Michigan State University President Lou Anna Simon plans to step down before the week is over, according to multiple reports. This comes in the wake of the sentencing Wednesday of former Michigan State doctor 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.
The news was first reported by The State News, a Michigan State student newspaper.
Two of Michigan State’s eight governing board members have called on Simon to resign. Trustee Dianne Byrum released a statement Wednesday evening saying she supported Simon’s immediate resignation.
Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State doctor, was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison on Wednesday for sexually assaulting athletes under his care. More than 150 people read impact statements at his sentencing over the past week.
The CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee announced an investigation amid Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse of gymnasts and called on all USA Gymnastics directors to resign as part of a four-step process to address the aftermath of the scandal.
More than 150 victims and advocates spoke during the sentencing phase of Larry Nassar’s criminal sexual conduct trial, and their words and stories need to be heard.
The board of trustees met last Friday for five hours before giving Simon a public vote of confidence, but fractures among its members became public a day later. Trustee Mitch Lyons said Saturday night that he thought Simon needed to step down because the public’s trust in her leadership was irreparably damaged.
Byrum joined a growing list of people, including U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, who have urged Simon to leave her post since the beginning of a sentencing hearing for Nassar. Nassar assaulted scores of girls and young women during the last quarter century when he was supposed to be treating them for injuries in a sports clinic on Michigan State’s campus. Many of the women who spoke at the hearing in the past week blamed the university for missing opportunities to stop his abuse earlier.
Michigan’s state House of Representatives called on Simon to resign in a resolution passed Wednesday afternoon. Several other state politicians from the East Lansing area have echoed that cry in the past couple weeks. The university’s student government and its student newspaper also have said they do not trust the current administration and that Simon needs to leave in order for the school to move on from the trauma caused by Nassar.
Byrum also said she wanted to distance herself and the rest of the board from comments made by fellow trustee Joel Ferguson on a sports talk radio show Tuesday morning.
“I am disgusted by the abhorrent comments made earlier this week by Trustee Joel Ferguson, who does not speak for other members of the MSU Board in any way,” she said.
Ferguson laughed at the idea of the NCAA investigating Michigan State. Later that night, the NCAA sent a letter of inquiry to the school opening an investigation. He also was heavily criticized for referring to the serial sexual abuse case as “that Nassar thing” while saying that there were many other things going on at the university that occupied his time. He said that discussion about Nassar and Simon’s future at the school lasted only “10 minutes” during the Friday meeting. Two trustees have since refuted that characterization, saying the majority of the meeting was about the Nassar case.
A spokesperson representing Ferguson issued an apology Tuesday night for his “inadvertent” comments. He said Wednesday night that he didn’t mind Byrum’s criticism because “to tell the truth, I didn’t agree with them either. That’s why I apologized. I made some comments and I used the wrong words.” Ferguson also told the radio host that he was confident that Simon wasn’t going anywhere. When reached on the phone Wednesday evening, Ferguson wasn’t as certain.
“A lot of things have changed [since his comments Tuesday morning],” he said, citing a faculty vote of no confidence in Simon. “I think she’s a very intelligent person. She’ll read whatever is out there and make her decision.”
The board of trustees met again Wednesday to discuss ongoing litigation in civil suits related to the Nassar case that list the university as a co-defendant. The board also plans to meet Friday morning for a work session that won’t be open to the public. It’s not clear yet what will be on the agenda for that meeting.