The embattled president of Michigan State University is facing increasing pressure to resign as controversy engulfs the school over its handling of a prominent physician who has pleaded guilty to sex crimes against gymnasts.
Some faculty leaders called for a no-confidence vote this week, and hundreds of students say they will march Friday to the school’s administration building, calling on Lou Anna K. Simon to step down.
“We will literally be at her doorstep,” confronting her, said Eli Pales, a junior from Colorado speaking for the Michigan State University College Democrats, who are helping organize the protest. “We feel there has been a huge mishandling of the Larry Nassar case,” including a lack of transparency about what university officials knew, and did, about complaints, and a lack of empathy for victims, Pales said. “Lou Anna K. Simon does not have the faith of the student body, its alumni and many of its employees anymore.”
Two professors called Tuesday for an emergency meeting to hold a no-confidence vote, and a leadership group agreed to send an email Wednesday to the 2,200 faculty members of the school’s Academic Congress to ask if the faculty senate should hold such a vote, according to the Lansing State Journal and a professor who attended the meeting and confirmed the account. The professors who called for the vote did not immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday.
As tearful and defiant testimony continued this week from victims of sexual abuse at the sentencing hearing for Nassar, the disgraced physician who began working at Michigan State in the 1990s, state political leaders and local newspapers called for Simon’s resignation.
But a senior member of the board of trustees said Tuesday the president is not leaving. “That will not happen. Period,” Joel Ferguson, the board’s vice chairman, told Michigan radio station WVFN. “I’ve been on the board for 30 years and she by far is the best president we’ve ever had.”
The board has stood behind Simon, praising her leadership of the university, although one trustee broke ranks this weekend and said publicly Simon should resign. Trustees did not immediately respond to messages Tuesday seeking comment.
On Friday, the university’s board asked the state attorney general’s office to review the school’s culpability for Nassar’s crimes. Nassar has pleaded guilty to seven sexual assaults and is appealing a conviction for federal child pornography crimes. The university and USA Gymnastics are contesting lawsuits filed by more than 130 women and girls who claim abuse by Nassar.
Jason Cody, a spokesman for the university, said Simon was not available for an interview. He referred to a website with examples meant to illustrate the university’s commitment to cultivating a safe and inclusive campus community, such as increasing oversight of youth programs, dedicating new funding to combating sexual assault on campus and improving patient safety.
The Detroit News reported last week that 14 people at Michigan State were told sexual misconduct claims existed against Nassar during his 20 years at the school, and that Simon was told in 2014 about a police report regarding a university physician.
The student body president sent a message to the board of trustees Thursday, after a unanimous vote by the Associated Students of Michigan State University, condemning the board and administration for their handling of sexual assault. According to the resolution, the undergraduate student body strongly believes “the leadership of our institution has failed us,” and that change in leadership at the highest levels was necessary in order to move forward.
Lorenzo Santavicca, student body president, said frustration has built for years among undergraduates about how sexual assault complaints are addressed by university officials, and the Nassar case cast a spotlight on that. “Sanctions have been minimized. Perpetrators have been enabled,” he said.
He said Simon’s comments about the Nassar case have been cryptic. At this time, he said, “there is little to no support for the president on the part of students.”
On Thursday, the cover of the campus newspaper, the State News, read: “President Simon, RESIGN.”
Mackenzie Mrla, a junior at Michigan State, said she and others organized the student protest in the wake of the victims’ testimonies. “We were absolutely disgusted with the university’s reluctance to take responsibility. . . . We refuse to watch as MSU tries to silence these victims. These women are truly heroes for speaking up against this horrible monster our university employed. They saved countless students from future abuse.”