“Straight Up,” MSU’s President Made Her PR Situation Worse

After months of news coverage about a doctor on her school’s payroll who has been convicted as a serial molester, receiving national attention, Michigan State University’s President, Lou Anna Simon finally answered questions from reporters yesterday.

It happened during day two of a sentencing hearing for Dr. Larry Nassar. After day one, Simon was criticized by local and national columnists for watching the proceedings online rather than being in the courtroom to lend even symbolic support for the victims and the community. In recent weeks, politicians and the Lansing newspaper have called for Simon’s resignation. This is a PR crisis by any definition.

The Detroit News now reports that 14 individuals reported abuse at varying levels and Simon at least knew of an investigation in 2014. What did she have to say for herself yesterday. Here are the quotes from the News’ story:

“I was informed that a sports medicine doctor was under investigation,”… “I told people to play it straight up, and I did not receive a copy of the report. That’s the truth.”

“Those issues are points of dispute and part of civil litigation and I am not going to comment on,” she said. “What I can tell you is what I knew, straight up. My standard response is to tell people to play things straight up and I did not receive a copy of the report.”

Straight up? Straight up? Who is she, Paula Abdul? What does that even mean?

How about lawyered up?

This was an opportunity to provide, at the very least, a sense reassurance to an enormous community of alumni, students, employees, residents at an extremely important institution in a large state with a sizeable national profile. What does the university stand for? Does the culture need to change? What’s being done so this can’t happen again?

As a leader, is she disgusted like the rest of us? Can girls, young women, parents of students feel like MSU is a safe place?

But, at least she made her lawyers happy. They were probably high-fiving knowing that their client didn’t say anything to make their jobs harder while defending the university in civil litigation.

This is a mistake too many CEO-types make. Out of a fear of saying the “wrong thing,” they fail to say any of the right things.

It won’t be long before news stories refer to her as “Embattled President” and I’ll tell you “straight up,” that will take this to a whole other level of PR difficulty.