Lou Anna Simon, the long-time president of Michigan State University, resigned from her post amidst pressure Wednesday evening.
Criticized for her handling of the Larry Nassar scandal, Simon’s step down was arguably overdue. Although the university Board of Trustees reaffirmed their faith in her leadership Friday, calls for Simon’s resignation only intensified after Dr. Nassar’s sentencing.
Found guilty of criminal sexual conduct with seven underage girls – and accused of molesting over 150 others – Nassar, a former USA Gymnastics physician, was sentenced to serve between 40 and 175 years in prison. He’d earlier been convicted on separate child pornography charges.
Throughout the physician’s trial, Simon frequently found herself attracting controversy. Some reports suggested she may have been passed along information about a physician under investigation. Critics say the Simon administration seemed less inclined toward cooperation than self-salvation.
“To the survivors, I can never say enough that I am so sorry that trusted, renowned physician was really such an evil, evil person who inflicted such harm under the guise of medical treatment,” wrote Simon in a resignation letter, which posted on Michigan State University’s website Wednesday evening.
But Simon was sure to deny accusations of a “cover-up” or culpability, saying her decision was prompted solely by outside pressure.
“As tragedies are publicized, blame is inevitable. As president, it is only natural that I am the focus of this anger,” she wrote.
MSU’s Board of Trustees Chairman, Brian Breslin, wrote on the university domain that the school’s leadership “agreed it is now time for change.”
Breslin said that he, Simon, and the Board are “working through the details of transition.” Until a successor for Simon is appointed, she’ll continue to remain with the university.
According to the New York Times, an investigation by former United States attorney Patrick Fitzgerald concluded Michigan State’s upper-level administration had no knowledge of Nassar’s misdeeds until a newspaper report was published in August 2016. However, other publications cast the official narrative into doubt – the Lansing State Journal noted that Nassar continued to see patients for 16 months after MSU police began building a case against him.
Pressure on Simon reached critical mass on Wednesday, shortly after Judge Rosemarie Aquilina told a sobbing Larry Nassar that she’d “just signed [his] death warrant.”
Both of Michigan’s national-level senators issued separate condemnations of Simon, urging her to vacate her post. Meanwhile, in the state’s House of Representatives, a bipartisan, non-binding resolution calling for Simon’s abdication passed 96-11.
State Senator Curtis Hertel Jr., writes the Times, said momentum picked up against Simon when faculty turned against her. The president who’d built up Michigan State during the Recession and times of economic turmoil had, as of winter, lost the support of university staff and academic personnel. Mr. Hertel, an MSU alumnus whose district encompasses East Lansing, said Simon should have taken more decisive action after she learned a school physician was the subject of a Title IX investigation in 2014.
“We need someone who is going to change the culture of the university,” said Hertel.