The ouster of morally-deficient John Engler as interim president at Michigan State University may be a sign that the Board of Trustees, with three new members, is finally ready to address the culture that allowed Larry Nassar to abuse girls and women on campus for decades.
Many changes have been made at my alma mater in recent months in response to Nassar’s crimes, including the addition of 39 new positions and new procedures for health exams. While these changes are surely necessary and good, they aren’t enough.
The culture needs to change from the very top, with the Board of Trustees. The culture, that is, that puts the well-being of the athletic department before all else.
Even before the Nassar scandal broke, the board was known to be cozy with the athletic department. Too cozy.
That relationship needs to cool off. The board could and should take a huge step in that direction by ending all the athletics-related perks that the board currently enjoys. No more free center court men’s basketball tickets, football box seats, and plane rides to away games and bowls that trustees currently get due to their position.
In an article last year, former MSU Athletic Director Merrily Dean Baker made it clear that the culture of protecting the athletic department at all costs came straight from the Board of Trustees. Baker was hired to bring the school up to date on Title IX standards but was resisted by the power brokers on the Board from day one.
Baker’s chief opponent on the board was Joel Ferguson, a real estate development baron who long has been known as its most powerful member. Baker claims that on one occasion Ferguson told her, “I don’t want to hear a word about Title IX.” … Ferguson’s defiant and tone-deaf public responses to the Nassar scandal suggest just how much of a leadership problem the university has. He initially refused to seek the resignation of school president Lou Anna Simon by pointing to how much money she raised for athletic stadiums.
Ferguson, of course, is a fixture at men’s basketball and football games, frequently seen hobnobbing with the university president and other powerful people. What if Ferguson and other trustees who share his outlook no longer got all those freebies? Would they still work to protect athletes and coaches at the expense of doing what’s morally right and best for all students and the entire university? Would they even care to serve anymore?
I don’t know the answers to those questions, but it wouldn’t hurt to find out. In fact, I bet it would go a long way toward refocusing the Board on its true mission “to create an intellectual climate that will challenge and encourage the vigorous development and courageous expression of the human mind and spirit.” If the new members of the board can accomplish that, MSU will finally be on the road to recovery from this dark time in its history.