Views expressed in opinion columns are the author's own.
Larry Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison for decades of sexual abuse of women and girls as a doctor for Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics. Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, who presided over Nassar's trial, allowed more than 160 victims and parents to make statements about Nassar's abuse. Others who have worked at Michigan State, such as former gymnastics coach Kathie Klages and the university's Assistant General Counsel Kristine Moore, have come under fire for their roles in the scandal.
The events that transpired at Michigan State are sobering reminders that, despite any movement toward preventing sexual abuse, we as a nation have a long way to go. In particular, colleges and universities need to make serious efforts to end these patterns of abuse.
Students can't accomplish these changes alone: They must be supported by staff and faculty, all the way to the top. Those in power must take action — the plight of the abused is the problem of all.
In the case of Michigan State, there remains another individual aside from Moore and Klages who ought to be held responsible for enabling Nassar's career of abuse: former president Lou Anna Simon.
As news of the scandal broke, many called for Simon's resignation. She officially stepped down from her position on Jan. 24 with a resignation letter that has been made public by the university. This letter is an attempt by Simon to clear herself of any wrongdoing or blame.
Being the president of a major university like Michigan State, which boasts about 50,000 students, requires a great deal of responsibility. Simon, who served as president since 2005, should understand this tenet of leadership. Instead, she denies culpability, explaining that "Anyone who knows me knows I am a principled person."
Regardless of any personal moral compass Simon claims to have, it was her responsibility to ensure students attending the university she presided over were adequately protected against abuse on the campus, whether from other students or university employees.
Let's say she really didn't know about Nassar's actions — which is a tenuous assumption given the prolonged period of abuse and the numerous allegations. It was still her responsibility to make clear to university employees at large that accusations of sexual abuse should be treated seriously. It was also her responsibility to make clear that allegations like those against Nasser ought to be reported all the way up the chain of command, not handled discreetly, as Klages has been accused of doing. The failure of Klages and Moore to stop Nassar's reign of abuse is also the fault of university leadership.
Not only did Simon's statement avoid taking any responsibility, it reads more like a resume of accomplishments than it does a resignation letter. Simon states that she is "proud of [her] support" of the Special Victim's Unit that led the investigation "even though the results have been very painful to all who watched." That's right: Simon praises herself for supporting the investigation that her own officials stood in the way of. She gives herself credit for supporting those who cleaned up what is effectively her mistake.
Toward the end, Simon states, "I have tried to make it not about me. […] I cannot make it about me now" while continuing, in fact, to make it about her. Despite the few sentences of support Simon gives Nassar's victims, it's clear she feels wronged by the court of public opinion and wants this letter to save what remains of her reputation.
It's time the community of American universities bands together to re-evaluate how they handle these types of cases and who deserves blame. When another scandalous tragedy of continued abuse comes out — perhaps even at the University of Maryland — whom will we hold responsible?
Caitlin McCann is a sophomore communication major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.