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Simon's resignation letter proves she still doesn't get it

Jan 25, 2018

Credit John M. Quick / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Quite unintentionally, Michigan State President Lou Anna Simon and trustee Joel Ferguson did their stricken university a great service in the past few days.

In their attempt to save her job and prevent any real change from happening, they proved how desperately necessary change was.

What’s astounding is that neither of them seems to get it, even now.

Simon resigned last night -- resigned, it’s pretty clear, to avoid being removed from office. The campus was in entire turmoil. Sue Carter, the respected chair of MSU’s athletic council resigned over the school’s “ineffective response” to the scandal in which former sports medicine Dr. Larry Nassar was able to cruelly molest vast numbers of women and girls.

U.S. Senator Gary Peters, one of the most cautious politicians, called for her resignation. Unity on the once-solid board of trustees was cracking. It was made very clear to Simon that she had mere hours before the decision was no longer hers to make.

When she suddenly resigned, her cold and emotionless letter made it very clear that she doesn’t understand how devastating it is that the institution she ran failed to protect scores of vulnerable young woman from a cold-blooded pervert who rammed his ungloved hand into their bodies, confident that he could get away with it forever.

When Richard Nixon was forced to resign over Watergate, his tearful farewell to the White House staff made it clear that he grasped how completely he had blown it.

Credit MiSpartan Impact / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Not Lou Anna Simon. “As tragedies are politicized, blame is inevitable. As president, it is only natural that I am the focus of this anger,” she said, as if this were a case of a property tax abatement gone awry. Her letter’s boilerplate statements about these women’s sufferings were as wooden as the language in a quitclaim deed.

Trustee Joel Ferguson, a longtime Lansing developer, was even worse. Technically, he’s only the vice chair of the MSU board, but for many years, he has led a faction that has controlled the board, for which the athletic program and raising money for it came before anything else.

Earlier this week, the 80-year-old Ferguson gave an astonishing interview on a sports talk station in which he airily dismissed “this Nassar thing,” and contemptuously dismissed the idea that Simon should leave or the school be investigated by the NCAA.

As for what he called “the young ladies who have been wronged,” well, he appeared to say they should just move on. Ferguson badly needs to be gone, too.

But how do things get fixed? Well, I’d argue that an institution that is morally bankrupt needs its own form of emergency management. I would do something like appoint former Ambassador and Governor James J. Blanchard interim president for up to two years.

He, in turn, would appoint someone with the power to clean up the mess in the athletic department and create a culture of safety and transparency. Blanchard would also work with the provost to reassure the faculty of the school’s commitment to learning.

Last night, a saddened alum told me that this was a horrible day in MSU history. But I disagreed. MSU has been having many horrible days. But now, State has a chance to rebuild and create a culture better than ever before.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s Senior Political Analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.