Michigan State University will pay $500 million to the victims of former physician Larry Nassar, who molested hundreds of girls and young women while working as a sports medicine specialist on-campus.
According to the New York Times, the settlement will entail the largest amount ever paid in a sex abuse scandal involving an American university. It ‘dwarfs’ the payout stemming from the Jerry Sandusky debacle at Penn State, writes the paper, and exceeds the damages accrued by the Roman Catholic Church in most of its molestation cases.
“I think the number being so large sends a message that is undeniable, that something really terrible happened here and that Michigan State owns it,” said attorney John Manly, who represented many of the 332 women who sued the university and its Board of Trustees. “When you pay half a billion dollars, it’s an admission of responsibility.”
Shortly before noon on Thursday, Michigan State University interim president, John Engler, sent staff and students an e-mail describing the settlement. In it, Engler outlines some of the settlement’s conditions as well as steps the school has taken to ensure that history never repeats itself.
“The damage done over a period of years by one evil doctor harmed hundreds of girls and young women, including 31 who were MSU students,” wrote Engler, who served as Michigan’s governor from 1991 to 2003. “The assaults by Larry Nassar shocked our campus and the nation.
“The testimony of so many survivors and their families touched the hearts of Spartan nation,” said Engler.
Among the changes outlined by Engler and the university include enhanced systems to report suspected predators on campus as well as increased controls for sensitive exams at university clinics.
Despite the record-setting $500 million settlement and Engler’s promise to continue amending Nassar’s wrongs, several victims said they were disappointed that institutional changes weren’t part of the settlement itself. They, along with their attorneys, vowed to keep fighting to effect change, both on-campus and in legislature.
“I am thankful that the historic settlement at least in part reflects the horrific nature of what took place at MSU,” said Rachel Denhollander, the first woman to accuse Nassar of abuse. “However, I am deeply disappointed at the missed opportunity for meaningful reform and change at the university.”
Denhollander is widely recognized as having set the Nassar investigation into motion. Many of the physician’s other victims say her willingness to stand up and share her story inspired them to do the same.
Nassar, who was well-respected for his work with members of USA Gymnastics and the Olympic team, preyed on his young clients since the early 1990s. While several girls had lodged complaints against the doctor and his methods – molestation disguised as hands-on, holistic medicine – Nassar remained at Michigan State even as the university police began investigating his practice.
“It’s tragic to think how many lives were adversely affected because of their failure to act on these claims, identify Nassar as the sexual predator he was, and weed him out of the system,” said attorney Brian McKeen of McKeen & Associates, which represented a dozen of Nassar’s victims in their lawsuit against MSU. “Our educational institutions need to make it their mission to protect their students, not themselves from liability.”