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Pressure builds for Michigan State president to step down following Larry Nassar scandal

A Michigan State University trustee is calling for university president Lou Anna Simon to step down.

USA Gymnastics Doctor Larry Nassar Sentenced On Multiple Sexual Assault Charges Scott Olson/Getty Images
Emily Stewart covers business and economics for Vox and writes the newsletter The Big Squeeze, examining the ways ordinary people are being squeezed under capitalism. Before joining Vox, she worked for TheStreet.

Mitch Lyons, a Michigan State University trustee, is calling on the university’s president, Lou Anna Simon, to step down from her post in the wake of the scandal surrounding Larry Nassar, a former MSU university doctor who molested dozens of female athletes. The calls follow questions over what Simon and others knew about the allegations against Nassar. MSU’s Board of Trustees chair Brian Breslin said on Friday that Simon still had the board’s support and would continue to lead the university — all the other members of the university’s eight-member board of trustees still back Simon.

On Saturday, Lyons released a statement explaining his decision. It reads in part:

As I expressed repeatedly to fellow board members during our discussion Friday, I don’t feel that President Simon can survive the public outcry that has been generated by this tragedy and even less so after hearing the testimony of these brave survivors of Larry Nassar’s abuse. I feel that our best recourse is for President Simon to resign immediately in order to allow the healing process to begin, first and foremost for the survivors and secondarily for our university. I believe that without question, the public has lost confidence in Dr. Simon to effectively lead this university and I believe that this loss of confidence is irreparable.

He clarified that his decision was not a “personal indictment” of Simon and noted that the board has not been presented any evidence she knew about what was going on with Nassar, now 54.

The Detroit News reported this week that word of Nassar’s misconduct reached at least 14 MSU representatives over the course of two decades, and at least eight women reported his actions during his tenure at the university. Simon, who became MSU’s president in 2004, was informed in 2014 that a Title IX complaint and police report had been filed against an unnamed physician.

“I was informed that a sports medicine doctor was under investigation,” Simon said on Wednesday after appearing in court to observe a sentencing hearing. “I told people to play it straight up, and I did not receive a copy of the report. That’s the truth.”

Simon declined to comment on the women who said they tried to alert MSU, explaining that they are part of civil litigation. “What I can tell you is what I knew, straight up,” she said. “My standard response is to tell people to play things straight up and I did not receive a copy of the report.”

Lyons is not alone in calling for Simon’s resignation; members of the state legislature feel the same, and so does MSU’s student newspaper, the State News. “A monster like Nassar doesn’t happen alone,” the paper wrote in an editorial published on Thursday.

Nassar, a former doctor for USA Gymnastics and sports medicine physician at MSU, pleaded guilty to charges of criminal sexual conduct and child pornography in 2017. Last week, nearly 100 women came forward in court to testify at sentencing hearings for Nassar, telling harrowing accounts of their experiences with him.

“Larry, you do realize now that we, this group of women you so heartlessly abused over such a long period of time, are now a force. And you are nothing,” two-time Olympian Aly Raisman said in a Michigan courtroom on Friday. “The tables have turned, Larry — we are here; we have our voices. And we are not going anywhere.”

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