Following Nassar scandal, Michigan State president leaves with lifetime of perks

Michigan State University was accused of covering up what is believed to be the biggest sexual abuse scandal in U.S. sports – and just hours after gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar’s sentencing Wednesday, Lou Anna Simon stepped down as president.

However, Simon is expected to collect her full presidential salary for two years with many added benefits, including lifetime free tickets to MSU football games and paid research leave if she returns as faculty.

According to her contract, she can choose to return as faculty with a salary of $750,000 for up to two years, an office space and secretarial support, as well as the title of “president emeritus.”

Simon’s compensation package raises questions when compared to past presidents, according to James Finkelstein, a professor emeritus of public policy at George Mason University who studies college presidential compensation.

"In the 200+ presidential contracts we’ve reviewed, this is the only contract that provides for the president to receive 100% of their last presidential base salary for the first year that they return to the faculty," Finkelstein told the Detroit Free Press.

“It would appear that Dr. Simon will be paid more than twice the amount of the most highly paid faculty member in the College of Education,” Finkelstein added. “In addition, she will be paid more than the most highly paid faculty member in the entire university, C. Konrad Gelbke who makes $433,441. He is one of the world’s leading physicists."

He added: “While I’ve read these statements saying what a successful president she’s been, and I don’t think there’s any doubt that she’s done a lot for the institution, I also believe that a university president is like the captain of a ship. When you have a president who is ensnared in some of these huge scandals for which the university is going to have years, in all likelihood, of legal battles and potential liability ahead of it, should the president of the university receive these kinds of benefits?”

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Simon was president for 10 of the years that Nassar was at MSU, including during the internal Title IX investigation that cleared Nassar of sexual assault allegations in 2014.

Nassar’s 20-year employment at MSU left many wondering how it happened and who knew what when.

MSU's athletic director, Mark Hollis, announced his retirement Friday, and former Michigan State gymnastics coach Kathie Klages resigned last year after she was suspended for defending Nassar over the years.

Simon wrote that she had planned to retire in December 2016, but her “transition was postponed" in the wake of the initial allegations against Nassar.

“As tragedies are politicized, blame is inevitable," Simon wrote in a letter to the Board of Trustees. "As president, it is only natural that I am the focus of this anger. I understand, and that is why I have limited my personal statements. Throughout my career, I have worked very hard to put Team MSU first. Throughout my career, I have consistently and persistently spoken and worked on behalf of Team MSU. I have tried to make it not about me. I urge those who have supported my work to understand that I cannot make it about me now. Therefore, I am tendering my resignation as president according to the terms of my employment agreement.”

Rachael Denhollander, the first victim to speak publicly and file a police report in September 2016, told Fox News she was “absolutely confident MSU was covering this up.” However, she was one of the last to join the lawsuit because she wanted to see how MSU would respond.

“We were silenced. We were mocked. And our abuser was told time and time again, ‘I’m on your side,’” Denhollander said. “That gives me all I need to see how Nassar preyed on women and little girls for so many years.”

MSU's Bill Beekman will serve as the acting president while the Board of Trustees searches for the next president.

Meanwhile, Michigan State faces intense scrutiny in the Nassar case, with a House panel investigating MSU, as well as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos promising to hold the public university accountable for any violations of federal law.