Demonstrators gathered on Michigan State University's campus to call for more changes in leadership at the university.
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Some authorities in Michigan may believe that the scandal caused by the decades-long sexual abuse of young girls by a university sports medicine doctor can be put to rest with his sentencing and the resignation of the university’s president.
They are wrong.
Those two developments are only the first chapters in a reckoning and reform.
Larry Nassar has been sentenced to up to 175 years in prison for criminal sexual conduct. He will not even begin serving that sentence until he serves a 60-year term for a separate federal child pornography charge.
The NCAA is investigating a Title IX complaint from a gymnast who says she was one of Nassar’s victims.
The school faces some 200 lawsuits.
The athletic director has been forced to retire.
And Gov. Rick Snyder is investigating what action he can take against the entire board of trustees.
Moreover, Lou Anna Simon, the university president who led an institution that should have swiftly responded to complaints about the doctor, is gone.
Ms. Simon’s tone-deaf resignation letter did not even include an apology to more than 150 victims.
But all this is the beginning, not the end. Michigan State’s board of trustees has continued to signal that they simply do not grasp what has happened at the university. The appointment of former Republican Gov. John Engler as the school’s interim president did not sit well with students, faculty, or anyone who hoped the university would tap a non-political, reform-minded leader who could begin to genuinely repair Michigan State’s integrity.
Now that Nassar’s trial has concluded, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette must pursue a criminal investigation of the university to determine whether any officials should face criminal charges. It is difficult to believe that willful neglect that let this man abuse young women since the 1990s was not criminal.
Less than 10 years ago, Penn State University’s president, vice president, and athletic director all faced criminal charges after that school’s failure in the case of Jerry Sandusky, the assistant football coach who leveraged his powerful position to sexually abuse children for years while the school turned a blind eye.
Somehow Michigan State did not learn from Penn State’s example.
But beyond the borders of Michigan State’s campus, leaders of other universities, businesses, and other large institutions need to be asking whether they too are failing to learn from this horror.
Here’s the bottom line: Complaints of abuse should not be about damage control, but controlling damage.
Every university leader who might have reason to dread becoming the next Lou Anna Simon should ask himself if his eyes are open and he is containing damage.
Every potential victim should have a way to report abuse. Every victim should be taken seriously. Every institution’s priority should be to protect the vulnerable.
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