President Simon: Letter to MSU community, Jan. 19, 2018

Dear MSU community member:

With several events related to the terrible crimes committed by former MSU physician Larry Nassar in the news, I want to describe what we are doing to address the issues arising from this matter and, more importantly, the steps we are taking to support his victims, create the safest campus environment possible, and do our utmost to prevent something such as this from ever happening again.

Today, the Board of Trustees wrote to Michigan State Attorney General Bill Schuette asking him to undertake a review of the events surrounding the Nassar matter. As the Board said, “We are making this request because we believe such a review is needed to answer questions that persist concerning MSU’s handling of the Nassar situation.”

The testimony of Nassar’s victims this week made many of us, including me, listen to the survivors and the community in a different way. It is clear to the Board and me that a review by the Attorney General’s Office can provide the answers people need. I hope this review will help the survivors and the entire MSU community heal and move forward.

Board Chair Brian Breslin and I watched the livestream of the first day of the victim impact statements, and Trustee Melanie Foster and I attended the afternoon session at court yesterday. It was heartbreaking to hear victims talk about how Nassar abused them and their trust. As I have said, I am truly sorry for the abuse Nassar’s victims suffered, the pain it caused, and the pain it continues to cause. And I am sorry that a physician who called himself a Spartan so utterly betrayed everyone’s trust and everything for which the university stands. The Board has joined me in expressing these sentiments, and I can assure you the Board and I are united in our commitment to help the survivors move forward with their lives. 

Toward this end, the Board last month authorized creation of a $10-million fund to help survivors access counseling and mental health services, and last week we announced additional details of this initiative. The Healing Assistance Fund will be administered by Commonwealth Mediation and Conciliation, Inc., a Boston firm with extensive experience coordinating such services. MSU student-athletes and patients seen by Nassar at an MSU health clinic who were abused by him, as well as the parents of these victims, will be able to use the fund. Survivors and their parents also will be able to obtain reimbursement for out-of-pocket expenses incurred for such services before the creation of the fund. Simply put, our goal is to support survivors by making sure they get the counseling or mental health help they need, with minimal worry about cost. We have also retained the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault, which will provide referral services for Nassar’s victims who do not yet have counselors and need to locate providers near them.

Our focus on victims is necessary and appropriate, both now and in the future. But we have also have taken a hard look at ourselves to learn from what happened. Since the fall of 2016, we have engaged external experts to comprehensively review various programs and recommend changes to strengthen our policies, procedures, and systems, including an examination of patient care and safety in our health clinics, our Title IX program, and how medical services are provided to student-athletes and others. In short, we have systematically reviewed and sought to improve every part of MSU’s operations that were in any way connected to Nassar and his work, with the clear purpose of achieving the highest standards to protect students, athletes, and patients. Additional details are available on the MSU “Our Commitment” website:

I believe we have achieved much on this front over the last year and a half, although I also understand introducing new procedures does not change what happened to Nassar’s victims or the pain they feel. I am deeply committed to the pursuit of best practices, with external input and transparency about the status of our progress. You can be confident that we will continue to take additional steps to improve our systems.

Apart from describing the work we are doing on behalf of survivors, I also want to update you on the significant developments taking place in the Nassar criminal and civil cases.

Nassar has pleaded guilty in three criminal proceedings – federal child pornography charges, sexual assault cases in Ingham County, and sexual assault cases in Eaton County. He has been given the equivalent of a life sentence of 60 years for the pornography charges, the first of what I hope will be several lengthy prison sentences. This month, he will be sentenced separately in Ingham and Eaton counties. As I mentioned above, his victims are first being given the chance to make impact statements in court. This is happening now in Ingham County, where the proceedings are expected to run several days. The Eaton County court proceedings are scheduled for January 31. MSU and the MSU Police Department have worked and will continue to work with any law enforcement investigation looking into criminal matters involving Nassar. In particular, I want to thank the MSU Police and specifically the detectives in the Special Victims Unit, who spent countless hours helping bring Nassar to justice, as well as the FBI, the U.S. Attorney, and the Michigan Attorney General’s Office.

While the criminal cases are nearing conclusion, the civil litigation against MSU, involving multiple cases filed on behalf of victims, has begun to move forward. Last Friday, the university’s lawyers filed motions to dismiss plaintiffs’ claims based on a number of arguments. Given some of the criticism leveled at MSU, I hope you will keep a few important points in mind.

First, MSU is entitled to, and its insurers require, that we will mount an appropriate defense of these cases. This means MSU’s lawyers are making arguments in defense of the claims of civil liability. There is nothing extraordinary about such legal efforts – they are typical at this stage of civil litigation. Given Nassar’s horrendous acts, these arguments can seem disrespectful to the victims. Please know that the defenses raised on MSU’s behalf are in no way a reflection of our view of the survivors, for whom we have the utmost respect and sympathy, but rather represent, as the Board has said, our desire “to protect MSU’s educational and research missions.”

Second, depending on the court’s rulings on the initial legal arguments, the parties may enter into a period of “discovery,” in which each side will be able to review relevant documents and depose relevant witnesses to determine what happened and when. The entire pre-trial process can be time consuming, but it is often the standard means by which complex cases like this are decided on legal grounds or brought forward to trial.

So, as the litigation progresses in the months ahead, you will likely continue to hear a variety of allegations and accusations against the university. I ask for your patience as well as your understanding that MSU cannot litigate the cases in the media and that many public assertions may go unchallenged unless or until they are addressed in open court.

The Board hired external legal counsel to assist MSU in responding to the Nassar allegations and specifically instructed them that if they find any evidence during their ongoing engagement that anyone at MSU other than Nassar knew of Nassar’s criminal behavior and did anything to conceal or facilitate it, then that evidence of criminal conduct will be reported immediately to appropriate law enforcement authorities and the Board will be informed. 

In a recent letter to the Michigan State Attorney General, MSU’s external counsel, including former U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, underscored those clear instructions from the Board and stated that, “. . . the evidence will show that no MSU official believed that Nassar committed sexual abuse prior to newspaper reports in the summer of 2016.”

The FBI and MSU Police Department also conducted a joint investigation earlier this year into whether any university employee engaged in criminal conduct relating to Nassar’s actions; there were no charges filed. I have complete faith in the legal process and in the professionalism and dedication of local, state, and federal law enforcement.

We understand and respect the desire for information and details arising from the Nassar matter, which now spans 16 months, and we are committed to continuing to share whatever information we can with the MSU community and the public.


Lou Anna K. Simon, Ph.D.