- Michigan State University's Board of Trustees announced Friday that it will hire a law firm to investigate the university's handling of allegations of sexual abuse by former university sports doctor Larry Nassar.
- The firm was hired "with input from survivors," according to a board statement. At its meeting, the board also approved a new fund to pay for counseling and mental health services for Nassar's victims.
- The news comes months after an independent special counsel report accused the university of stonewalling an investigation into the events by the state attorney general's office.
Although the details of the contract with law firm McDermott Will & Emery are still being worked out, board members say the investigation's findings will be made public, MLive reported. However, the state attorney general's office was critical of Michigan State's move, saying in a statement provided to MLive that it "lacks the credibility necessary to conduct a legitimate investigation."
Further, in its announcement of the new review, MLive reported that university officials maintained that existing privileged records will not be given to the firm or made public — a stance that has drawn criticism.
In its earlier report, released in December, the state attorney general's office said the university was reluctant to release critical documents and has inappropriately used attorney-client privilege.
This is not Michigan State's first probe into its handling of allegations against Nassar. In 2016, the university hired lawyers to conduct a review of the situation. Those results were never released, though the lead investigator said the investigation didn't find evidence university officials were aware of Nassar's actions until press reports emerged detailing them. The Detroit News, however, found that more than two dozen officials, including Simon, were aware of reports about Nassar, some of which were made nearly two decades before his arrest in 2016.
The news of the probe follows the university's decision last month to select former Stony Brook University President Samuel Stanley Jr. as its new chief executive. He replaces Lou Anna Simon — who stepped down amid pressure over how the university handled complaints against Nassar and now faces criminal charges — as well as two interim presidents.
One interim, John Engler, resigned a year into job amid reports that the board was planning to fire him over his comments that Nassar's victims are "enjoying" being in the "spotlight."
A campus activist group, Reclaim MSU, was critical of the process used to pick Stanley and called on him to immediately meet with Nassar victims and their families, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported.
Although Michigan State's own Nassar investigation has been controversial, crisis management experts say an independent, public review is a critical first step for institutions addressing controversy on campus.
"You have to assume that everything is discoverable," Jeff Hunt, a crisis communications expert who worked with Penn State in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, told Education Dive earlier this year. "Your best bet is to be as transparent as possible as early as possible because that gives you the best opportunity to put the narrative in your terms."