EAST LANSING, MICH. - Michigan State University President Lou Anna Simon will step down as leader of MSU, the school announced late Wednesday, hours after the Free Press reported the move was coming.
"As tragedies are politicized, blame is inevitable," she said in statement. "As president, it is only natural that I am the focus of this anger. I understand, and that is why I have limited my personal statements. Throughout my career, I have worked very hard to put Team MSU first. Throughout my career, I have consistently and persistently spoken and worked on behalf of Team MSU. I have tried to make it not about me. I urge those who have supported my work to understand that I cannot make it about me now. Therefore, I am tendering my resignation as president according to the terms of my employment agreement."
She would make the announcement one day after a judge sentenced Larry Nassar to 40 to 175 years in prison as part of a plea deal on seven counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct involving more than 160 girls and women over more than two decades.
Simon had spent her entire career — from the mid-1970s on — at the university.
Board chairman Brian Breslin praised her.
"President Simon has served with distinction as MSU’s President for 13 years and has been a constant presence at the university for more than 40 years. She literally has devoted her entire professional life to this institution, and more than anyone else has helped make MSU a national and international leader in higher education.
We will be working through the details of transition with President Simon through the rest of the week and will announce them as soon as we can."
Board members had racheted up their succession planning in recent days, including at a nearly five-hour closed-door meeting on Friday.
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 choice 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. Engler and Blanchard are Michigan State graduates.
Simon has been under incredible pressure for several weeks to step aside. That pressure has racheted 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.
"We've been telling our stories for 18 months, and you've yet to answer a single question I have," Rachael Denhollander said in court. Denhollander filed the first police report in 2016 that led to Nassar's guilty plea and sentencing.. "You issue a press release ... playing word games, saying there was no cover-up because no one believed. The reason no one believed, is because no one listened. It has been 18 months and I am still asking questions, and I am still getting the same answer.
No one handled the reports of abuse properly. Victims were silenced and even forced to go back for further sexual assault. They did not listen in 1997 or 1998 or 1999 or 2000 or 2004 or 2014."
Many have taken time to call out MSU and Simon for her handling of the situation, repeatedly talking about how they notified MSU officials of the abuse.
Simon has said she received a report in 2014 of Nassar being cleared by the university in a sexual assault claim, but said she did not receive the full case file.
That didn't matter to the victims.
"Come hell or high water, we will take every last one of you down that could have stopped this monster," Amy Labadie, a victim and former gymnast, said in court.
“I don’t know how you can still call yourself a president, because I don’t anymore," said Lindsey Lemke, a current MSU student and former MSU gymnast, about Simon. "You are no president of mine. … You say you aren’t responsible for this. I wish you would come up to this podium and be half as brave as all of us have had to be the past year and a half. To be brave enough to be a public survivor and a competing athlete of your university who let me down. To be brave enough to come up here and confidently tell us the reason why you don’t think that you are responsible."
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.
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Detroit Free Press