Simon's Congressional Testimony Another Reminder Of MSU's Failures

Simon's Congressional Testimony Another Reminder Of MSU's Failures

Crowley Sullivan

Simon's Congressional Testimony Another Reminder Of MSU's Failures

Former Michigan State University president Lou Anna K. Simon appeared before Congress and offered more reminders of the school’s epic failures that enabled Nassar.

Contact @crowleysullivan

Among the many disturbing elements of Lou Anna K. Simon’s testimony before Congress on Tuesday is the fact that she failed to volunteer to appear and participate in the hearing.

The hearing, held by the Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance, and Data Security was able to include in-person questioning of Simon only through a subpoena.

June 5, 2018; Washington, DC, USA; Former USA Gymnastics president Steve Penny was excused from a Senate subcommittee facing questioning about the sex-abuse scandal involving former team doctor Larry Nassar. Penny invoked his fifth amendment right and refused to testify Tuesday. Lou Anna Simon, former President, Michigan State University, right, and Rhonda Faehn, former Women’s Program Director, USA Gymnastics, left, continue to testify. Mandatory Credit: Jack Gruber- USA TODAY

Obviously, as long as this whole, horrible mess continues to play out, lawyers will drive strategical tactics on behalf of Simon and so many others from Michigan State – we understand that.

But after all of the failures that led to Larry Nassar’s sexual assault crimes perpetrated against so many Michigan State student athletes for twenty years, the idea that the former president of the university would not voluntarily appear before Congress speaks to the very issues of the failed leadership that enabled Nassar.

Even Simon’s account and overall testimony fails to demonstrate the basic rules of leadership and accountability.

But, of course, we all know now that everyone is doing whatever they can to cover their own behinds.

When we take even a cursory look at Simon’s responses to the committee’s questions and the actual ways in which she handled the disgusting criminal, William Strampel, the former dean and direct boss of Nassar, we can’t help but see a former university president who demonstrated feckless leadership during her time as president.

We now have a clear, painful view into everything that came about due to that feckless leadership.

In 2005, 2010, and 2015, Simon and the university were made quite aware of Strampel’s despicable behavior and overall existence.

And it’s come to light that this sick man had pornographic imagery of what appeared to be Michigan State female students in addition to imagery of sex toys on his computer (administered, presumably, by Michigan State University).

How do these people sleep at night?

Lou Anna K. Simon did a lot of good things for Michigan State during her years as the ultimate leader of the institution that so many of us hold so close to our hearts.  And we thank her for the good work that was done.

But this is her legacy.

This is what defines her stewardship.

This is what will haunt her for as long as she lives.

And she has earned all of this.

And we, the proud alumni and meaningful supporters of the school, will live with this for decades.

Simon’s testimony before Congress shows that she hasn’t learned, taken stock of herself, or examined her own flaws that contributed significantly to everything that Nassar was able to do under Michigan State’s nose for twenty years.

Memo to whoever the next permanent president is at Michigan State University –

Study Simon’s behavior.

Understand how she failed to properly dig in on the countless warning signs over so many years.

Recognize that accepting responsibility and owning up to failures is a true sign of a true leader.

And realize that this community is in desperate need of a leader that understands what leadership really is.

Simon: If I had known about Nassar sooner, I would have fired him

Speaking before an unsympathetic audience of questioning senators and skeptical athletes, former Michigan State University President Lou Anna Simon apologized to Larry Nassar’s victims during testimony Tuesday at a congressional hearing but repeated claims that no one at MSU knew his behavior was criminal before 2016.

She defended a 2014 MSU administrative investigation into Nassar, sparked by Amanda Thomashow’s report of being sexually assaulted by the sports doctor — then practicing at the school — but acknowledged that  “in hindsight … there were clearly things that might have been warning signs.” However, Simon added, she believed that investigators at the time “did their best.”

Throughout the hearing, the second held on Capitol Hill looking into Nassar’s crimes and accusations he molested hundreds of girls and young women as a noted doctor for USA Gymnastics, the U.S. Olympic team and Michigan State, senators tried to pin down why red flags were ignored and made clear that they weren’t buying that MSU did all it could, expressing frustration that Simon seemed to be dodging culpability.

It’s a “stain on a great university (that) will be there for decades to come,” said U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., and an MSU alum. He said a recent $500-million settlement to be paid out to some 330 of Nassar’s victims “grew out of a culture that enabled a predator. Nassar didn’t get away with his abhorrent behavior for years on his own.”

He went on to call it a “catastrophic institutional failure.”

As the hearing got underway, senators began to ask questions of former USA Gymnastics President Steve Penny, who also has been accused of not appropriately responding to complaints about Nassar and potentially taking actions to quiet the concerns. Penny six times refused to answer questions — claiming his Fifth Amendment right not to testify.

Among the questions he refused to answer was whether he passed on any complaints about Nassar to MSU.

Another senator, meanwhile, also took aim at MSU, pinning blame on Simon and administrators for not taking more action to stop Nassar before 2016.

“There are warning signs here that should have been heeded earlier at the very top of Michigan State University,” said U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, the ranking Democratic member of the Senate subcommittee that held the hearing. “Apologies aren’t enough. We have to honor those survivors with real action.”

Blumenthal also asked Simon whether she wished she would have taken the initiative in 2014 to be more aggressive in looking at Nassar.

“‘I’m not a doctor, nor am I capable about making judgments about medical procedures,” Simon said, referring to Nassar assaulting women under the guise of medical treatment\. “Do I wish in hindsight things might have been different? I have a lot of wishes.”

Also not buying it was Kaylee Lorincz, a Nassar survivor, who reportedly was offered $250,000 to settle the case in a private meeting with current interim president John Engler and then was attacked in a private email by one of Engler’s key aides.

She said of Simon’s testimony, “I don’t think she was completely honest” and that Simon knew or should have known something was going on — even if she didn’t know it specifically involved Nassar — as early as the 2014 investigation. “I’m disappointed.” Lorincz said.

Following the hearing, which was called by the Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance and Data Security and its chairman, U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., Simon hustled out of the committee room with her lawyer, Mayer Morganroth, and refused to answer questions from the Free Press.

Moran made clear at least one more hearing is expected to look into what can be done to make sure cases such as Nassar’s are responded to appropriately.

That 2014 investigation cleared Nassar. Simon has said she was told about the investigation but didn’t know Nassar’s name or details of the accusations against him.

“Not a day goes by without me wishing that he had been caught and punished sooner. And not a day goes by without me wondering what we missed and what could have been done to detect his evil before a former youth gymnast filed her complaint with the MSU police in 2016.”

She said Nassar was immediately removed from clinical practice, then fired on Sept. 20, 2016.

That 2016 complaint by Rachael Denhollander was brought to light by the Indianapolis Star and sparked a criminal investigation that ended with Nassar sentenced to 60 years in federal prison on child pornography charges. He is in a maximum-security federal prison in Tucson, Ariz. He also faces a 40- to 175-year sentence issued in Ingham County for seven first-degree sexual conduct charges and a 40- to 125-year sentence from Eaton County, where he was charged with 10 sexual assaults. Those sentences will not begin until he finishes the federal sentence.

In his opening statement, Moran reminded the audience that Simon and Penny didn’t appear voluntarily.

“Through their counsels, both Mr. Penny and Dr. Simon made clear that they would not appear voluntarily on June 5 or any other date going forward. I wish that were not the case, as issuing subpoenas is something this committee takes very seriously and pursues only as a last resort.”

The Free Press revealed in April that three different reviews of Strampel’s work — in 2005, 2010 and 2015, when he was dean of the university’s College of Osteopathic Medicine — showed inappropriate conduct. In each case, the provost at the time recommended Strampel’s contract be renewed, despite having received complaints about Strampel’s comments in public and toward students.

Simon admitted to Congress she knew in at least 2004 as she was transitioning from provost to president about complaints regarding Strampel, but said it was just inappropriate comments. She repeated her claim that any possible action rested on the shoulders of provosts, not her when she was president.

MSU’s actions are still under review, including by a Michigan special prosecutor. Simon was interviewed on May 1 by State Police detectives, the Detroit Free Press reported exclusively on Sunday. At the end of the interview, Simon was asked whether she was partially responsible.

“There is collective responsibility, not individual blame,” Simon said, according to a report of the interview obtained by the Free Press.

Contact David Jesse: 313-222-8851 or djesse@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter: @reporterdavidj.

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