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Howes: Someone besides Nassar "must pay" for MSU scandal

Daniel Howes
Detroit News

Now we know why Michigan State’s interim president, John Engler, tapped an ol’ Republican hand to head government relations at the school. He understands politics well enough to know they’ll need the help.

And the politics surrounding the aftershocks of the Larry Nassar sexual-abuse scandal are very simple: someone must pay.

For the assaults on hundreds of women under the guise of sports medicine. For the lawsuits that followed. For the dreadful management inside State’s vaunted athletic department and the office of former president Lou Anna Simon.

A legislative inquiry detailed what it called, quote, “alarming” findings in the MSU debacle. Inadequate records of Nassar’s so-called treatments of young women. Loopholes he could exploit in university policy.

And there were too many people in positions of authority who didn’t take the situation seriously … all of it amid an atmosphere of appalling indifference.

Yep, someone is going to have to pay – way beyond Nassar, who’ll spend the rest of his days in the can … where he belongs.

But here’s the thing: a public university doesn’t have lots of options when it comes to paying big settlements.

It can’t use funds from the university endowment; most of its vast wealth is restricted by donors and off-limits. It can’t increase tuition unreasonably, lest it price itself out of the market. It can’t expect taxpayers to foot the bill through the state Legislature – because they won’t.

And the more that comes out detailing State’s incompetent handling of the Nassar atrocity hiding in plain sight … of its ousted medical school dean … of inept governance from the trustees … the less patient folks will be with excuses and righteous indignation coming from campus.

Spare us.

Enter state lawmakers, this week in the House’s higher ed committee. They’re proposing to require publicly funded universities comply with new Title IX reporting requirements as a condition of state funding. Skirt the rules and fail to meet the standards and funding drops 10%.

That’s a step in the right direction. But it’s not enough.

Despite all we know now, Michigan State’s trustees still occupy their seats, metaphorically thumbing their noses at the university, the voters and the women abused by Nassar. They’re the ones who negotiated former president Simon’s rich retirement package, larding it with football and basketball tickets. And, of course, parking. They’re the ones who sat like potted plants, allowing their university to be exposed to humiliating hits to its reputation.

And they’re still there. Which tells you everything about their character, and none of it is good.

You gotta give this state credit for one thing: it doesn’t go halfway. Michigan is home to the biggest corporate bankruptcies in American history … the biggest municipal bankruptcy in Detroit … the Flint water crisis … and the ignominious Nassar scandal at Michigan State.

My guess is the Legislature and the attorney general are just getting warmed up – unless both use the excuse of November’s elections to slow-walk reforms and the investigations that need to happen at Michigan State. Because something like this should never happen again.

I’m Daniel Howes of The Detroit News.

Daniel Howes is a columnist at The Detroit News. 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.

Daniel Howes is columnist and associate business editor of The Detroit News. A former European correspondent for The News, he has reported from nearly 25 countries on three continents and in the Middle East. Before heading to Europe in 1999, Howes was senior automotive writer and a business projects writer. He is a frequent contributor to NewsTalk 760-WJR in Detroit and a weekly contributor to Michigan Radio in Ann Arbor.