Morgan McCaul had a simple goal when she joined a lawsuit against Michigan State University — use it to force change on the campus that allowed former MSU doctor Larry Nassar to sexually assault hundreds of victims, including herself.
So, she sat down and drafted a large list of non-monetary demands, including that the entire Board of Trustees resign. McCaul's demands were included with demands from other survivors and presented during mediation with the university. Multiple people involved in the mediation process have declined to identify what else was included in those lists.
"I knew that wasn't going to happen, but I wanted it as a bargaining point," McCaul told the Free Press two days after a $500-million settlement was reached between MSU and 332 Nassar survivors, ending multiple lawsuits. "No amount of money is going to make up for what happened to us. We wanted a formal apology that took responsibility for what happened. We haven't gotten that. We still want to see change."
While reaching a settlement to the lawsuits is a milestone, McCaul and her fellow sister survivors pledge to keep fighting and pushing, as do student groups that have formed during the past school year
"This is really just the beginning," McCaul said. "We've got to keep going and keep believing that (MSU) will change."
The focus? A twin path of reform and investigation. Changes are needed in everything from how the school is run to its procedures in handling sexual assault reports, the survivors say. Investigations into who knew about Nassar and didn't act; who knew about William Strampel, Nassar's boss and the former dean of the College of Osteopathic Medicine who also is facing charges, and didn't act, and who covered up other sexual assaults should continue, the groups say.
Reforms being suggested include:
- Changing the governance structure of the board, with one proposal calling for four new members, including students
- Mandating that the pick of a new president be approved by faculty
- Having the board receive an update on all sexual assault reports filed on campus
- Hiring an independent sexual assault ombudsman
- Creating a sexual assault survivors advisory committee
This all happens as the university looks to figure out how to pay the settlement, searches for a new president and heads into an election for two board seats.
Brian Breslin and Mitch Lyons, the two board members up for re-election, have said they aren't running. Survivors blame the board for not stepping in sooner and for not being tougher on former president Lou Anna Simon, who finally resigned from that post amid the Nassar furor.
On Thursday, interim President John Engler said he is proposing tuition for incoming freshman be frozen at current levels. Sources told the Free Press departments have been told to cut spending by 2.5%. The university is expected to borrow money to help with the up-front payouts, but ratings agencies have downgraded their financial outlook, meaning the school will pay higher interest rates.
The board is in the midst of hiring an adviser to help it search for a new president.
More than a dozen candidates are crisscrossing the state, stumping for votes to run for what will be the two open seats in this November's election.
Michigan State is “at a crossroads and it can heal from this or this can continue to be a festering wound," attorney John Manly, who represented more than 150 Nassar survivors, told the Free Press.
Who knew and didn't act?
Nassar is currently lodged in a federal prison in Tucson, Ariz., serving a 60-year sentence on child pornography charges. He also faces a 40- to 175-year sentence issued in Ingham County on seven first-degree sexual conduct charges and a 40- to 125-year sentence from Eaton County, where he was charged with a total of 10 sexual assaults. Those sentences will not begin until he finishes the federal sentence.
Strampel is facing charges of sexually assaulting students and misuse of his office. MSU is trying to revoke his tenure as the first step toward firing him.
But for many in the Spartan community, there are still unanswered questions. Federal investigations and state criminal investigations are ongoing. Earlier this month, the Free Press detailed how members of the university's Office of the General Counsel helped direct a 2005 investigation into Strampel and a 2014 investigation into Nassar. Both men were cleared in those investigations. Nassar survivors have said they reported Nassar problems to university employees as far back as the late-1990s.
There have been a slate of resignations from top university officials, including Simon. Also resigning in recent months were athletic director Mark Hollis, alumni director Scott Westerman, general counsel Robert Noto and Acting General Counsel Kristine Zayko.
But more resignations are needed, many say.
On Thursday, Nicole Eastman, one of Strampel's victims, called for Provost June Youatt to step down. Youatt conducted a 2015 review of Strampel that included information about his sexually inappropriate comments.
"She had the power to stop Strampel's behavior," Eastman said in a statement posted to her Facebook account. "However, she chose to allow him to continue as the medical school dean. I would think that more follow-up would have been done to ensure that his behavior wasn't continuing, and when it did continue, I would think that further steps would have been taken to fire him.
"As much as I am a forgiving and empathetic person, I do believe that changes need to be made in regards to senior leadership to change the culture at MSU and furthermore, to be an example to other institutions in regards to this not being OK."
There are those who want to see more charges brought.
"I think everyone who knew about Nassar and didn't act should be charged with aiding and abetting him," Mark Willis, 52, of Grand Rapids, the parent of two current MSU students, said earlier this month while waiting to take his sons to lunch on MSU's campus. "Just think about all of the girls who were hurt and didn't need to be. If they didn't stop him, it's the same as if they hurt those girls."
At least one board member agrees more investigation needs to be done.
"I believe we need to do a university-wide comprehensive review of how MSU handles compliance and ethics across its numerous silos, departments and colleges, followed by a report that identifies any gaps and deficiencies for the board which ultimately leads to the remediation of the same," said MSU board member Brian Mosallam, the only board member to publicly release a reform plan for the campus. "MSU is still facing several investigations deriving from the Nassar matter. The next step is for us to address those. But personally, I never want to put this behind us. I want to put this painful experience in our collective memories so we can always say: Never again. One way to do that is through institutional reform."
After Michigan State announced the settlement, Engler sent a message to Spartans, highlighting the work that has been done in the past several months.
"The damage done over a period of years by one evil doctor harmed hundreds of girls and young women, including 31 who were MSU students. The assaults by Larry Nassar shocked our campus and the nation. The testimony of so many survivors and their families touched the hearts of Spartan nation. Our university has apologized, expressed regret, and pledged to act so that such abuse could never happen again.
"The changes made to assure patient safety on our campus are numerous and significant.
"These changes include increased staffing for sexual assault prevention, reporting, and counseling offices, new awareness training for students and employees, and stronger oversight of campus youth programs. I’ve asked supervisors to be more diligent in recording concerns about employees’ behavior. We are taking steps to more fully engage the entire campus community in awareness and prevention activities and to improve communication across the board. We are putting special emphasis on our record class of new students coming to campus for orientation in preparation for freshman year in the fall."
He included a link to a 12-page document outlining the changes.
But that's not enough, survivors, student groups and even a board member say.
Mosallam published his own reform plan. He stands by the need for it.
"I think the first thing we need to do is finalize the creation of the board's audit and risk committee so we can enhance oversight of MSU's risks," he told the Free Press. "Once that is up and running, we need to immediately hire a Chief Compliance Officer. The CCO would then be tasked with centralizing oversight of MSU's compliance and ethics regime including all our internal controls ... and lead a university-wide comprehensive review of our compliance and ethics, followed by a report that identifies gaps and deficiencies for the board which ultimately leads to the remediation of the same.
"Finally, to make sure that all these efforts are sustainable, I think we need to bring in an outside monitor to advise on our progress and to make recommendations for further continuous improvement."
Manly, the attorney for many survivors, said he hopes MSU changes the culture and credited Mosallam for speaking out.
“I think a public acknowledgement by a trustee that there’s a culture problem at the university is a huge step,” he said. “There is a cultural problem.”
Manly said he hopes Mosallam’s plan is adopted “because if they don’t, the survivors are fearful that it will happen again.”
The reform needs to go further than what has been done to date, others said.
"(Nassar) exposed a lot of deeper issues at MSU," said Natalie Rogers, a founder of Reclaim MSU, a coalition of students, staff and faculty that is advocating for change. It has published its own set of policy recommendations. "We're going to be working for actual policy changes." The administration "hasn't done much. Nothing that we asked for. There's a few Band-aids here and there but nothing too radical."
Reclaim MSU's is pushing a radical idea — a complete overhaul of how the board, which runs the school, functions. It is seeking an amendment to the state Constitution to add four positions to MSU — and other public university boards. One of those positions would have to be filled by an undergraduate student, one by a graduate student and two by faculty members.
The goal? To get more people on the board with actual knowledge of what's going on at the school.
The state Legislature is also trying to lead reform. The legislation would, among other things, extend the statute of limitations for criminal and civil sexual assault cases and expand the list of individuals required to report suspect abuse. Though the legislation has slowed amid opposition from business groups, the Catholic Church and others, a bipartisan chorus of statements issued after MSU’s settlement was announced called on the Legislature to finish its work.
McCaul and other survivors want the leadership of the school to change.
"It's been very adversarial with us," McCaul said. "Maybe now that they have the settlement, it will change. We need the (board and administration) to change. I think everyone on the board — barring Brian (Mosallam) — has proven to be inadequate. I hope that changes. I think they will bend to public pressure. This (the settlement) is really just the beginning. We've got to keeping pressing for change."
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