Michigan State Trustee calls for culture change after Nassar

A member of Michigan State University’s governing body released a series of proposals Tuesday he says are aimed at changing the institution’s culture in the wake of the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal.

”Our culture must change and improve,” Brian Mosallam, one of eight people on the university’s board of trustees, said in a release. ”We must admit failure when it happens. We must say sorry when we do wrong. We must hold ourselves accountable for what happens on this campus.”

One of Mosallam’s proposals calls for an independent, internal review of the Nassar matter to begin immediately. Nassar, a former doctor who treated Michigan State athletes and U.S. Olympians, was sentenced this year to decades in prison for sexual abuse.

Trustee Dianne Byrum wrote said she is committed to working together with all members of the board and the university community to change the culture at the school.

”I have been clear that Michigan State University must greatly increase transparency and accountability,” Byrum said. ”And, make changes throughout our university to ensure we can say never again.”

Messages seeking comment were left with the other six members of the board. School spokeswoman Emily Guerrant declined comment on Mosallam’s proposals.

Mosallam is also calling for a faculty member and a student to be on the board of trustees, giving them voting rights for presidential searches along with costs for tuition, room and board. The former Michigan State football player, who’s in his first term as a trustee, wants the school to hire an independent sexual misconduct ombudsman and to create a sexual misconduct survivors advisory committee.

”We have a cultural problem,” Mosallam said. ”We failed to listen. And because we failed to listen, the cries of our courageous survivors of sexual misconduct on this campus went unheard.”

Nassar was fired from Michigan State in 2016, two years after he was the subject of a sexual assault investigation. His dismissal came less than a month after former gymnast Rachael Denhollander filed a criminal complaint saying Nassar had sexually assaulted her while treating her for back pain years earlier.

Denhollander said she is upset it took nearly 20 months for a leader at Michigan State to propose what Mosallam did.

”I’m further grieved that Brian Mosallam took this step personally, because the rest of the leadership at MSU and the institution as a whole, is still refusing to do what is right,” Denhollander wrote in an email. ”However, I am grateful for Mosallam’s personal recognition that the culture of abuse at MSU must change, that responsibility must be taken for what went wrong, and that those who are part of the problem, should not be in leadership at MSU.”

Many victims have said they reported Nassar’s abuse to various members of the Michigan State’s staff. Campus police got their first report regarding Nassar in 2014, but the Ingham County prosecutor declined to file charges. The school continued to employ him after he was the subject of a sexual assault investigation in 2014. Former Michigan State gymnastics coach Kathie Klages resigned last year after she was suspended for defending Nassar.

Lou Anna Simon resigned as school president and athletic director Mark Hollis announced his retirement earlier this year as well. The university in February announced the retirement of its longtime vice president for legal affairs, Bob Noto. Mosallam had sought Noto’s resignation.

”MSU as an institution is in need of cultural renewal,” Mosallam said. ”We need changes in our administration, Office of General Counsel, Student Affairs and Services, Office of Institutional Equity, colleges and departments.”

The school announced last week that many recommendations in a final Title IX report outlining opportunities to enhance sexual misconduct prevention and education are in development. Interim President John Engler said suggestions to add new staff resources and evaluating ways to review the campus climate have already begun.

Last month at an emotionally charged board of trustees meeting, a sexual assault victim of Nassar alleged Engler pressured her to accept a payoff to settle her lawsuit without her attorney present. Engler later issued a statement, saying his memory and interpretation of the meeting was different and said he was sorry if anything said was misunderstood.

Mosallam, whose term as a trustee ends in 2021, challenged the way the school has handled the crisis.

”We can start this by ending our defensive posture, embracing a policy of drastic voluntary remediation, and collaboratively engaging our courageous survivors in a dialogue about how we can culturally improve MSU so we can all proudly stand tall again as Spartans and say: never again,” he said.

Follow Larry Lage at www.twitter.com/larrylage