EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan State University’s athletic director retired Friday, two days after the university president resigned over the school’s handling of sexual abuse allegations against its disgraced former sports doctor, Larry Nassar.
Mark Hollis, who had been in the job for 10 years, disclosed the move during a meeting with a small group of reporters on campus. He was asked why he would not stay on.
“Because I care,” Hollis said, holding back tears. “When you look at the scope of everything, that’s the reason I made a choice to retire now. And I hope that has a little bit, a little bit, of helping that healing process.”
Hours later, the university named its vice president to serve as acting president after the departure of President Lou Anna Simon. Bill Beekman is expected to serve briefly in the role until the board of trustees can hire an interim president and then a permanent leader.
At their meeting, all eight trustees made statements and apologies, many of them emotionally delivered. Board Chairman Brian Breslin said it was “clear that MSU has not been focused enough on the victims.” The trustees, he said, want to resume discussions with those who have sued the school to “reach a fair and just conclusion.” Talks broke down last year.
The board plans to ask an independent third party to review health and safety at the school, and it wants state Attorney General Bill Schuette to consider appointing a neutral investigator to conduct an inquiry of the Nassar matter “to promote bipartisan acceptance of the results.”
Trustee Brian Mosallam said: “I am so truly sorry. We failed you.”
Beekman is vice president and secretary of the board. He began working at the university in 1995 and previously led the MSU Alumni Association. He has an undergraduate degree from MSU.
“I think our culture here at Michigan State clearly needs to improve,” he said. “We need to be able to make everybody that comes on our campus feel safe.”
Simon submitted her resignation Wednesday after Nassar, a former Michigan State employee, was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison for molesting young girls and women under the guise of medical treatment.
Several of the 150-plus victims who spoke at his sentencing hearing were former athletes at the school, and many victims accused the university of mishandling past complaints about Nassar, who also molested Olympians and other young gymnasts while working for USA Gymnastics, the sport’s governing body.
“I don’t believe that I’ve ever met him,” Hollis said of Nassar. He insisted he did not know about complaints of abuse until an Indianapolis Star report in 2016.
Also Friday, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos confirmed her agency is investigating the Nassar scandal. She said in a statement that what happened at the school is “abhorrent” and “cannot happen ever again — there or anywhere.”
The Education Department was already reviewing separate complaints about the school’s compliance with Title IX, the law that requires public schools to offer equal opportunities to both genders, and compliance with requirements about providing campus crime and security information.
The board expressed support for Simon before her resignation, but she faced pressure from many students, faculty and legislators. While there has been no evidence that Simon or Hollis knew Nassar was sexually abusing girls and women, some of the women and girls who accused him said they complained to university employees as far back as the late 1990s.
Board members, who are elected in statewide votes, have come under intense scrutiny. Two announced they will not seek re-election. Another, Joel Ferguson, apologized at the meeting for conducting an interview in which he said there was more going on at Michigan State than “this Nassar thing.”
The university faces lawsuits from more than 130 women and girls. Ferguson previously had said victims were ambulance chasers out for a payday. The school resisted calls for an independent investigation before asking Schuette for a review a week ago.
Students planned a Friday evening march and protest.
In a recent filing, Michigan State asked a judge to dismiss the cases against the university on technical grounds. The school says it has immunity under state law and that the majority of victims were not MSU students at the time of the alleged assaults.
“These arguments can seem disrespectful” to victims, but a defense is required by Michigan State’s insurers, Simon wrote last week in a campus-wide email. She added, “We have the utmost respect and sympathy” for victims.
The board last month authorized the creation of a $10 million fund to offer victims counseling and mental health services.
A Title IX probe conducted by the university cleared Nassar of sexual assault allegations in 2014. He was advised by the school to avoid being alone with patients while treating their “sensitive areas,” but the school did not follow up on and enforce its request.
At least 12 reported assaults occurred after the investigation ended, according to a university police report that was provided to the FBI for review by the U.S. attorney.
Hollis said he did not know about the 2014 investigation and has told as much to the FBI and campus police.
“In hindsight, you ask yourself that question,” he said when asked if he should have been aware of it. “But that was not my choice at that time.”
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