Michigan State President Lou Anna Simon submitted her resignation Wednesday in response to the controversy surrounding the university in the Dr. Larry Nassar gymnastics sexual abuse case. Simon has come under intense pressure for the university’s handling of Nassar, a faculty member at Michigan State for decades, who was discovered to have sexually abused more than 160 girls and women during his tenure as a physician there. Nassar also ran a clinic and a gymnastics club at the university, as well as served as the doctor for USA Gymnastics. Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison Wednesday after days of wrenching testimony from the victims who recounted their experiences as he carried out the abuse under the guise of medical procedures.
In her resignation letter Wednesday night, Simon said the abuse tragedy had been “politicized” and she was taking the fall for it.
As tragedies are politicized, blame is inevitable. As president, it is only natural that I am the focus of this anger. I understand, and that is why I have limited my personal statements. Throughout my career, I have worked very hard to put Team MSU first. Throughout my career, I have consistently and persistently spoken and worked on behalf of Team MSU. I have tried to make it not about me. I urge those who have supported my work to understand that I cannot make it about me now. Therefore, I am tendering my resignation as president according to the terms of my employment agreement.
Beyond Nassar, questions have been raised about how the abuse was able to continue for so long—both at the university and at USA Gymnastics—before Nassar was publicly accused of sexual abuse in the fall of 2016 by Rachael Denhollander. “Many have taken time to call out MSU and Simon for her handling of the situation, repeatedly talking about how they notified MSU officials of the abuse,” the Detroit Free Press reports. “Simon has said she received a report in 2014 of Nassar being cleared by the university in a sexual assault claim, but said she did not receive the full case file.”
During their testimony, many of the female athletes criticized the university and its president, along with the gymnastics coach. “I don’t know how you can still call yourself a president, because I don’t anymore. You are no president of mine as a student and former athlete of Michigan State University,” former Michigan State gymnast Lindsey Lemke said in court. “Guess what? You’re a coward, too. You say you aren’t responsible for this. I wish you would come up to this podium and be half as brave as all of us have had to be the past year and a half. … To be brave enough to come up here and confidently tell us the reasons why you don’t think that you are responsible.”
The university’s board of trustees initially signaled its support for Simom, who had been at the university since the 1970s before being named president in 2005, but the criticism and pressure continued to mount until Simon stepped aside. “Come hell or high water, we will take every last one of you down that could have stopped this monster,” former gymnast and Nassar victim Amy Labadie said in court.