NEWS
25/01/2018 12:58 PM AEDT | Updated 27/01/2018 11:33 AM AEDT

Michigan State University President Resigns In Wake Of Sexual Assault Scandal

Larry Nassar, the doctor who abused so many young women, will spend the rest of his life in prison.

Lou Anna Simon resigned on Wednesday after 13 years as president of Michigan State University in the wake of a massive sexual assault scandal involving the disgraced sports team doctor Larry Nassar. 

Calls for Simon to step down began with reports that MSU administration officials and law enforcement knew about Nassar’s behavior and failed to stop him. Following Nassar’s sentencing for sex crimes on Wednesday, a source told the MSU student newspaper, The State News, that Simon would step down from her position by Friday

Simon posted her resignation announcement on the school’s website, where she addressed the statements of Nassar’s victims and the long justice process. She also minimized her role and previous knowledge of accusations against Nassar in 2014. 

“As tragedies are politicized, blame is inevitable. As president, it is only natural that I am the focus of this anger,” Simon wrote. “I understand, and that is why I have limited my personal statements.”

The former university president wrote about her work at MSU and her desire to put the university first. 

“I urge those who have supported my work to understand that I cannot make it about me now,” Simon continued. “Therefore, I am tendering my resignation as president according to the terms of my employment agreement.”

Earlier in the week, Joel Ferguson, vice chairman of the MSU board of trustees, said that Simon, whom he described as a good fundraiser, would not resign. Ferguson added that the university had more going on “than just this Nassar thing.” 

Nassar was once a respected physician employed by both the university and USA Gymnastics, which is also facing fierce criticism over its failure to do something about the serial abuser long ago. Because he was known for treating Olympic athletes, Nassar’s patients felt pressured to accept that his inappropriate, ungloved touch was legitimate medical care.

Simon told the Detroit News that she knew about the abuse allegations in 2014 ― two years before Nassar was fired by the school ― when a Title IX complaint and a police report were filed. School police investigated, but allowed Nassar to keep seeing patients. At least two student athletes had previously voiced complaints about him to university staff.

She said in her resignation that she’d planned to retire in December 2016, but decided against it when the Indianapolis Star broke the story of the allegations that year. 

“I told people to play it straight up, and I did not receive a copy of the report. That’s the truth,” Simon told the News. The same article said that more than a dozen MSU staffers knew about the accusations of abuse and did nothing. 

Michigan’s two senators, Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, called for Simon to resign on Wednesday. Both Democrats are alumni of the university. 

Peters released a statement in which he emphasized the need for new leadership as MSU has a “long way to go in rebuilding trust.” 

More than 150 young women said Nassar had molested them, including one girl who was just 6 at the time. Sometimes, they said, he even abused them when their parents were in the room during medical treatments.

On Jan. 24, Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison after 169 survivors and family members spent a week reading statements in court about the impact his abuse has had on their lives. One of his former patients died by suicide; her mother read a statement on her behalf. The father of another girl Nassar abused killed himself, and his daughter suspects it was partly out of guilt because he didn’t initially believe her story.

Nassar, 54, previously received a 60-year sentence for possession of child pornography and is expected to spend the rest of his life behind bars.

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Many of the women who read statements in Judge Rosemarie Aquilina’s Lansing, Michigan, courtroom blamed MSU and USA Gymnastics for failing to act sooner. Several USA Gymnastics officials resigned prior to Nassar’s sentencing. In an open-letter apology to the Team USA victims, the U.S. Olympic Committee also pledged to launch a third-party investigation into who enabled Nassar to commit his abuses for so long. 

MSU faculty called for a vote of no confidence in the school’s leadership this week, while the student newspaper ran a front page demanding that Simon resign. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette plans to open an investigation into MSU’s role in the scandal.

The NCAA also announced that it would open an investigation into the university’s athletic department.

“Since my first day on the job as athletic director, my focus has always been on the student-athlete,” MSU Athletic Director Mark Hollis told HuffPost in a statement. “They are at the core of our athletic department mission statement. Our first priority has always been and will always be their health and safety. In regards to the letter we received from the NCAA last night, the athletic compliance and university general counsel offices are preparing a comprehensive response. Michigan State University will cooperate with any investigation.”

Nick Visser contributed reporting.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story indicated that the girl whose father killed himself had been a patient of Nassar. In fact, she was a family friend. Language has also been updated to clarify that she believed her father’s suicide partly stemmed from guilt at not initially believing her story.