Michigan State University (MSU) was fined a record $4.5 million for its systematic failure to protect students in wake of the abuse scandal involving the school’s former sports doctor, Larry Nassar, the U.S. Department of Education announced on Sept. 5.
MSU was ordered by the department to make “major changes” following two separate investigations—one by the office of Federal Student Aid and the other by the Office for Civil Rights—under the direction of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
Nassar, who’s also the former doctor of the USA Gymnastics national team, was accused of sexual abuse by more than 350 women. The scandal had earlier led to resignations of top officials at Michigan State, including the school’s former president. The university agreed in May to pay $425 million to 332 of Nassar’s victims and to set aside another $75 million for any future plaintiffs.
“What transpired at Michigan State was abhorrent, inexcusable, and a total and complete failure to follow the law and protect students,” DeVos said in a statement. “Michigan State will now pay for its failures and will be required to make meaningful changes.”
Nassar was sentenced in two different trials to 300 years in prison for having abused young female gymnasts. Prosecutors said he abused more than 265 people, many through his practice at MSU.
DeVos said no future student should have to endure the suffering that so many others were forced to because their concerns about Nassar were ignored.
“Too many people in power knew about the behaviors and the complaints and yet, the predators continued on the payroll and abused even more students,” DeVos said in a Sept. 5 call with reporters.
The Education Department is fining MSU over four major findings, including “failure to properly classify reported incidents” and “lack of administrative capability.”
MSU had faced public criticisms over how they handled the Nassar case. While athletes had complained about Nassar since the 1990s, the school didn’t open an investigation until 2014.
The Office for Civil Rights investigation found MSU failed to “adequately respond” to the sexual misconduct reports against Nassar and his former boss, William Strampel. The office said the school also “failed to take appropriate interim measures to protect its students while complaints against Nassar and Strampel were pending.”
Strampel was arrested in March 2018. He was charged with criminal sexual misconduct and was sentenced to a year in jail for neglect of duty and misconduct in office.
“Dr. Strampel is appealing his conviction. I cannot comment further until the appellate process has run its course,” his lawyer, John Dakmak, said in an email to Reuters.
The university signed a resolution agreement to address the issues laid out by the department, including an overhaul of its procedures for Title IX, the federal civil rights law that bars discrimination on the basis of sex, and potentially firing employees who failed to take action in the face of complaints about Nassar and Strampel.
“I’m grateful for the thoroughness of these investigations and intend to use them as a blueprint for action,” Samuel L. Stanley Jr., the university’s current president, said in a Sept. 5 statement.
Reuters contributed to this report.