EAST LANSING, MICH. - The Michigan State University Board of Trustees has stepped up discussion of who will lead the university if or when President Lou Anna Simon steps down.
There are still plenty of unknowns — including if Simon will resign and the timing of the resignation. Also unknown is when an interim leader would step in and for how long, people with knowledge of discussions said.
There are a number of names that have been raised to the board as possible interim presidents, including former Michigan Govs. John Engler, James Blanchard and Jennifer Granholm. Also raised as a possible interim is former Grand Valley State University President Mark Murray, who also served as president of Meijer, Inc. Engler, Blanchard and Murray were all mentioned as a possible MSU president when Peter McPherson left in 2004 and Simon was promoted from provost to president.
Simon has been under incredible pressure for several weeks to step aside. That pressure has ratcheted up during the last two weeks as 156 sexual assault victims appeared in court to testify about the abuse they suffered at the hands of Larry Nassar, which reached back as far as 1997.
On Wednesday, the state House of Representatives voted 96-11 on a resolution calling for Simon to step down immediately or for the board to fire her.
The board has been talking about succession planning for Simon for about a year and what a transition plan would look like.
On Tuesday afternoon, MSU Trustee Brian Mosallam tweeted that a five-hour Friday closed-door board meeting included succession planning. When contacted by the Free Press for further details on the succession planning, Mosallam declined to comment further.
As victims' testimony came pouring out, the pressure on Simon to step aside grew. The MSU student government called for changes at the "highest levels" of the university. Politician after politician called for her to resign and asked the state Legislature to launch an investigation.
The board initially supported Simon. It met last fall and gave he a vote of confidence. It met for five hours behind closed doors last Friday and emerged with a statement of support. Then, the next night, Trustee Mitch Lyons issued a statement calling for Simon to step down. Then, on Monday, in a radio interview, Trustee Joel Ferguson said Simon would never leave and praised her.
After the majority of the board issued a statement in support, Simon issued a statement saying she was continuing to work hard for MSU.
"In the tragic stories shared this week by survivors, I heard the suffering and pain resulting from Nassar’s abuse. I also heard the great strength of these women. I am truly sorry for the pain his abuse caused and continues to cause.
"I have always led with passion and to the best of my abilities for Team MSU, and I will continue to do so for today and tomorrow,” she said.
Simon was defended by the university's highest profile employees - including basketball coach Tom Izzo.
"I have to say, though, that I have the utmost – the utmost – faith and respect for the leadership of our president, too, at Michigan State. That’s a woman who has dedicated over 40 years – and I’ve been here 33 with her, and I think I know what she stands for."
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Detroit Free Press