Survivors have high hopes for new MSU trustee, but renew call to remove several legacy members

New Michigan State University Trustee Renee Knake | Photo from Gov. Whitmer's office

As of Wednesday afternoon, Michigan State University’s embattled Board of Trustees once again has eight members.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at LCC, Oct. 10, 2019 | Nick Manes

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced the appointment of Trustee Renee Knake in a press release. Knake is a law professor, legal ethics expert and author who has taught at a number of universities, including MSU.

Her appointment fills the seat that was vacated in October by Nancy Schlichting, who resigned citing transparency concerns among fellow trustees. Schlichting — who then-Gov. Rick Snyder had just appointed  in December 2018 — specifically called out the board’s majority decision against a full, independent investigation into Larry Nassar’s time at the university as reason for her resignation. Nassar, a former team physician at MSU and USA Gymnastics, is currently serving 175 years in prison on multiple sexual abuse charges.

Since Schlichting’s departure, students and advocates have called on Whitmer to appoint someone who would bring transparency, accountability and real change to the board.

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ReclaimMSU, one of the foremost survivor advocate organizations at the university, issued this statement to the Advance in a Twitter direct message:

“Prof. Knake is an accomplished professional in an area where the current trustees are severely lacking: ethics and justice. We hope that she supports and will fight for full cooperation with the Attorney General [Dana Nessel].

“We know from Schlichting’s experience, though, that the legacy trustees are fully capable of stonewalling newcomers as they have stonewalled the Attorney General. Whitmer must insist on a new direction, or Knake will be faced with the same frustrations as Schlichting. Whitmer should call for the immediate resignation of every trustee who continues to block the Attorney General’s investigation.”

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Parents of Sister Survivors Engage (POSSE), an organization of parents of Nassar survivors, described Knake as having “deep ties to the university community” in a Facebook post.

“We deeply regret that former Trustee Nancy Schlichting, an outsider with vast organizational management experience, resigned after just one year, saying the board was going in the wrong direction,” the post reads.

“We renew our challenge to Gov. Whitmer to make more needed changes by removing obstructionist legacy board members, particularly in light of Trustee Joel Ferguson’s statement reported in the media this week that the sexual abuse of more than 505 women was ‘overblown.’” 

That was in reference to the story the Michigan Advance broke on Tuesday about sports commentator Bob Page reporting on a podcast that Ferguson told him that some aspects of the Nassar situation was “overblown.” Ferguson denied saying that.

MSU Trustee Joel Ferguson disputes sports commentator’s claim he called Nassar crisis ‘overblown’

POSSE added that Knake should commit to cooperating with Nessel’s investigation and releasing requested university documents to her office.

State Rep. Julie Brixie (D-Meridian Twp.) praised Whitmer’s appointment.

“As an author and attorney, Professor Knake is a leading voice on ethics, gender diversity, and first amendment rights. These are all qualities that will serve her very well in this role,” Brixie said in a statement emailed shortly after Whitmer’s announcement. “It’s time to restore trust, which begins with waiving privilege and an independent review.”

Knake will serve out the remainder of Schlichting’s term, which is set to expire in 2023.