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Students, Alumni Watch As Michigan State Tries To Restore Its Reputation


All right, Michigan State University is only beginning the process now of recovering from a devastating scandal. This follows last week's sentencing of Larry Nassar, the former Michigan State and U.S. Gymnastics team doctor who sexually assaulted patients for decades. As we're about to hear from Michigan Public Radio's Rick Pluta, alumni, students and donors are watching to see how the school will work to restore its reputation.

RICK PLUTA, BYLINE: Many survivors of Larry Nassar's abuse don't just blame him. They also blame MSU officials for failing to act even after multiple complaints. The scandal forced MSU President Lou Anna Simon to step down last week, followed by athletic director Mark Hollis, and there could be more resignations coming. The school's board of trustees has also come under withering attack for actions that seemed to focus more on limiting the school's culpability than on supporting victims.

DIANNE BYRUM: My voice should've been louder much sooner.

PLUTA: That's MSU trustee Dianne Byrum, who says she's learned from this horrible experience.

BYRUM: The situation with Larry Nassar is reflective of the culture that needs to change on campus.

PLUTA: The Michigan Legislature is now looking into the rules for impeaching MSU board members, who are selected by voters in statewide elections. It's an environment that has a lot of MSU students and alums struggling to maintain their Spartan pride. Laura Klinger lives in Milwaukee but grew up in East Lansing in the shadow of Michigan State, graduating from there in 2012 with a degree in human biology. Klinger says she owns more than a dozen Spartan sweatshirts, hats and T-shirts.

LAURA KLINGER: It's just a big part of my identity.

PLUTA: Laura Klinger would travel back to MSU as often as possible to catch basketball and football games. But now Klinger, who works in sexual assault prevention on college campuses, says she's done with MSU sports, and her Spartan gear will sit in a drawer.

KLINGER: I'm really horrified with what my alma mater has been complicit in.

PLUTA: MSU faces multiple investigations by the state, the U.S. Department of Education and the NCAA. There will likely be hearings before the state Legislature and Congress. There are at least 140 civil lawsuits filed by victims. MSU hired a former federal prosecutor to conduct an internal review, but that was focused largely on protecting the school's legal position. The results of the review have never been made public. At 50,000 students, MSU is the largest public university in Michigan and the ninth largest in the country. Matt Friedman, who advises schools on crisis communications, says MSU needs to remember why it's there.

MATT FRIEDMAN: Students are the reason why the institution exists. The institution has a mission to educate the students who are paying to be there and expect to get a full education and also be safe at the same time.

PLUTA: Then there's the question of how Michigan State will compensate Nassar's victims. At Penn State, the cost of the Jerry Sandusky scandal could run to a quarter of a billion dollars. Michigan State estimates its legal settlements alone could top a billion dollars. Taxpayer money makes up 20 percent of MSU's budget. There is currently a bill before the Michigan Legislature that would ban the use of taxpayer funds to pay the settlements. Many, like Laura Klinger, are watching for evidence of profound change at the school.

KLINGER: I want to see everybody who was even remotely involved in this out.

PLUTA: But before that, MSU's reputation will take another hit this week as Larry Nassar faces another group of victims in a final round of sentencing hearings. For NPR News, I'm Rick Pluta in Lansing.

(SOUNDBITE OF BAULTA'S "DO WE LIVE TODAY?") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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