EAST LANSING, Mich. — Lou Anna Simon, who resigned Wednesday as president of Michigan State University amid public outrage over the Larry Nassar sex-abuse scandal, could earn hundreds of thousands of dollars a year if she returns to the faculty, according to an analysis of her contract.
Researchers at George Mason University who have reviewed the contracts of about 250 college presidents said Simon’s is the only one they have encountered that maintains the full base salary if a president moves into a faculty position. That suggests Simon could earn at least $750,000 for one year if she chooses to return as a professor after a sabbatical, said Judith Wilde, chief operating officer of the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason and a professor who has studied university presidents’ compensation.
The $750,000 salary was Simon’s base pay at the time of a 2014 addendum to her contract, and her compensation probably has increased since then, Wilde said.
After the initial year, Wilde said, it appears Simon could earn three-quarters of that base salary annually, more than the most highly paid faculty member at the university, C. Konrad Gelbke, one of the world’s leading physicists.
The university has not disclosed the specifics of Simon’s departure, and a university spokesman declined to comment on whether the circumstances of her resignation could influence the terms of the contract. Simon, who had led Michigan State since 2005, and the chairman of the board of trustees did not respond Thursday to requests for comment.
Ray Cotton, a lawyer who has worked with such contracts for decades, said Simon’s potential pay as a tenured faculty member is reasonable. He pointed out that the board’s vice chairman said earlier this week that Simon had been the university’s best president during his many years on the board, someone who enjoyed strong support from faculty and achieved fundraising success.
While Cotton said many people — including him — are furious about Nassar’s abuses, “that doesn’t mean it was the president’s fault.”
Nassar, a physician who worked in sports medicine at Michigan State and treated many girls with USA Gymnastics, was sentenced Wednesday to 40 to 175 years in prison after more than 150 women testified that he had molested them. As the surge of tearful and defiant women continued for days, public disgust mounted, and pressure on Simon increased inexorably, despite what had seemed to be firm support from trustees.
Women have said they complained to Michigan State athletics officials as early as 1997. In 2014, Nassar was cleared in an investigation by the school after a woman alleged he assaulted her. Attorneys for Michigan State have said Nassar’s sexual abuse was difficult to detect and that university officials did not mishandle prior complaints.
On Wednesday evening, Simon wrote, “As tragedies are politicized, blame is inevitable,” explaining she would step down as president.
It appears Simon would be eligible for her annual $100,000 retention bonus for 2017, Wilde said, and continued perks, such as long-term-care insurance, tickets to games and lifetime technical support for herself and her spouse, Wilde said.
On Thursday, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said her agency is investigating Michigan State and “will hold MSU accountable for any violations of federal law.”
“My heart breaks for the survivors of Larry Nassar’s disgusting crimes. What happened at Michigan State is abhorrent,” DeVos said. “It cannot ever happen again — there or anywhere. Students must be safe and protected on our nation’s campuses.”
Moriah Balingit contributed to this report.