In the sad, sordid and ongoing tale of Michigan State University/Larry Nassar we are still left with far too many questions: How could something like this have happened… again? Didn’t anyone learn from Penn State? Who knew what when? And, perhaps as importantly as we shake our heads in disgust and disbelief: How could any embattled university be continuing to handle this crisis so ineffectively and offensively.
Matt has written previously about President Lou Anna K. Simon’s odd and curious choice of words and demeanor, bordering on uninformed, insensitive and defiant. But what is just as incredulous is the entire handling of this situation from a pure crisis communications standpoint. When there is adversity of any nature, the tone has to be set at the top and followed by others from there: Acknowledge that something has occurred. Pledge to investigate. Apologize and demonstrate remorse. Take responsibility. Institute corrective action. Reassure. There must be transparency. Compassion. Sympathy. Resolve. A desire to rebuild trust. Incredibly, none of that has taken place from any of the powers that be.
The person or persons at the top must be available to speak to a crisis and on the same page. In terms of availability, Simon has spoken largely through statements if at all – obviously under the protection of legal counsel looking to mitigate future litigation and perhaps millions if not more in the criminal and civil cases to come. It is a short-sighted view that is only further stoking the flames of denouncements, demonstrations and calls for her to resign.
Others at MSU also remain on the same unfortunate page when it comes to communicating improper messages and sentiments. Board of Trustees Vice Chairman Joel Ferguson chose this week to tout Simon’s donor and monetary accomplishments – as if even one dollar is worth the violation of even one student. He also intimated that at the most recent board meeting, they had spent no more than 10 minutes discussing Simon as they had ‘more important things’ to discuss. Really? Incredible. Ferguson seemed to be circling the wagons with Coach Tom Izzo who, when asked in recent days about whether he supported the president, said he was behind her and all that she accomplished, acknowledging that the Nassar trial was difficult for him.
As the NCAA now examines this case the damage is far from done as Simon and others continue to sow the seeds of public and student resentment. In the end, sadly, it will be the court system or, as likely, the pulling (or threat of pulling) of endowments and other funding dollars by prominent MSU donors that will finally push Simon to the exit. Others, like Ferguson, should follow her. Lord knows they will never see one dollar from me – a parent of a recently graduated daughter from MSU – who cannot fathom what might have been if she had been an athlete there. Not until there is real and tangible change – in leadership and culture – and those who knew and did nothing finally get their comeuppance. Those courageous young women deserve no less.