Michigan State President Lou Anna Simon has submitted her resignation amid outcry over school’s handling of allegations against Larry Nassar.
The announcement that Simon is stepping down came hours after the sentencing of Nassar, who worked at Michigan State as a doctor and received 40 to 175 years in prison for molesting young girls and women under the guise of medical treatment. Some were athletes at the school.
Many of the victims accused the university of mishandling past complaints about Nassar.
“As tragedies are politicised, blame is inevitable,” Simon said in her resignation letter on Wednesday. “As president, it is only natural that I am the focus of this anger.”
Simon, who earned her doctorate at Michigan State in 1974, was promoted to school president in 2005 after moving up the ranks in the school while flourishing in various administrative roles.
“We agree with Dr. Simon that it is now time for change,” Michigan State Board of Trustees Chairman Brian Breslin said in a statement.
“President Simon has served with distinction as MSU’s President for 13 years and has been a constant presence at the university for more than 40 years. She literally has devoted her entire professional life to this institution, and more than anyone else has helped make MSU a national and international leader in higher education.”
Simon’s resignation was welcomed in the Legislature, where pressure had been building for her to step down or be ousted by the university’s board of trustees.
Sen Curtis Hertel Jr, a Democrat from East Lansing, where the campus is located, called it “an important step in moving the university forward.”
“We need to create a culture at Michigan State where survivors are listened to and believed,” Hertel said. “I don’t think that’s happened, not just in this case. I don’t think anyone could say that Lou Anna Simon hasn’t had great accomplishments. But I think in this case, her actions did not meet the leadership that we need at Michigan State.”
Hertel, who graduated from Michigan State, said further investigation is needed. Trustees have asked Attorney General Bill Schuette to investigate how Michigan State handled the allegations against Nassar. The NCAA earlier this week asked the school for information regarding potential violations related to Nassar.
“We need to find out beyond the president’s office who had reports and didn’t act,” Hertel said.
Former Michigan State gymnastics coach Kathie Klages resigned last year after she was suspended for defending Nassar over the years. Klages is accused of downplaying complaints made by two teens in 1997.
A Title IX probe conducted by the university cleared Nassar of sexual assault allegations in 2014. At least 12 reported assaults occurred after the investigation ended, according to a university police report that was provided to the FBI for review by the US attorney.
The school let Nassar see patients for 16 months while the campus police also conducted a criminal investigation into the allegations. The local prosecutor declined to charge Nassar in that case.
Simon began her career at Michigan State after earning her doctorate there four-plus decades ago. The school is being sued by dozens of women, who say officials wrote off complaints about the doctor who worked at both the school and USA Gymnastics, which trains athletes aspiring to be Olympians.