On Wednesday, after two days of closed-door hearings, Michigan State University announced that it had reached a $500,000,000 settlement with the 332 victims of Larry Nassar’s abuse who have come forward.
Half a billion dollars is a staggering amount of money to comprehend, but it’s important not to get too hung up on that number — the most important figure here is the fact that 332 people have come forward as victims of sexual abuse at the hands of a former doctor that MSU enabled for two decades.
And that’s just the victims that we know about, for whom $425 million of this settlement will be appropriated. The remaining $75 million dollars of the settlement will be set aside in anticipation of possible future claims.
For the sake of comparison, Penn State University paid out $109 million to 35 of Jerry Sandusky’s victims, which is approximately 2.5 times more money per victim than MSU’s Nassar settlement.
Reaction to settlement from Ron French, a parent of a victim: There’s no amount of money my family wouldn’t trade for this not to have happened. A settlement doesn’t end the nightmares my daughter has every night …
— Kim Kozlowski (@kimberkoz) May 16, 2018
According to the Detroit Free Press, which broke the news, MSU now has to figure out where this money will come from, and how much its insurance providers will cover. MSU has already paid nine law firms more than $11.3 million for litigation over Nassar-related crimes.
Interim MSU president John Engler has maintained throughout the proceedings that the settlement costs will be paid by both tuition and state aid, but Michigan lawmakers have balked at these proposals. The Free Press reports that MSU currently has $1.1 billion in unrestricted free assets. While this money is currently earmarked for certain projects, MSU is not legally obligated to use this money for these purposes.
Earlier this month, the credit ratings agency Moody’s Investors Service lowered the MSU’s bond rating in the wake of the Nassar scandal, which means the school will no longer be eligible for preferred interest rates. Moody’s move mirrored a similar evaluation from S&P Global Ratings at the end of March.
According to posts on social media and comments to the press, Nassar survivors and their families are feeling a mix of emotions today.
Many of them have been locked in legal battles with MSU for more than a year and a half. As survivor and current MSU student Lindsey Lemke noted, it’s a relief to finish this part of the process.
This is the most accomplished I have felt in a long time. I’ve never devoted myself to something more in my life than to fight for justice from institutions who hold more power than what is imaginable. But we did it. Not the end, but this is victory. https://t.co/3PCia4ohP5
— Lindsey Lemke (@lindseylemke) May 16, 2018
But the settlement does not in any way make the way MSU has treated Nassar survivors over the last 18 months — and, for that matter, the two decades before that — acceptable or forgivable. During that time, the university administration fought the survivors at every turn, and the majority of the Board of Trustees treated the matter with a combination of defiance and tone deafness.
Just last month, during a Board of Trustees meeting, 18-year-old Nassar survivor Kaylee Lorincz revealed that Engler had offered to pay her $250,000 of hush money in a private meeting. Her disclosure was met with a veiled threat from Engler, “Be careful.”
On Twitter, Lorincz’s mother noted that while the settlement is a “positive,” MSU still “handled” the matter “as poorly as everything else.”
“They will never have our support,” she added.
We’ve tried to get them to see that all along. The settlement is a positive for the women but MSU handled it as poorly as everything else. They will never have our support! https://t.co/QVEbk4v3F3
— Lisa Lorincz (@LisaLorincz) May 16, 2018
In a joint statement from the survivors and MSU, the parties announced that the settlement neither includes any confidentiality or non-disclosure agreements, nor will it impact the ongoing litigation many survivors have against USA Gymnastics, the U.S. Olympic Committee, Bela and Martha Karolyi, or any other parties.
In other words, this is only one step in many; MSU still has an interim president who has threatened and bullied victims as well as a Board of Trustees that has seen zero turnover since Nassar’s serial abuse first came to light at the end of 2016, despite its membership’s staggering refusal to take responsibility for enabling Nassar’s crimes. In fact, MSU still claims it properly handled the Title IX investigation in 2014 into Nassar’s abuse which completely cleared Nassar — clearing the way for him to continue abusing patients under the guise of medical treatment for another two years.
“I remain deeply disappointed at the missed opportunity for meaningful reform at the University,” Rachael Denhollander, the first Nassar survivor to come forward publicly with allegations against him in 2016, said in a statement on Wednesday. “My choice to come forward publicly against Larry, and later against the institutions that allowed him to prey on children for decades, was motivated by the need for accountability and reform, so that other little children don’t live the nightmares we lived.”
Ultimately, there is no amount of money that can heal the damage that Nassar did to his victims, just as there are no words that will free MSU from blame. In order to truly move forward, MSU is going to have to make real changes — and there are 332 “Sister Survivors” who will make sure that they do.
“This historic settlement came about through the bravery of more than 300 women and girls who had the courage to stand up and refuse to be silenced. We appreciate the diligent efforts of …survivors’ attorneys across the nation who worked to obtain this measure of justice and healing,” John Manly, an attorney for many of the survivors, told the press. “We also thank the mediator and all who participated in crafting this settlement. It is the sincere hope of all of the survivors that the legacy of this settlement will be far reaching institutional reform that will end the threat of sexual assault in sports, schools and throughout our society.”