A member of the Michigan State Board of Trustees says he believes university president Lou Anna Simon must resign in order to help the school move on from the damage done by convicted sexual predator Larry Nassar.
Trustee Mitch Lyons made the comments Saturday night, a day after the eight-member board publicly backed Simon in the wake of calls for her resignation due to how her administration handled the fallout from Nassar, the disgraced former Michigan State and USA Gymnastics doctor.
“I do not agree with our statement of support for President Simon,” Lyons said. “As I expressed repeatedly to fellow board members during our discussion Friday, I don’t feel that President Simon can survive the public outcry that has been generated by this tragedy and even less so after hearing the testimony of these brave survivors of Larry Nassar’s abuse. I feel that our best recourse is for President Simon to resign immediately.”
Nassar pleaded guilty to 10 counts of criminal sexual conduct in November. More than 150 women have accused him of sexual assault, many saying he abused them when they saw him for medical treatment on Michigan State’s campus.
As part of the plea deal, any woman who filed a police report about Nassar can address him and the public during a sentencing hearing that began Tuesday in Lansing. Several of the women have used their time in front of the court to criticize Michigan State and USA Gymnastics for failing to stop Nassar when given opportunities over the last 25 years.
Six different women have said in court this week or in previous lawsuit filings that they told coaches, athletic trainers and other officials at Michigan State about Nassar’s abuse. Some say they spoke up about the disgraced doctor more than two decades ago.
Lyons, who is not seeking re-election when his term expires, said he does not believe Simon or anyone at the university engaged in a cover-up of Nassar’s abuse. But he said he believes the public has lost faith in her ability to lead, and as a result, a change is necessary.
On Friday, Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to publicly accuse Nassar of sexual assault, said she was “disappointed and discouraged” by Michigan State’s decision to stand behind Simon. She said after a week filled with women sharing their stories it felt as if the school still was not listening.
“I wish I could say that I was surprised, but this is part and parcel to the problems we have been pointing out for 18 months,” she said. “No one at Michigan State has listened since 1997, and still no one is listening. It leaves me so concerned for that campus and for little girls everywhere. If they are unwilling to listen, this is not going to change.”
At least four state politicians have called on Simon to resign. The student government at Michigan State passed a resolution Thursday saying that the student body had lost faith in the administration’s ability to create a safe environment on campus, and the student newspaper called for Simon’s resignation in an editorial printed the same day.
Spartans men’s basketball coach Tom Izzo, meanwhile, said “there is no way” he could waver in his support for Simon.
The board of trustees met for nearly five hours Friday to discuss the Nassar case. It and Simon asked the attorney general’s office to review the Nassar case and the school’s handling of it. The board also issued a statement of support for Simon.
“Through this terrible situation, the university has been perceived as tone-deaf, unresponsive and insensitive to the victims,” chairman Brian Breslin said Friday. “We understand the public’s faith has been shaken. … This can never happen again. …
“We continue to believe that President Simon is the right leader for the university, and she has our support.”
Sources say multiple people on the board of trustees have doubts about Simon’s long-term future as the university’s president.
Lyons on Saturday became the first to publicly dissent.