Former MSU president headed to trial, university trustee resigns over transparency concerns

MSU Trustee Nancy Schlichting | Michael Gerstein

The Larry Nassar sexual assault scandal continues to roil Michigan State University. Former MSU President Lou Anna Simon was ordered Monday to stand trial and Board of Trustees Member Nancy Schlichting resigned over the “lack of transparency” among the panel.

Lou Anna Simon
Lou Anna Simon | Wikimedia Commons

Eaton County District Court Judge Julie Reinke ordered that Simon will head to trial for charges of lying to police about when she first knew about a 2014 sexual assault complaint against the former MSU physician. Reinke’s decision comes after months of legal review and deliberation.

Widely criticized for the way she handled the Nassar scandal, Simon resigned under pressure in January 2018. She was arraigned on criminal charges of lying to law enforcement nine months later in connection with an ongoing Nassar investigation.

Nassar, now a convicted sexual predator, worked as a team physician at MSU for 17 years, despite continued reports of abuse to various department heads and coaches. He was sentenced in January 2018 on multiple sexual abuse charges and is currently serving 175 years of prison time. Nassar is thought to have abused upwards of 150 girls since the 1990s.

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The counts against Simon – two felonies and two misdemeanors – stem from statements she made in May 2018 to the Michigan State Police, in which prosecutors say she lied about when she first found out about Nassar’s actions to cover up for the university. Simon has denied all charges.

Nassar used his position at MSU to abuse scores of female athletes. In his last two years before his termination, Nassar was allowed to keep working on campus even while under a Title IX investigation for sexual misconduct allegations.

Simon is one of several MSU officials who have either resigned or been charged in connection with the Nassar case since 2016, including Nassar’s former MSU boss, Dean William Strampel.

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“Today’s decision to move forward with trial brings survivors another step closer to receiving the answers they deserve,” Attorney General Dana Nessel said in a statement. “After months of preliminary examination and thoughtful consideration by Judge Julie Reinke, we are ready to bring the facts to a jury of Ms. Simon’s peers.”

The Michigan State University Board of Trustees has been a lightning rod for outrage since the Nassar scandal went public, particularly among students and faculty who believe members have failed to listen to and maintain transparency with the MSU community. On Monday afternoon, it was reported that one of the board’s newest trustees is resigning for similar reasons.

Sign posted on the MSU campus | Michael Gerstein

Schlichting, the former CEO of Henry Ford Health, was appointed to the board by former Gov. Rick Snyder in December 2018 to serve out the rest of former Trustee George Perles’ term. Perles had resigned a month earlier, citing health issues as reason for his departure in the midst of accusations that he had been involved in a coverup of an alleged 1992 Nassar assault. (In December, a state investigator’s report found “no credible evidence” to support the claim.)

Schlichting’s appointment was seen as a welcome presence by campus advocates and Michigan officials on both sides of the aisle, as she did not have deep ties to MSU – something that made Schlichting unique among her fellow board members. But stark priority differences among trustees, particularly in regards to the decision made by the majority in September to strike down a full, independent Nassar-related investigation at MSU, had apparently led her to frustration.

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“… I joined the board to help change the attitudes and beliefs of the legacy board members towards the extraordinary young women who have survived sexual assault by Larry Nassar, and to support the survivors in every way I could,” Schlichting wrote in her Saturday resignation letter to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, according to the Detroit Free Press.

“During the last year, though, it has become very clear to me that my commitment to have an independent review of the Nassar situation, and to waive privilege so the truth can come out, is not shared by the MSU board chair [Dianne Byrum], legacy board members and some newer trustees.”

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Whitmer will appoint a replacement to serve out the remainder of Schlichting’s term, set to expire in 2023. The appointment is not subject to the advice and consent of the GOP-controlled state Senate, noted Steven Liedel, former chief legal counsel to Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

With the vacancy, there are now seven members on the board. Five of those – Byrum, Joel Ferguson, Melanie Foster, Dan Kelly and Brian Mosallam – have been on the board for the entirety of the Nassar scandal and subsequent fallout.

In addition to stalling the external investigation, the majority on the board has remained steadfast in its refusal to release thousands of internal documents about the Nassar case to investigators from Nessel’s office.

“I respect Trustee Schlichting’s decision to step down and I hope Gov. Whitmer appoints someone committed to transparency, which includes waiving privilege on the nearly 6,000 documents our department has yet to see so that we may complete our comprehensive investigation,” Nessel said in a statement.