With a single defection, Michigan State University's Board of Trustees remains steadfastly behind President Lou Anna Simon, trustees said Sunday.
That's despite growing pressure from MSU students and alumni that Simon either needs to step down or be let go as the university deals with the fallout from the Dr. Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal.
"She was in charge. She needs to go," said Terri Michaels, 42, who graduated from MSU nearly two decades ago. "The university covered it all up and even if she didn't personally do it, she was in charge when it happened. I wish the board could see that."
Those who agree with Michaels got a slight glimmer of hope late Saturday night with Republican board member Mitch Lyons broke ranks and issued a statement calling for Simon to leave.
"As I expressed repeatedly to fellow board members during our discussion Friday, I don't believe Pres. Simon can survive the public outcry that has been generated by this tragedy and even less so after hearing the testimony of these brave survivors of Larry Nassar's abuse.
"I believe our best recourse is for President Simon to resign immediately in order to let the healing process begin, first and foremost for the survivors and secondarily for our university."
Senior Lisa Black, 22, of Northville, said she cheered when she saw that statement posted on Twitter by reporters Saturday.
"I thought, 'He gets it,'" she told the Free Press in a phone interview Sunday morning. "I don't see how you can listen to all those women talk about what Nassar did to them and how they tried to tell MSU about it and not demand change from the top to the bottom."
Nassar, a former sports physician for MSU and USA Gymnastics, has pleaded guilty to 10 counts of sexual assault, all but one related to the abuse of a patient, but more than 140 women and girls have alleged that he abused him over the course of several decades.
Dan Walsh, 29, of Chicago, has been gone from MSU for about a decade. He said he hopes Lyons is just the first of the board to make this decision.
"They all need to wake up and do what's right," he said of his alma mater. "It's as simple as that. It's the right thing to do."
But Trustee Melanie Foster said Sunday morning there's no indication Lyons' Saturday statement will prompt any other members of the elected body to break ranks.
"I strongly believe that the seven of us are unified." Foster said.
Current sophomore Kellie Mayes, 19, of Grand Rapids, said she can't believe that.
"I don't get it — how can they still be supporting her?" Mayes said. "I think she's done a lot of good here, but this is just awful. Nobody has any trust in her anymore."
Foster said she helped write a Saturday night response to Lyons' statement saying the board — minus Lyons — supports Simon, who has been president since January 2005. The statement was emailed to several media outlets and attributed to Brian Breslin, the board's chairman.
It states the board continues to believe Simon is "the right leader for the university."
MSU Trustee George Perles also told the State Journal on Sunday he supports Simon and the statement Breslin gave Friday.
“I have nothing to say right now other than I stand by what was said before at our last meeting (on Friday),” Perles said.
Trustee Dan Kelly said on Sunday that he would have no comment.
Over the past week, victim after victim has stood in court testifying during victim impact statements and calling for Simon to be done at MSU.
On Thursday night, the student government unanimously approved a resolution calling for Simon to resign. That was followed by a wave of politicians calling for the board to force Simon out and calls for a legislative inquiry into MSU's handling of the situation,
MSU's board met for hours behind closed doors Friday.
Foster said that Simon had been present during part of the board's meeting on Friday, and that she expects the board will meet again before its next regularly scheduled meeting on Feb. 16.
After Friday's meeting, the board came out to issue a statement to the public. The entire board, including Lyons, stood together.
"Through this terrible situation, the university has been perceived as tone deaf, unresponsive and insensitive to the victims," the statement said. "We understand the public’s faith has been shaken. The Board has listened and heard the victims.
"Today, the Board acted and has asked the Attorney General’s Office to review the facts in this matter, and as information is presented, the Board will act.
"This can never happen again.
"As part of the Board’s oversight authority, we will retain independent external assistance to support our responsibilities to the university community and the public at large. "We continue to believe President Simon is the right leader for the university and she has our support.”
Rachael Denhollander, the first of Nassar's victims to come forward publicly, said she found it "appalling" that the MSU board had again come out in support of Simon.
"Simon could have come out the hero here," she said, "and that's what we wanted. That's what I wanted. The fact of the matter is she had employees who horrifically mishandled sexual assault allegations not only once, not twice, but over and over and over again."
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