The MSU Trustee who thinks there are more important things to discuss than ‘this Nassar thing’ should resign immediately
President Simon isn’t the only MSU head who needs to go
Joel Ferguson, vice chairman of the Michigan State University Board of Trustees, gave an appalling interview yesterday on the radio program "Staudt on Sports" on WVFN-AM (730).
When host Tim Staudt asked Ferguson if he had a message he wished to share with everyone regarding the fallout from the Larry Nassar case, this was Ferguson's response:
"It's hard to pick out what people want to hear right now. I would just say that the board – the meeting we had the other day was five hours, and talking Lou Anna [Simon] was ten minutes.
We had so many other things we were going over, and we unanimously decided in that meeting right away that Lou Anna was going to – we were going support her staying as president, because there's so many more things going on [at the] university than just this Nassar thing.
I mean, when you go to a basketball game you walk into the new Breslin, and the person who hustled and got all those major donors to give money was Lou Anna Simon."
First things first – if the board really did indeed dedicate just ten minutes of their five-hour special meeting to discuss whether President Simon should stay, there is clearly a crisis in priorities here.
Ferguson, who has been a trustee for 30 years, goes on to allude that we should instead be thanking President Simon because she "hustled" that money from donors to complete the Breslin Center's renovations (which were finished in November, by the way).
Last time I checked, the safety and wellbeing of young girls is far more important than the renovation of a sports complex. I'm not thanking anyone.
It is now abundantly clear that President Simon is not the only head of MSU who needs to resign immediately. Mr. Ferguson, your behavior is insulting to all women who have ever been silenced and invalidated about their fears or concerns, and all women who have felt the anguish of not being believed about their abuse.
And Mr. Ferguson, when you refer to "that Nassar thing," do you realize what you are referring to so casually and dismissively is a large-scale pattern of abuse by an MSU employee that went on for 20 years unchecked, and could have been avoided had MSU officials taken the matter more seriously and acted in a timely manner?
When you brush "that Nassar thing" off as an unimportant issue in the eyes of MSU's top officials like yourself, you are minimizing the years and years of physical, emotional and psychological pain that these 160+ young women have endured and will still endure for the rest of their lives. You minimize the pain of survivors everywhere.
Then, when radio host Tim Staudt asks a question that compares the situation to the Penn State scandal, Ferguson laughs. "This is not Penn State," he says.
Mr. Ferguson, you're right – this is not Penn State. This is much, much larger than Penn State.
As Penn State's defensive coordinator, it was reported that Jerry Sandusky sexually assaulted up to 20 young boys over a period of 15 years.
As a renowned MSU physician and the team doctor for USA Gymnastics, Larry Nassar was able to sexually assault more than 160 young girls over roughly the same period of time.
This is not to say that the abuse suffered at the hands of Sandusky was lesser than that suffered under Nassar. Their pain is no less. All survivors deserve to have their experiences validated and to see justice for their abuser.
But in response to your wildly insensitive comment, Mr. Ferguson, it would be wise of you to look at the numbers here and reconsider the seriousness of the current situation. More than 160 victims endured a pattern of sexual abuse over two decades, and you laugh at a comparison to Penn State?
Shame on you.
When Staudt asked Ferguson to respond to the calls for President Simon to step down, he replied:
"That will not happen. Period…She’s not going to get ran out of there by what somebody else did."
Nassar may be the lone abuser in this situation, Mr. Ferguson, but it is absurd for you to dismiss the possibility that anyone else may be at fault. There are supposed to be checks to make sure these things do not happen. Michigan State employees failed these young girls, time and time again, year after year when they heard young girls voice their concerns and chose not to act. How is that not complicity? How can you feel like you are retaining any integrity or credibility whatsoever when you continuously shift the blame and dodge responsibility for anything?
The fact of the matter is that a man employed by a Big Ten school used his good reputation to cover up a pattern of molestation for years. Every person who chose not to take action when they could have is complicit. For you to fail to recognize that, Mr. Ferguson, is truly disheartening.
That being said, I'm trying to give you and President Simon the benefit of the doubt – I'm sure you think you're saying the right things. I'm sure you both truly believe MSU can get past this scandal unscathed and without a major change in leadership.
But I'm here to tell you that you're dead wrong.
"For Lou Anna not to be the president at this time we have so much going, the collateral damage to her not being here would be tremendous for the university right now."
Frankly, what Simon has or hasn't done outside of this scandal is beside the point. She has undoubtedly done a lot of good for the university, particularly in the realm of science and technology, but none of that matters as much as the student body being able to trust their leaders. We can't trust our university's administration, and that is an enormous problem.
I love Michigan State University, as I'm sure many of those reading do, too. But Mr. Ferguson, the way in which you speak about this case – let alone how you have chosen to actually handle it – speaks volumes about how little regard you have for a.) the trust of everyone who bleeds green and white, b.) the voices of Nassar survivors, MSU students and alumni, and c.) the seriousness of sexual assault, which was already a widespread problem at MSU before the Nassar scandal came to light.
You may well believe that everyone outside your little bubble of top MSU officials and board members is ignorant about the "real facts" of the matter, but condescension aside, we have seen enough as it is. We have heard enough. We have done enough as your student body to push for accountability and action about the toxic rape culture on this campus.
We have given the leadership of this university plenty of chances to show that they care – to right the wrongs, to aggressively push for change, and to do so in a transparent and genuine way.
In return, we have gotten a mountain of vague, empty and poorly-timed promises from President Simon over email, a website about sexual assault that was more of a reactive PR move than anything substantial, and the requirement that all students take a lengthy online course in sexual assault and relationship violence (SARV) each semester or risk a delay in viewing their final grades. Does any of this actually amount to real change? I don't think so, and you would be hard-pressed to find any MSU students who do.
I'm all for educating the student population about consent and what constitutes as sexual harassment and assault, but in the wake of your handling of the Nassar scandal and sexual violence on campus in general, it's hard for me to see the SARV online training as anything more than the people at the top outsourcing responsibility to the students, while those with real power can continue to do nothing.
At this point, we do not and clearly cannot trust our university's board or president to do the right thing. You had given us little reason to before, but these comments are truly the death blow to any last remaining bit of trust we had that the leadership at MSU listens to and looks out for its students.
Mr. Ferguson, I do not wish to attend a university that I cannot trust to prioritize student safety. We shouldn't have to convince you to care about us. When you and President Simon step down, I hope your successors will listen to students and survivors like their jobs – and humanity – depend on it.