Trustee: More at MSU than ‘this Nassar thing’

Joel Ferguson: 'This is not Penn State. They were dealing with their football program.'

Larry Nassar, sentencing hearing
Larry Nassar in a Lansing courtroom during the fourth day of his sentencing hearing on Jan. 19, 2018. (WLNS/Pool)


LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — During a radio interview Monday, Michigan State University Board of Trustees Vice Chairman Joel Ferguson said, “there’s so many more things going at the university than just this Nassar thing.”

He was referring to Larry Nassar, a former MSU sports doctor who admitted to sexually assaulting his patients under the guise of providing medical care. More than 150 girls, women and supports have spoken during his sentencing hearing in Lansing this and last week.

When asked if he could see the NCAA getting involved with MSU’s handling of complaints against Nassar, Ferguson laughed.

“This is not Penn State. They were dealing with their football program… I do not see… They’re smart enough to know they’re not confident to walk in here on this,” Ferguson went on to say.

On Tuesday night, The New York Times reported the NCAA is investigating MSU’s handing of the Nassar case. An MSU spokesman confirmed to 24 Hour News 8 that its athletic department had received latter from the NCAA. He said MSU was reviewing it.

Ferguson called in to Lansing’s Staudt on Sports radio show on The Game 730 AM WVFN Monday morning.

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Host Tim Staudt questioned Ferguson on the independent investigation Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette will conduct. Ferguson said if Schuette finds MSU did nothing wrong it will clear the university, but if he finds people to be complicit with Nassar’s abuse, the board will take action.

“Whatever they say, we’ll live with that, but we certainly aren’t going to do anything before the thing,” he went on to explain. “…This weekend we had so many of our major donors and so many of our major alumni sending communications to us in support of the president and supporting what we’re trying to do.”

Ferguson said he believes top brass at MSU did nothing wrong.

“Our senior people were not complicit in what this pervert did,” he said.

Staudt asked Ferguson on the trustees releasing a statement last week showing their continued support for Michigan State University President Lou Anna K. Simon. He wondered if it’s possible Simon would ultimately step down despite the board’s public support.

“That will not happen. Period,” Ferguson replied. “She’s a fighter and her overall- What she’s done for the university, she’s not going to get ran out of there by what somebody else did.”

Ferguson cited positive impacts Simon has had on the university as why she should maintain her position.

“When you go to a basketball game you walk in that, the new Breslin and the person who hustled- the person to get money was Lou Anna Simon,” Ferguson said, adding she’s a reason why enrollment is so high and he has letters on his desk from parents asking for his help in getting their child admitted.

There was a strong public reaction to Ferguson’s statements, with the “this Nassar thing” part seeming to resonate.

“That sounds to our clients kind of indifferent about their situation,” Grand Rapids attorney Stephen Drew, who is representing some of the victims, told 24 Hour News 8. “‘This Nassar thing?’ It’s more than a thing, sir. It’s more than a thing.”

Many criticized Ferguson’s remarks as tone deaf and another public relations misstep on MSU’s part.

“I understand that there’s business and things that need to happen. However, are you watching what’s going on here? This was happening under Michigan State’s roof,” Rockford native and MSU alum Jennifer Rood Bedford said. “What’s happening here is horrific and you can’t shrug it off. It’s not business as usual.”

Lindsey Lemke, one of the MSU gymnasts who confronted Nassar in court, had strong words for Ferguson.

During the interview, Ferguson said he and fellow trustees met with Simon for 10 minutes of their five-hour meeting Friday and that they ultimately decided she deserved their support.

“He states it was a quick decision to make for [Simon] to stay. How can you even make a decision that [Simon] can stay when not even all of the victims have spoken yet and Nassar hasn’t even been sentenced? It just seems like such a premature statement and decision because that proves right there they (MSU – Breslin, Simon, Ferguson) don’t understand the magnitude of how many people this has hurt. You couldn’t even listen to all of the statements before making a decision? Pathetic,” Lemke wrote in a message to 24 Hour New 8 Tuesday.

“‘There’s so many more things going on at the university than just this Nassar thing.’ Okay….THING?! Are you kidding me?! Some victims and parents of victims have taken their lives over this ‘Nassar Thing’ and that’s what you feel it is appropriate to call it? Disgusting. This man is one of the most ignorant and rude humans I have ever known. Your school is responsible for the BIGGEST sexual abuse case in history and you have the audacity call it a thing?! Unbelievable,” she continued.

The scholarship athlete also voiced anger over Ferguson distancing MSU from Penn State and how they handled Jerry Sandusky, who was convicted in 2012 of sexually abusing several young boys over the course of at least 15 years.

“You’re right sir, it is not the same as the Penn State scandal, it is 100x worse. But because this is gymnastics, softball, volleyball, rowing, soccer, all women’s sports, it’s not handled the same,” Lemke wrote. “I wonder what his statement would be if the football physician was the one abusing all of Mark Dantonio’s players? He would be worshiping the ground they walk on, but because we aren’t the big names that catch the headline news by [themselves], the new pavilion in Breslin is more important to him,” she stated. “Frankly, it was not just Lou Anna Simon who made it so the Breslin was able to have these additions. It was the donors who are nice enough to give their money to the university. And frankly, I feel sorry for those donors now. Just because donors were gracious enough to give money to the school for an expansion on the basketball arena, doesn’t make Lou Anna Simon a good president. A good president knows how to handle a Title [IX] Investigation Report when it comes across her desk. A good president shows sympathy to the directly impacted victims, not send out an email to ‘MSU Community Members’. A good president would sit in court, every single day, to listen to each and every statement being made so she can properly address each victim and help them. A good president when approached by a victim in court, shows her sympathy to them. Not cut the corners to try and find answers to things she thinks people wants to hear. So, Joel Ferguson, if you think that your statement is something that would give us confidence in Lou Anna Simon and yourself, you’re wrong. You only showed us how ignorant of a person you truly are.”

The Associated Press reported later Tuesday that Ferguson was apologizing for his comments.

Last week, MSU’s student newspaper and student body government both called for Simon’s resignation. The Rock on MSU’s campus was also painted over and read “Time’s Up. Change Lou Anna” as of last Friday night.

“I think students feel as if this institution has been very disconnected and really put the student voice second,” student government president Lorenzo Santavicca told 24 Hour News 8 last week.

A student protest is planned for 6 p.m. Friday at The Rock on MSU campus to demand President Simon’s resignation. According to a press release from Santavicca, “Students for the resignation of Lou Anna K. Simon” is being organized by students in collaboration with MSU College Democrats.

–24 Hour News 8’s Leon Hendrix contributed to this report.