In the wake of the case of a physician accused of the sexual molestation of underage female athletes, Michigan State University President Lou Anna Simon resigned on Wednesday evening, having lost the confidence of her colleagues and community. Nevertheless, Simon will enjoy a number of special benefits, including a lifetime of free tickets to MSU football games, as well as 12-month paid research leave if she returns to the faculty. Simon’s contract with the state-supported institution allows her to resign by giving a 60-day notice to the MSU board of trustees. During that time, she will serve as university president and "provide reasonable assistance" in the transition to her successor.
Dr. Larry Nassar, a world-renowned physician who was affiliated with MSU, has been convicted on child pornography charges and was recently sentenced to 175 years in prison for the sexual molestation of members of the U.S. gymnastics teams. Critics have charged that MSU did little to stop the molestation or respond effectively. Nassar’s victims told him in an Ingham County court room in Michigan of their feelings of hurt, disgust, and rage. Many of them asserted that their pleas and concern were ignored by USA Gymnastics, Michigan State University, and the US Olympic Committee.
The final speaker in the court was Rachael Denhollander, the former gymnast who was the first to make Nassar's abuse public. She described how the various institutions failed her and other gymnasts by allowing the abuse to continue for years. "Women and girls banded together to fight for themselves because no one else would do it," she said.
Nassar has already been sentenced to 60 years in prison on federal child pornography charges. He has also pleaded guilty to three charges of criminal sexual conduct in Eaton County, Michigan, in Michigan and is due to be sentenced on those charges on January 31.
The university board will meet on Friday to begin discussions over the transition. On Wednesday night, board chairman Brian Breslin released a statement saying, "We will be working through the details of transition with President Simon through the rest of the week and will announce them as soon as we can." He added, "Many are aware President Simon delayed returning to the faculty to lead through the challenges the university has been facing. We greatly appreciate her integrity, her many contributions, and her willingness to continue to serve through transition."
If Simon does choose to returning to the MSU faculty, she would receive 12-month research leave at her current salary of $750,000. Afterward, she would receive that salary for another year, followed by payments of 75% ($562,500) of her salary for the next two years. Under the title of “president emeritus,” Simon would also receive office space and secretarial support.
While past MSU presidents have been given offices on campus and other benefits, Simon’s contract has unique attributes. According to James Finkelstein -- a former professor who researches pay scales for academic presidents, Simon’s is the only such contract that pays 100% of the last presidential base salary for the first year upon returning to a faculty. That means Simon will receive more than Dr. C. Konrad Gelbke -- a MSU faculty member and one of the world’s leading physicists -- who is paid $433,441 per year.
Simon’s letter of resignation follows:
Members of the Board of Trustees:
The last year and a half has been very difficult for the victims of Larry Nassar, for the university community, and for me personally. To the survivors, I can never say enough that I am so sorry that a trusted, renowned physician was really such an evil, evil person who inflicted such harm under the guise of medical treatment. I know that we all share the same resolve to do whatever it takes to avert such tragedies here and elsewhere.
As you and many in the Spartan family know, I planned to retire in December 2016, and we had begun a conversation about a smooth transition. Then the Indianapolis Star article appeared about USAG and one of the victims contacted MSU police to file a complaint. The MSU Police investigation commenced. Nassar’s employment was terminated shortly thereafter. Work began within the HealthTeam and other areas of the university to improve safety. Given the challenges, my transition was postponed. I appreciate the support you provided.
The survivors’ accounts are horrific. They are tragic, heartbreaking, and personally gut-wrenching. I take solace that many victims have indicated that the opportunity to confront Nassar is a step toward healing. I am proud of the exceptional work of the Special Victims Unit led by Lieutenant Andrea Munford with the steadfast leadership of Chief Dunlap. I am proud of my support of their work even though the results have been very painful to all who watched.
As Nassar’s legal journey to prison was drawing to a close, more and more negative attention was focused on Michigan State University, and on me. I am pleased that statements have been made by Mr. Fitzgerald and Board members about my integrity and the fact that there is no cover-up. I support wholeheartedly the Board’s decision to ask the Attorney General’s Office to review the events surrounding the Nassar matter. This is an important step toward providing more assurance to the university community and to the public. In the past, I have provided assurances to the Attorney General of my full cooperation, and I will continue to do so.
As tragedies are politicized, blame is inevitable. As president, it is only natural that I am the focus of this anger. I understand, and that is why I have limited my personal statements. Throughout my career, I have worked very hard to put Team MSU first. Throughout my career, I have consistently and persistently spoken and worked on behalf of Team MSU. I have tried to make it not about me. I urge those who have supported my work to understand that I cannot make it about me now. Therefore, I am tendering my resignation as president according to the terms of my employment agreement.
Anyone who knows me knows I am a principled person. I have spent my entire professional career, more than 40 years, at MSU. I love this place. I have watched it grow and prosper, and it has been the honor and privilege of my life to serve as its president since 2005, and over the last few years, to have the opportunity to work with all of you toward our shared goals for MSU. I will continue to do whatever I can to help MSU prosper in the future as a Spartan in whatever role I may play.
Lou Anna K. Simon, President
John A. Hannah Distinguished Professor
Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.