University Preservation at What Cost?: Continued Lessons from Michigan State University

Sincerely fell bad for any Michigan State University almuni reading this. You all have read, seen, and been inundated with enough reports, trial coverage, and PR emails to placate the obvious concerns raised from the fallout of indictments of concerning former-MSU affiliate, Dr. Larry Nassar and those who purposefully sought to cover-up the complaints raised by at least 250 women of sexual assualt while employed by MSU as an osteopathic physcian. The sentiments, of course extended to those survivors of Nassar’s horrific acts, are similarly toward those Penn State University alumni who experienced the fallout from the conviction of Assistant Football Coach Jerry Sandusky on charges of rape and child sexual abuse in 2011; ultimately bringing down the entire football program and indictments against the univeristy president, vice president, and athletic director. Nevertheless, particularly for MSU, more news means more things to understand, learn, and consider as a future professor.

Former MSU president Lou Anna Simon, once acclaimed as one of several university presidents who led the charge to condemn PSU university officials and more directly athletics in her position as chairwoman of the NCAA’s executive committee, was indicted November 26 this year for two felony counts and two misdemeanor counts of purposeful false statements to the police regarding the Nassar investigation. Police claimed they have evidence Simon knew more than she has admitted about a 2014 complaint involving Nassar and indicated her intention to potentially cover up any wrongdoing by her or any other university officials.

Many academics across the country have come to Simon’s defense, claiming the idictments are largely political and lacking of credibility to support the police’s claim of a potential cover-up. Nevertheless, unbiased experts who specialize in Title IX law, state “If she didn’t know the details [that Nassar was the accused predator in 2014], it was her responsibility to find out the details.” Furthermore, it does not help Simon’s case that before her resignation in January 2018, she long resisted having an impartial investigation into the university’s actions regarding Nassar. While MSU did hire an outside law firm to conduct an internal review, it was the same firm defending the university against Nassar lawsuits.Similar scandals at University of Southern California, Missouri, Maryland, Baylor and Ohio State have lit up the newspapers in the past two years.

An obvious question that I have been unable to see answered adequately is one more obvious and hineous: why are universities the predominate instutition at the heart of these scandals? What does is say about the instutitional powers that be and the role a modern professoriate need to play (and precisely what is legally required) in changing and challenging how higher education institutions protect powerful and corrupt versus those that maintain integrity and honor the values they ascribe to when receiving the highest educational honors in the country?

A recent report from The Chronicle of Higher Education provides some cold hard truths behind what happens when those that challenge institutions. Former MSU assistant professor Joy L. Rankin published on November 28 a blog post entitled: “Why I’m Firing Michigan State: Sexual Harassment, Online Harassment, and Utter Institutional Failure.” In the post, Rankin recounts a  series of events that she says led her to resign from the university, including a lengthy public takedown of her research by an independent historian, harassment complaints she filed against an associate dean, and a research-misconduct investigation that she alleges a Michigan State dean instigated in retaliation for those complaints. “To me,” she said, “it wasn’t worth hanging onto a tenure-track position just to have a tenure-track position.”

These intitutional protections applied automatically and without question to university officials versus those of the accusers are representative of wider national issues of sexual assualts, legal protection of victims, and advocacy for the survivors/ accusers. Yet, more needs to be done and studied by higher education officials into the deeper issues that time and again put the modern university at the center of controversy, cover-ups, and hypocritical standards.

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