The Michigan State University Board of Trustees has asked state Attorney General Bill Schuette to review the events surrounding the Larry Nassar case.
"Although we have confidence in the integrity of the various reviews already conducted by law enforcement, subject matter experts and outside counsel to the university, we are making this request because we believe your review may be needed to answer the public's questions concerning MSU's handling of the Nassar situation," Board President Brian Breslin and Vice-president Joel Ferguson wrote in a letter dated today.
In the letter, they reiterated that reviews or investigations by its outside attorneys, the MSU Police Department and the FBI have not lead to any criminal charges. They repeated the statement made by Patrick Fitzgerald, one of those outside attorney, to Schuette in a letter in December, that the university believes that “the evidence will show that no MSU official believed Nassar committed sexual abuse prior to newspaper reports in late summer 2016."
Nassar, a former MSU and USA Gymnastics doctor, has pleaded guilty to seven counts of sexual assault, all but one involving the abuse of patient.
More than 140 women and girls have filed lawsuits saying he abused them and that MSU and USA Gymnastics didn’t do enough to protect them.
More than 70 have spoken during Nassar's sentencing hearing in Ingham County Circuit Court this week. More than 100 are ultimately expected to.
"A full and complete review, report and recommendation of what occurred at Michigan State University is required and I will provide that," Schuette said in a statement. "However, this week and the coming weeks are time for the survivors of Larry Nassar to have their day in court, and I refuse to upstage their time for healing."
In a statement released by the university, MSU President Lou Anna Simon said the testimony of Nassar’s victims this week "made many of us, including me, listen to the survivors and the community in a different way. It is clear to the Board and me that a review by the Attorney General’s Office can provide the answers people need. As I told the Attorney General in December, MSU will fully cooperate with any inquiry by law enforcement authorities. I hope this review will help the survivors and the entire MSU community heal and move forward.”
Questions about MSU's handling of the case "grew louder this week with the victim impact statements being given in Ingham County Court," Breslin and Ferguson wrote.
"What we have heard time and again is a general sentiment that MSU has avoided being transparent or, worse, that it might be involved in a cover-up," the letter continued. "Let us be clear: this simply is not true."
State House Speaker Tom Leonard is looking for a bit more proof. On Friday, he called on the state legislature to open investigations of Michigan State University’s handling of the Nassar case.
MSU has “refused to reveal the events that occurred on its campus” despite unanswered questions and public calls for greater transparency, the DeWitt Township Republican wrote in a letter addressed to Rep. Klint Kesto, R-Commerce Township, who chairs the Law and Justice Committee and to state Rep. Kim Lasata, R-Bainbridge Township, who chairs of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education.
Jamie White, an attorney who represents dozens who are suing, said the request is a step in the right direction.
“Hopefully evidence has not been lost or destroyed over the past year,” he said. “The question remains whether MSU will provide unfettered access with our interference.”
But John Manly, an attorney who represent dozens of the women and girls who are suing MSU, said the request was too little, too late.
“MSU, its president and board first misrepresented they did an investigation with a former prosecutor,” he told the State Journal. “That turned out to be a lie. MSU until now has fiercely resisted all calls of Nassar’s victims, victim advocates, political leaders and the press for the sunshine of an independent investigation.
“The only reason Ms. Simon asked for one today is because MSU’s culpability has been exposed. If the leadership of MSU had any decency. they would resign as a sign of contrition for their misdeeds.”
The calls for Simon's resignation have intensified as the sentencing hearing has progressed.
State Rep. Sam Singh, D-East Lansing, and state Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr., D-Meridian Township, issued a joint statement Thursday calling on Simon to step down. Shortly afterward, state Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, and Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, issued a statement of their own.
The cover of Thursday's edition of The State News, MSU's student newspaper, said "President Simon, RESIGN." That night, Associated Students of Michigan State University, the university's student government, passed a resolution saying "we, as undergraduate students, no longer have the faith and confidence in the current administration of Michigan State University to carry out the duties of fostering a safe and secure campus atmosphere."
On Friday, State Rep. Jim Runestad, a White Lake Republican and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, called for an amendment to the state budget that would require public universities and colleges to report their legal fees to the Legislature.
Runestad first called for the change last year, “as a means of acquiring information on the number of students, faculty and staff who pursue lawsuits on free speech rights violations on public campuses,” he said in a statement, but renewed that call on Friday in light of the Nassar case.
Last month, state Rep. Klint Kesto, R-Commerce Township, chairman of the House Law & Justice Committee, said he would introduce legislation forbidding colleges and universities from using state funds to settle lawsuits related to sexual impropriety. He said the Nassar case inspired the legislation.
Lawmakers have said their power over MSU and other universities can be limited because the state constitution puts universities under the control of their independently elected boards. The Legislature’s main avenue for oversight is their power over the appropriation of state funds, which make up about 20% of MSU’s $1.3 billion annual operating budget.
The Board of Trustees' letter to Schuette’s office comes months after calls for independent investigations of the university were renewed as Nassar began pleading guilty to state sexual assault charges.
The criticism of MSU has focused on a 2014 Title IX investigation, which cleared Nassar of policy violations and allowed him to return to clinical duties 16 months before the close of a criminal investigation stemming from the same sexual assault report. Nassar wasn’t criminally charged after that investigation.
Two women said last year that in 1997, when they were teenagers, Nassar sexually assaulted them and they raised concerns to then MSU gymnastics coach Kathie Klages, who cautioned them against reporting Nassar.
And a former MSU softball player has also said that from 1998 to 2000 she was abused by Nassar and raised concerns to three university trainers.
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