As more alleged victims of former Michigan State University physician Larry Nassar come forward, attention has turned to the liability of the university.
Friday afternoon, the MSU Board of Trustees met before delivering a response. While the board did ask for an independent review of the facts by the Attorney General’s office, they also gave a vote of support to school president Lou Anna K. Simon. In a statement, board Chairperson Brian Breslin said “We continue to believe President Simon is the right leader for the university and she has our support.”
On Saturday, Breslin announced he would not seek re-election as a Michigan State University trustee. Breslin is the son of Jack Breslin, the MSU administrator for which the school’s basketball arena is named.
Following the board’s request, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, who is also running to be the state’s governor, released a statement of his own. The statement also directly addressed an editorial from the Detroit News that was critical of Schuette.
A full and complete review, report and recommendation of what occurred at Michigan State University is required and I will provide that. However, this week and the coming weeks are time for the survivors of Larry Nassar to have their day in court, and I refuse to upstage their time for healing.
My focus up to this point has been the following:
1. Prosecuting Larry Nassar, which resulted in his conviction of 10 felony counts of criminal sexual conduct in the first degree;
2. Seeking a sentence that will ensure Nassar will remain behind bars for the rest of his life where he can never harm another woman or young girl in her tender years;
3. Ensuring that victim impact statements from all survivors be allowed, sentencing so that the enormity of his crimes would be known;
4. Asking for a full report from Michigan State University, which I was told didn’t exist.
The Detroit News in an editorial today called me wrong and indifferent, nothing could be further from the truth, and they should issue a retraction.
In an email response to questions, Simon sent a long statement detailing the university’s response so far and its plan going forward. In the response, Simon repeatedly denounces Nassar and the actions for which he has already been convicted. “He has been given the equivalent of a life sentence of 60 years for the pornography charges,” Simon said in the statement. “The first of what I hope will be several lengthy prison sentences.”
Simon’s statement goes on to detail the university’s response, which includes a $10 million fund to help survivors access counseling and mental health services. Simon also apologized for what Nassar had done while employed by the university. “I am sorry that a physician who called himself a Spartan so utterly betrayed everyone’s trust and everything for which the university stands,” Simon’s statement reads.
The statement then directly addresses the civil litigation filed against MSU.
Last Friday, the university’s lawyers filed motions to dismiss plaintiffs’ claims based on a number of arguments. Given some of the criticism leveled at MSU, I hope you will keep a few important points in mind.
First, MSU is entitled to, and its insurers require, that we will mount an appropriate defense of these cases. This means MSU’s lawyers are making arguments in defense of the claims of civil liability. There is nothing extraordinary about such legal efforts - they are typical at this stage of civil litigation. Given Nassar’s horrendous acts, these arguments can seem disrespectful to the victims. Please know that the defenses raised on MSU’s behalf are in no way a reflection of our view of the survivors, for whom we have the utmost respect and sympathy, but rather represent, as the Board has said, our desire “to protect MSU’s educational and research missions.”
Second, depending on the court’s rulings on the initial legal arguments, the parties may enter into a period of “discovery,” in which each side will be able to review relevant documents and depose relevant witnesses to determine what happened and when. The entire pre-trial process can be time consuming, but it is often the standard means by which complex cases like this are decided on legal grounds or brought forward to trial.
So, as the litigation progresses in the months ahead, you will likely continue to hear a variety of allegations and accusations against the university. I ask for your patience as well as your understanding that MSU cannot litigate the cases in the media and that many public assertions may go unchallenged unless or until they are addressed in open court.
The statement concludes by asking that any uncovered evidence that points to MSU employees who “concealed or facilitated” Nassar’s criminal acts be turned over to law enforcement. It also mentions an investigation by the FBI and MSU Police Department that didn’t result in any charges.