Former Michigan State University president Lou Anna Simon has been charged with lying to police in the Larry Nassar sexual abuse investigation after allegedly downplaying her knowledge of the long-running problem inside MSU.
Professor Simon, MSU’s president from 2005 to 2018, was charged on 20 November in a state court in Michigan with two felony counts – each of which carries a four-year prison term – and two misdemeanour counts.
The charges were filed by William Forsyth, a prosecutor appointed by the state attorney general to investigate MSU’s oversight of Dr Nassar, an MSU faculty member and national gymnastics team doctor now serving decades in prison for sexually abusing hundreds of women and girls.
Professor Simon has denied criminal wrongdoing and has been scheduled for arraignment on 26 November.
The charges against Professor Simon stem from her interview with Michigan state police investigators in May. Court documents allege that she made false or misleading statements concerning Dr Nassar’s activities and her awareness of them. She told a US Senate hearing in June that nobody at MSU knew of Dr Nassar’s criminal behaviour before 2016.
Dr Nassar became an assistant professor and team physician at MSU in 1997, about a decade after he joined the US gymnastics national team medical staff as an athletic trainer. The abuse allegations against him date as far back as 1992, although much of the abuse – under the pretence of legitimate medical care, with several well-known Olympic gymnasts among his victims – occurred at his MSU office.
Two other MSU officials – William Strampel, a former boss of Dr Nassar and dean of the MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine, and Kathie Klages, a former MSU women’s gymnastics coach – already have been charged in relation to their alleged actions regarding Dr Nassar and are awaiting trial.
Professor Simon resigned as MSU president on 24 January shortly after Dr Nassar’s sentencing. She then took a role as an MSU “distinguished professor”, while a former state governor, John Engler, was named interim president. A months-long search is under way to find a permanent successor to Mr Engler, who is considered politically unpopular among many on campus.
After the charges against Professor Simon were announced, Mr Engler said that she was taking an immediate leave of absence without pay. MSU is paying the legal fees for Professor Simon and Ms Klages, and some of those for Dr Strampel.
Although rare, criminal charges for a US university president arising from official duties are not unprecedented. One major recent example is Graham Spanier, a former president of Pennsylvania State University convicted in 2017 on charges related to an insufficient response to a sports-related serial sexual assault case on his campus.