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Tom Watkins
Tom Watkins

Spartan Shame

April 20, 2018 

The continual train wreck at my alma mater, MSU (Michigan State University) is tragic, sad, pathetic and painful to watch.I have never witnessed a series of leaders continue to step in the same pile of poop!

Rather than take action to respect the victims of the monster, Larry Nassar, MSU’s culture allowing him to prey on young women for two decades, the university continues to cause them pain.

Appalling. And unacceptable behavior on the part of MSU leadership.

Four recent stories amplify the disgust many are feeling. These virtually beg for action by Governor Snyder:

Under former Gov. Engler’s transitional leadership, the university continues to stumble in its attempt to recover following the resignation of MSU President Lou Anna Simon hours after Nassar’s sentencing of 40 to 175 years in prison for sexual assaulting Michigan State female athletes. A federal investigation has been opened over the school’s record on handling sexual assault cases linked to the Nassar case.

This past week Engler appeared to pour salt on the victims wounds as chronicled here:

Strang: It’s time for John Engler to go at Michigan State

https://theathletic.com/313629/2018/04/14/strang-its-time-for-john-engler-to-go-at-michigan-state/

The author concludes:

“That Engler has failed as an interim transition leader and needs to be banished . Engler’s tenure seemingly “re-victimizes and isolates its students with practically every front-facing public statement. One that vigorously defends itself, presumably at the behest of its insurers, and as a result jettisons all sense of scruples and compassion and basic human decency. One that has been defined by an utter erosion of public trust.”

Ouch! Clearly, this is not the reception the former governor expected when he accepted this vital role of putting MSU back together again.

It is past time for introspection, healing action and justice.

Do Something

MSU continues to be in the news, in a bad way, and has got me thinking about what action could be taken to begin the necessary healing after the Nassar sexual abuse tragedy.

Clearly, the MSU Board needs to go. The fact that they have all not resigned in disgrace says a lot about their and the university’s character. Their collective lack of oversight and tone deaf response to this sexual abuse scandal is deeply disturbing.

Simply having the governor selecting board replacements, without listening to and adhering to victims’ and student pleas, is not likely to be satisfactory to those directly and indirectly affected. The student victims need to be listened to, respected, and be made whole as much as humanly possible by the adults who failed them. A fresh start on the board would be a beginning.

As I reflect on this continued mess, FDR comes to mind, certainly this quote he made during the Great Depression: “Do something. If that does not work, do something else. But, for God’s sake, do something.”

Everywhere I have worked or been in a leadership position, I established guiding principles that I expected all to follow:

http://www.dwmha.com/files/2515/0186/6904/Authority_Guiding_Principles.pdf

As Michigan’s State Superintendent of Schools (2001-05) it was simply: “Show me how this helps our teachers teach and our children learn”. The Michigan Department of Education’s decision making ruler was that everything we did had to measure up to this principle.

Clearly MSU has lost and continues to lose its way surrounding the Nassar scandal. It seems a culture has been embedded at MSU that makes initiating humane corrective action nearly impossible. This in spite, of the collective capability and decency of the overwhelming majority of the MSU family.

Listen To Understand

Gov. Snyder:  Step in. I encourage you and Mrs. Snyder, who made the issue of campus sexual abuse a priority prior to the Nassar scandal, to meet with and truly listen to and seek input from the victims themselves. First Lady Sue Snyder has credibility in the fight against campus sexual assault. In 2015, she hosted the state’s inaugural “Inform. Empower. Prevent. Let’s End Campus Sexual Assault” summit in downtown Lansing.

When one child is harmed it impacts us all. Let the First Lady lead the meeting with the Governor at her side. Together, truly listen to these young women about what matters to them and how their needs for healing can be identified and supported. Listen to understand, ask them what protections can be put into place, not only at MSU, but across all campuses, so that something like this can be prevented from ever happening again. Listen and act on what you hear. Let human decency not lawyers and insurance agents guide your actions.

Credibility Lacking

The current MSU Board has ZERO credibility and Gov. Engler is quickly burning through whatever goodwill he began his appointed transitional term with.

There needs to be a new beginning at MSU— one that starts with a newly constituted board.

If this current MSU board selects the new MSU president, that tenure will be tainted from the start, delaying a much needed healing process. Furthermore, why would a credible candidate take the MSU presidential job from a board that has no credibility with the majority of the key constituents? Doing so taints the new president who would begin their tenure in a deep hole.

A newly constituted Board MUST select the next president of MSU— one that has credibility with victims, students, parents, faculty, alumni and the broader community. Anything else is simply unacceptable.

It is up to Gov. Snyder to create a legitimate, transparent, and credible process for removing the existing MSU board and reconstituting a new one.

A Way Forward

Here is what Gov. Snyder could do to begin the healing— if he has the will and desire to stop watching and begin the healing process:

*Meet with faculty, students, and victims to seek their input for the criteria and skills needed by a newly established board (The Center for Michigan or Public Sector Consultants could manage the process)

  • Seek community wide input via a poll/survey
  • Have victims, faculty, and students work towards drawing up a list of potential names for Board consideration based on established criteria of background and skills required to successfully add value as a board member, i.e., professional background, skills, experience with diversity efforts.
  • Obtain feedback from victims, faculty and students to help establish criteria.
  • Do all this in as open and transparent a manner as possible.
  • The legislative Quadrant (Senate Majority leader and Minority Leader, Speaker and House Minority Leader) meet and forward a list of names they can jointly agree on who meet the established criteria for Board membership with agreed-upon names sent to Gov. Snyder.
  • Ask nominated persons of their willingness to serve. If willing, they must undergo and pass screening by the State Bar of Michigan to assure they meet established criteria for consideration. The State Bar of Michigan will to do background checks, and review any conflicts for nominated candidates. Individuals who pass the screening by the State Bar will then be referred to Governor Snyder for further consideration.

Board Selection

Three potential board members will be selected from the list generated by victims as well as one each generated from the MSU student body, faculty, and two from the legislative Quadrant list and one by Governor Snyder , who will make a pick on this own. Each of the eight new board members will be appointed by the governor for randomly drawn, staggered terms. The newly constituted board shall select among its membership a chairman.

A perfect process? Perhaps not. But standing by and doing nothing is certainly not solving the problem.

With FDR’s words echo in my mind, “Do something! If that does not work—do something else! But for God’s sake— do something!” I believe that what is transpiring now has dissipated any credibility the interim president and board had.

If this formula and process is not the one that can generate trust— seek another — but, act with the students needs in mind.

Some rational process needs to be put in place with the active input and direction of the victims, students, and faculty to select a new board. Anything short of this will see MSU continue to sink like a rock.

Postscript:

Now MSU is calling a young woman sexually abused my Larry Nassar a liar. Kaylee Lorincz, a victim of Larry Nassar who accused Michigan State University Interim President John Engler of secretly trying to pay her off made “outrageously distorted” statements in a bid to “set up” MSU and increase the cost of settling her lawsuit against the school, Carol Viventi, who was hired by Engler as a vice president and special counsel alleged in an email sent to MSU board members last weekend and obtained by The Detroit News. Viventi dismissed all of Lorincz’s statements made at last weeks MSU’s Board meeting , as “pure fiction.”

https://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/local/michigan/2018/04/18/engler-aide-calls-nassar-victim-payout-claim-fiction/33958589/

The MSU self inflicted  behavior continues.

After the email message denouncing and ripping  Kaylee Lorincz became public Viventi,

vice president and special counsel to Engler offered an apology. “I did not think about how my words would make the survivors feel. What the survivors of Larry Nassar have been through should not be experienced by anyone, and I’m sorry my words added to their pain.”

Attorney John Manly, who represents many of the Nassar survivors wasn’t buying Vicenti’s apology, saying she was just sorry because her email was found out.

“If anyone (at MSU) had any common sense, they would toss her out of the building post-haste,” he told the Free Press. “Until those people (Engler and the board) are gone, MSU won’t recover from this. These people in that board room and presidential suite are tearing MSU apart in chunks.”

https://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/2018/04/18/engler-aide-apologizes-nassar-survivors/530127002/

It does not appear that MSU is capable of stop revictimizing the young women violated by Larry Nassar. MSU once again appears more interested in mitigating financially damage to the university even at the expense of the women harmed and the students they are charged to educate.

The price of the settlement just went up given this abhorrent behavior and the reputation of a great university continues to tumble at the very hands of the  people charged with  lifting it up.

A new beginning is obviously necessary.

Tom Watkins served the citizens of Michigan as state mental health director and state superintendent of schools. He is a proud Spartan who is, like many, disgusted about how MSU continues to mismanage this sordid affair. Follow Watkins on Twitter@tdwatkins88

 

April 19, 2018 · Filed under Tom Watkins

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Joe Nathan // Apr 20, 2018 at 1:13 am

    Good advice, Tom. Pervasive change is needed. Thx.

  • 2 Craig Douglas // Apr 20, 2018 at 8:44 am

    A deep and thoughtful approach. As an MSU alum, I support the steps Tom describes…. each day is another day in anguish for everyone.

    Enough is enough.

    Change is needed, indeed.

  • 3 Jill // Apr 20, 2018 at 10:29 pm

    You know Tom, the whole time I was reading this all I could think of was you. You would be a good choice to lead MSU into a school with respect and dignity not only for the survivors but the student body at large. Your suggestions to Governor and First Lady Synder is a great approach. The school needs to heal and the survivors cannot begin to heal until there is a system change as well as having someone listen and truly respond! I hope MSU understands that the survivors cannot heal with money. It has to be something feom the heart! To be victimized once again is totally unacceptable!

  • 4 Donna Pennington // Apr 24, 2018 at 1:44 am

    We have a great potential candidate for MSU Trustee here in Muskegon. She is a 44 year old attorney, woman of color, community leader, Spartan alum & parent of a Spartan student Brianna Scott. . #Brianna4MSU. Please consider supporting her. I have more information!


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