Michigan State University president Lou Anna Simon announced her resignation Wednesday night, just hours after longtime MSU sports physician Larry Nassar was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison on sexual assault charges. The trial gained the spotlight thanks to Rachael Denhollander, the first to accuse Nassar of sexual abuse in 2016, and a slew of Olympic gymnasts. Aly Raisman, Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, McKayla Maroney, and Jordyn Wieber all read impact statements accusing the former USA Gymnastics doctor of sexually abusing them under the guise of medical treatment. Raisman’s testimony went viral.
In a letter posted to the school’s website, Simon addressed the victims and reaffirmed her commitment to the university’s best interests.
“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,” she wrote. “To the survivors, I can never say enough that I am so sorry that a trusted, renowned physician was really such an evil, evil person who inflicted such harm under the guise of medical treatment. I know that we all share the same resolve to do whatever it takes to avert such tragedies here and elsewhere.”
The board of trustees has accepted Simon’s resignation, and chairman Brian Breslin said in a statement the group appreciates “her integrity, her many contributions, and her willingness to continue to serve through transition.”
According to recent reports by the Detroit News, at least 14 officials at Michigan State were presented with allegations against Nassar, and nothing came of it. For this reason, Simon has come under fire recently by critics who say she should be held accountable for Nassar’s actions while he worked at MSU. Of Simon’s 13 years as president, 11 of those overlapped with Nassar’s time at the university.
A letter from the MSU Board of Trustees to the Michigan Attorney General last week insisted that any claims of the school participating in a cover up of the abuse were false, and asserted that “no MSU official believed that Nassar committed sexual abuse prior to newspaper reports in the summer of 2016.”
Many MSU athletes who were victims of Nassar said in court the university had not done enough to protect them. “Where were you when we needed you?” Olivia Cowan asked of Simon and other MSU officials in her victim statement. “If you would have only listened to the women that brought complaints and concerns over all these years, this would have saved so many women and children from being abused, and from all the scars this has created.”
Former diver Sterling Reithman acknowledged Simon’s resignation as a sign the victims’ “voices are being heard,” and said she hopes this will be the first in a series of positive changes.
MSU recently announced a $10 million fund to help Nassar’s victims access therapy and other mental health services.