“I’d be more im­pressed with your sin­cer­ity if you had got­ten rid of Nas­sar at the first com­plaint...”

The Detroit News - - Front Page - Alum­nus email to MSU’s Lou Anna Si­mon on Jan. 20

Wrote an­other: “I’d be more im­pressed with your sin­cer­ity if you had got­ten rid of Nas­sar at the first com­plaint and had launched a thor­ough in­ves­ti­ga­tion then. You were the most pow­er­ful of many who failed them.”

“I would ad­vise MSU ad­min­is­tra­tion to re­sign, be­cause ‘Three things can­not be long hid­den: The sun, the moon and the truth,’” an­other emailer wrote.

Oth­ers urged Si­mon to re­sist the calls for her to leave, with one alum telling her: “Please don’t con­sider re­sign­ing from MSU from all of the pres­sure that the Nas­sar case has cre­ated. “Your (sic) do­ing a great job and ev­ery­one is well aware of it.”

Miss­ing from the emails are the names of most of the peo­ple who wrote to Si­mon — the univer­sity redacted them, ex­cept for univer­sity em­ploy­ees and pub­lic of­fi­cials. Also largely miss­ing are emails from Si­mon her­self among the nearly 2,000 pages of doc­u­ments re­leased by MSU.

The emails from Si­mon that the univer­sity re­leased con­sisted mostly of her Jan. 19 state­ment to the MSU com­mu­nity re­gard­ing the Nas­sar case and mes­sages ask­ing as­sis­tantsto han­dle me­dia in­quiries.

The News has filed an FOIA ap­peal with the univer­sity for a broader view of the re­sponse to the scan­dal from MSU’s top leader and those who felt com­pelled to reach out to her.

The Detroit News re­quested “all com­mu­ni­ca­tions of for­mer

Pres­i­dent Lou Anna Si­mon that men­tion Larry Nas­sar or are Nas­sar re­lated,” James E. Ste­wart, an at­tor­ney for the news­pa­per, wrote in the Oct. 24 ap­peal let­ter. “Yet the com­mu­ni­ca­tions pro­duced com­prise mainly for­mer Pres­i­dent Si­mon’s mass-emailed let­ter to the Univer­sity com­mu­nity and the re­sponses that let­ter elicited ...

“We are also aware that for­mer Pres­i­dent Si­mon used more than one email ad­dress to con­duct univer­sity busi­ness,” Ste­wart con­tin­ued. “The com­mu­ni­ca­tions the univer­sity pro­duced, how­ever, ap­pear to be al­most en­tirely from one of these ad­dresses. Even per­sonal email ad­dresses are within the reach of FOIA if they were used to con­duct of­fi­cial univer­sity busi­ness.”

Emily Guer­rant, an MSU spokes­woman, said: “[T]he Univer­sity stands be­hind its ef­fort to col­lect all rel­e­vant in­for­ma­tion to your FOIA.”

Si­mon could not be reached. Adam A. Mar­shall, a staff at­tor­ney with the Re­porters Com­mit­tee for Free­dom of the Press who re­viewed a sam­ple of MSU’s FOIA re­sponse, said pub­lic of­fi­cials con­duct of­fi­cial busi­ness over var­i­ous elec­tronic for­mats, and many have more than one email ad­dress. But the pub­lic has the right to know what is in all of them, he said.

In this case, it ap­pears as though Si­mon may have had more than one of­fi­cial email and FOIA of­fi­cers need to search all plat­forms where the for­mer pres­i­dent com­mu­ni­cated and pro­duce re­sults to com­ply with state FOIA laws. If they haven’t, it is in­cum­bent upon them to ex­plain why, Mar­shall said.

“It is not the medium in which the com­mu­ni­ca­tion is stored, it is the con­tent that is most im­por­tant,” Mar­shall con­tin­ued. “If it was recorded ...(and) con­cerns pub­lic busi­ness, it is a pub­lic record.”

In let­ters re­spond­ing to The News’ FOIA re­quest, MSU said it had redacted “cer­tain per­sonal data such as names and iden­ti­fy­ing in­for­ma­tion,” with­held records sub­ject to the at­tor­ney-client priv­i­lege, and redacted univer­sity email ad­dresses, stu­dent in­for­ma­tion, and com­mu­ni­ca­tions “of an ad­vi­sory na­ture” that were “pre­lim­i­nary to a fi­nal agency de­ter­mi­na­tion of pol­icy or ac­tion.”

The first pub­lic hint of the scan­dal that would en­gulf MSU emerged in Septem­ber 2016, when Rachael Den­hol­lan­der re­ported to MSU po­lice and the univer­sity’s Ti­tle IX of­fice that she had been sex­u­ally as­saulted by Nas­sar, who was then a prom­i­nent sports doc­tor who treated fe­male ath­letes, in­clud­ing elite gym­nasts.

Den­hol­lan­der also told her story to the In­di­anapo­lis Star and more women steadily be­gan to come for­ward. Nas­sar ini­tially de­nied he had abused the young women, then pleaded guilty to sex­u­ally abus­ing niney­oung women and pos­sess­ing 37,000 im­ages of child pornog­ra­phy. He is now im­pris­oned for life.

The case took a mon­u­men­tal turn in mid-Jan­uary, when Nas­sar agreed to let vic­tims give state­ments on the im­pact of his sex­ual abuse. Over seven days, more than 150 women came for­ward, shed their Jane Doe iden­ti­ties and gave sear­ing tes­ti­monies that were broad­cast all day and re­ported on around the world.

Three days into the tes­ti­mony, on Jan. 18,The Newspub­lished an in­ves­tiga­tive story that showed eight women had re­ported abuse claims, mostly at MSU, over two decades, reach­ing 14 univer­sity staff mem­bers. At least one mis­con­duct re­port reached Si­mon.

The next day, Jan. 19,Si­mon tried to re­as­sure MSU alumni, staff, stu­dents and par­ents.

In the email, Si­mon noted the es­tab­lish­ment of a $10 mil­lion Heal­ing As­sis­tance Fund for vic­tims to get coun­sel­ing ser­vices and the Board of Trustees’ re­quest to the state At­tor­ney Gen­eral’s Of­fice to re­view how MSU han­dled the Nas­sar sit­u­a­tion.

Si­mon also wrote that she and Board Chair Brian Bres­lin watched the livestream of the vic­tim im­pact state­ments on the first day of Nas­sar’s sen­tenc­ing and she at­tended part of the sec­ond day of the hear­ing with Trustee Me­lanie Foster.

“It was heart­break­ing to hear vic­tims talk about how Nas­sar abused them and their trust,” Si­mon wrote. “As I have said, I am truly sorry for the abuse Nas­sar’s vic­tims suf­fered, the pain it caused, and the pain it con­tin­ues to carry.”

The re­sponse to Si­mon’s email was swift and in­tense, run­ning the gamut of emo­tions, from anger and dis­gust to shame and dis­ap­point­ment.

“Can you please do more?” wrote one alumni. “I know you’ve is­sued a pub­lic apol­ogy state­ment and there’s a $10 mil­lion fund that will be used for coun­sel­ing and men­tal health ser­vices for Nas­sar’s vic­tims, but can you at least say why you can’t talk with the vic­tims? Or why none of the trustees are at the tes­ti­monies? In this case, you and the trustees are the face of MSU. Please do some­thing.”

Wrote an­other, a self-de­scribed MSU fi­nan­cial sup­porter and 1978 alum: “Your be­nign ne­glect al­lowed this mon­ster (Nas­sar) to make MSU a safe haven where he could com­mit his das­tardly deeds. There­fore, I call on you to re­sign your post ... You have proven to be un­fit for the job as pres­i­dent.”

Even be­fore Si­mon’s let­ter was re­leased, the vit­riol was flow­ing into her in­box.

“Do ev­ery­one a fa­vor, along with the thou­sands of proud MSU alumni around the coun­try, and step down from your po­si­tion at MSU,” wrote an alum on Jan. 16, the first day of Nas­sar’s sen­tenc­ing hear­ing.

Some said they might stop their fi­nan­cial sup­port of MSU.

“This is the first time I have hon­estly been truly ashamed to be a Spar­tan.” one per­son wrote. “No more do­na­tions from me and I’m an alumni. No longer want to sup­port MSU. SHAME!!”

Still, even as the drum­beat for her de­par­ture grew, Si­mon con­tin­ued to re­ceive emails with the op­po­site mes­sage.

Wrote one: “BRAVO MSU ... I’m proud of our Univer­sity for the steps that have been taken this far and pray for the com­ing days.”

Still an­other wrote: “I com­pletely sup­port you. What hap­pened at MSU re­gard­ing Nas­sar was not your fault. Your en­trusted em­ploy­ees failed to per­form their du­ties of ad­e­quately mon­i­tor­ing their sub­or­di­nates re­port­ing to them. There were many com­plaints not fol­lowed up on by the girls abused. Some of the high rank­ing em­ploy­ees were too lazy to get out of their over­stuffed chairs to in­ves­ti­gate the al­le­ga­tions. They are the ones that need to be held ac­count­able.

“Please do not re­sign. You have done an out­stand­ing job of mak­ing Michi­gan State Univer­sity Great Again.”

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