The vice chairman for Michigan State University’s board of trustees appeared to dismiss the damning Larry Nassar sex abuse scandal on Monday while defending the school’s president against calls to resign.
During an interview with Michigan radio show “Staudt on Sports,” trustee Joel Ferguson insisted that university president Lou Anna Simon was “the best president [MSU’s] ever had” and would not be leaving her post.
“She’s a fighter. Her overall, what she’s done for this university, she’s not going to get run out of there by what somebody else did,” he said.
Ferguson expressed the board’s support for Simon despite revelations that the school allowed Nassar, who is accused of sexually abusing over 140 women, to treat patients even while he was being investigated by university police for sexual assault. Nassar is serving a 60-year sentence on federal child pornography charges. In November, he pleaded guilty to 10 counts of criminal sexual conduct in the first degree.
Ferguson said that trustees met for a five-hour meeting, yet spent only 10 minutes talking about Simon.
“We had so many other things we were going over, we unanimously decided in that meeting right away … we were going to support her staying as the president,” Ferguson said. “There’s so many more things going on at the university than just this Nassar thing.”
Hours after Ferguson’s radio interview, the NCAA announced it would be launching a formal investigation into the university’s handling of the allegations against Nassar.
Many were outraged that Ferguson appeared to dismiss the Nassar scandal.
Nassar’s victims blame Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics for enabling him to treat athletes even after allegations of abuse.
Over the course of two decades, eight young women say they told at least 14 MSU staffers and representatives about Nassar’s sexual abuse, yet university officials did nothing to stop him, the Detroit News reported last week.
The women say their warnings go back as far back as 1997, though Simon told Detroit News that she learned about Nassar’s abuse in 2014, when a Title IX complaint and a police report were filed.
The university didn’t officially fire Nassar until two years later, in September 2016.
“I was informed that a sports medicine doctor was under investigation,” Simon told Detroit News on Wednesday. “I told people to play it straight up, and I did not receive a copy of the report. That’s the truth.”
Olivia Cowen, who said Nassar abused her 10 years ago, delivered a victim’s impact statement in front of the former physician last week while holding Michigan State University accountable for his abuse. She is one of more than a hundred women who are delivering victim impact statements during Nassar’s week-long sentencing hearing.
“I’ve gone from a raving fan of MSU to now seeing green and white in the very same way I see Larry Nassar,” Cowan said in court last Wednesday. “I want MSU and USAG to know what they have done is on the very same level of accountability as the crime Nassar has committed.”
Cowan later added, “As if the struggle of what Larry Nassar did isn’t bad enough, it’s horrifying that MSU and USA Gymnastics are not stepping up to the plate to admit their wrongdoing.”
An editorial in the State News, Michigan State University’s independent student-run newspaper, also called for Simon to resign, urging the president to “make the right choice, because time’s up.”
Several state lawmakers have also asked Simon to step down as university president.
But Ferguson told “Staudt on Sports” that the university board of trustees wanted to keep Simon as president, and emphasized her ability to make money.
“When you go to the basketball game, you walk in that new Breslin [Student Events Center], and the person who hustled and got all those major donors to give money was Lou Anna Simon,” he said.
Ferguson added that while the board of trustees wants Simon as president, trustees would be happy to have the attorney general review the investigation independently.
“Whatever they say, we’ll live with that,” Ferguson said. “But we certainly won’t do anything before the thing, because we actually believe that … our senior people were not complicit in what this pervert did.”