Michigan State University's Board of Trustees issued a statement Sunday that it firmly believes President Lou Anna K. Simon is the right person to the lead the institution. Earlier in the day, the Lansing State Journal published a stern editorial recommending that she should step down.
It cited the case of Dr. Larry Nassar, the fired MSU physician who recently pleaded guilty to abusing girls and women under his care in campus gymnastics programs. The newspaper also cited sexual assaults involving members of the MSU football team and a 2015 finding by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights that MSU's handling of Title IX complaints created a "sexually hostile environment."
Leadership requires bold vision for the future and relentless drive to succeed. No one can fault Simon for her vision or her drive, which have helped the university push into new frontiers of economic development and global engagement.
Yet leadership cannot be entirely forward focused. It also requires an astute sense of the present – situational awareness, if you will – and the ability to react appropriately to threats that endanger the organization and the people who support and depend upon it.
By failing to fully understand the threats posed by the escalating Nassar crisis and the long-term shortcomings of MSU’s Title IX efforts, Simon has demonstrated an acute lack of leadership in the present.
The Lansing State Journal credited Simon with pushing enrollment over 50,000 students; landing the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams project on campus and expanding medical education and services in Grand Rapids, Flint and Detroit.
BOARD OF TRUSTEES RESPONSE
In an 8-paragraph statement issued by the university on Sunday, the MSU Board of Trustees said its confidence in Simon has not wavered.
"We disagree vehemently with the conclusion drawn in today's editorial," said the statement.
The trustees said they have been kept fully informed and regularly updated about the legal team's work on the Nassar case. It also cited changes made by the university to address incidents.
We recognize that the past several years have been challenging when it comes to the critical issues of sexual misconduct here at MSU and across the country. We sympathize with all survivors in the MSU community. When these horrible incidents do occur, our priority is to ensure justice for survivors and to make sure they have access to the caring support and resources they need. No one should be threatened with sexual violence. We must continue to do everything we can to eradicate it.
Whether it is the creation of the Office of Institutional Equity, improving resources on campus for survivors or the recent external review of our Title IX program, active steps have and are being taken to better serve the MSU community. Sexual assault complaints are complex and challenging to investigate and adjudicate, and universities must provide a neutral, timely process that is fair to both parties.
The Board of Trustees said MSU is limited to discussing ongoing litigation due to federal privacy laws and "there is nothing unusual or nefarious about MSU's relationship with its counsel."
The Board appointed Simon the President of MSU in 2005. She is the 20th president of the university. Simon earned her doctorate from MSU in 1974 and served in several administrative posts prior to her appointment as president. The Board reiterated its support in the statement's last paragraph:
President Simon has proven her commitment to helping the university when it comes to the societal issue of sexual misconduct. She has the complete confidence of the Board of Trustees to lead the university in this and all endeavours.