EAST LANSING, Mich. — Choking back tears, some trustees at Michigan State University apologized Friday to victims of Larry Nassar, who was sentenced this week to decades in prison for his abuse of girls and young women.

It was an emotional turning point for a university that has been accused by victims of ignoring complaints, going back 20 years, of sexual abuse by Nassar, who had been a university physician and volunteered with USA Gymnastics.

With multiple investigations and a lawsuit against the school, university leaders had responded cautiously. But after days of painful testimony from more than 150 women at Nassar’s sentencing hearing in East Lansing — testimony that gave the story global reach and drove home the deeply personal impact of the abuse on each victim and family — board members reversed course.

They spoke directly to victims, as fathers, as women, as people who had pledged to care for students at this public university. And they apologized.

At the meeting Friday, the trustees began by announcing an acting president and the beginning of a search for an interim president. Brian Breslin, chairman of the board, read a joint statement: “One after another, they asked for their voices to be heard,” he said of the victims.

It was clear that the university had not listened well enough, the board announced, and they will work directly with the women to reach a resolution.

Then, one after another, board members spoke. Many choked back tears or paused to regain composure. “I am so truly sorry,” Brian Mosallam said. He repeated the words, to get through tears, and make sure he was heard. “We failed you.”

The board, he said, had come across as “tone-deaf, emotionless and lacking empathy.”

Dianne Byrum said she had tried to work privately on the board to change minds but realized in retrospect she should have spoken out. Another board member said the words of victims had been playing over and over in her mind since she heard them in the courtroom, on TV and through newspaper accounts.

Mitch Lyons struggled with tears as well. “It’s hard for me as a father to fully grasp how this went unchecked for over 20 years.

“I have a daughter here. I have a daughter that has dreams of coming here, and I want her to feel safe. And I want all of our daughters to feel safe here. MSU needs to be better than this and we will be,” he promised.