
The Board of Trustees is a public body, composed of men and women elected by the people of Michigan to guide the state's largest university. To hold any public office is a sacred trust, but universities serve a unique function: These institutions offer our children better lives: Education. Community. Safety.
MSU's Board of Trustees continues to place the university's civil liability over the safety of its student body. In doing so, trustees are both disserving the MSU community and complicating life for the CEO they seek to defend.
— THE DETROIT FREE PRESS (TNS)