Page Printed From:
How is it that people like me—who believe sexual assault victims when they raise concerns and who support the pursuit of justice for their causes—will still jump to blindly defend their beloved alma mater when allegations arise that might injure its reputation? I found myself doing just that when the Larry Nassar investigation inevitably led to concerns and allegations about Michigan State University officials’ involvement or response. I am embarrassed to admit that my first thought was, no matter how legit the survivors’ claims, MSU couldn’t and shouldn’t bear any responsibility for what that monster did. I was wrong, and I spent some time thinking about this.Why do so many alumni and students respond this way when presented with such heinous facts? I think that there’s something unusual—almost like a “blood” response—that happens when our alma mater comes under scrutiny. You’ll see it in other scandals involving schools, too (think Penn State). But, if alumni and their universities don’t learn to do better and understand their accountability in a more responsible manner, then they are doomed to repeat the mistakes of responding the way that MSU did—in a manner that broke my heart for its insensitivity and cluelessness.Theirs is the outdated playbook that sophisticated corporate clients threw out decades ago. Here’s why: The wrong initial response: Once MSU responded to the allegations and recognized its role, the president and the trustees should have taken full responsibility immediately. They did the opposite. They dug in and individually lawyered up.The role of top leaders in any large entity is to create, define, promote and enforce a culture in which their employees know exactly what will and won’t be tolerated. They are fiduciaries.When MSU’s top leaders don’t accept accountability for the culture, who are they representing and protecting? Whose side are they on? We already know whose side they didn’t take. The lack of a forward-thinking strategy: Rather than actively working with the victims to help them find justice and restore confidence in the school, MSU denied accountability and shifted into an adversarial posture.By keeping the conversation stuck on accountability and liability, they were unable to talk meaningfully about how MSU could correct the wrongs, improve the culture and build a better future. That story only seems to be taking hold now that the school has reached a settlement. The wrong talent: Given that a number of top administration officials (including members of the legal team) were under scrutiny for their role in, or lack of response, to the scandal, who was responsible for moving the university forward?MSU brought in a new interim president and all kinds of expensive lawyers and investigators, but it didn’t seem that any of them were known for championing victims of sexual assault or for building bridges or for making a campus safer for women.It seemed to many that they were polarizing the conversation, not unifying the campus.Hindsight is always 20/20. So maybe the most enduring lesson I see here is this: The fact that a university is a nonprofit entity that everyone believes is premised on doing the best it can does not absolve it from liability or excuse its management from poor decision-making.MSU is a sophisticated and financially significant enterprise. Their master class in “how not to respond to a crisis like this” concluded with a whopping $500 million settlement to the victims and untold additional collateral damage.I believe that some of this fallout might have been avoided or more successfully remediated if MSU had focused on engaging and unifying—rather than fighting against—those who felt devastated by this debacle.And as for me? I have always proudly worn my beloved MSU T-shirts when I work out at my gym. They are often the perfect gateway into jolly banter about last week’s game. Now my MSU shirts are making their way to the bottom of the drawer, no longer the entry to any conversation I want to have.The question is, when will my school earn back enough of my confidence and pride for me to again want to associate my brand with theirs. So far, the answer is “not yet.”If others are thinking the same way, especially tomorrow’s bright faculty leaders, potential students and their parents, then that $500 million settlement is the least of MSU’s costs or worries. Susan Hackett, a Michigan State University graduate, is CEO of Legal Executive Leadership in Chevy Chase, Maryland. She is the former longtime general counsel of the Association of Corporate Counsel.
One Alum's View of Michigan State and the Nassar Scandal
Former ACC general counsel Susan Hackett offers her take on the school's response
July 13, 2018 at 07:21 AM
1 minute read
By Susan Hackett |
Updated on July 13, 2018
Thank you for sharing!
Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
This content has been archived. It is available through our partners, LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law.
To view this content, please continue to their sites.
Why am I seeing this?
LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law are third party online distributors of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law customers are able to access and use ALM's content, including content from the National Law Journal, The American Lawyer, Legaltech News, The New York Law Journal, and Corporate Counsel, as well as other sources of legal information.
For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at
Law Offices of Gary Martin Hays & Associates
75 Ponce De Leon Ave NE Ste 101
Law Offices of Mark E. Salomone
2 Oliver St #608
Smith & Hassler
1225 N Loop W #525
Presented by BigVoodoo
More From ALM
Brought to you by Speech Processing Solutions USA Inc.
With this subscription you will receive unlimited access to high quality, online, on-demand premium content from well-respected faculty in the legal industry. This is perfect for attorneys licensed in multiple jurisdictions or for attorneys that have fulfilled their CLE requirement but need to access resourceful information for their practice areas.
Our Team Account subscription service is for legal teams of four or more attorneys. Each attorney is granted unlimited access to high quality, on-demand premium content from well-respected faculty in the legal industry along with administrative access to easily manage CLE for the entire team.
Gain access to some of the most knowledgeable and experienced attorneys with our 2 bundle options! Our Compliance bundles are curated by CLE Counselors and include current legal topics and challenges within the industry. Our second option allows you to build your bundle and strategically select the content that pertains to your needs. Both options are priced the same.
Dynamically explore and compare data on law firms, companies, individual lawyers, and industry trends.
Law.com Compass includes access to our exclusive industry reports, combining the unmatched expertise of our analyst team with ALM’s deep bench of proprietary information to provide insights that can’t be found anywhere else.
Law.com Compass delivers you the full scope of information, from the rankings of the Am Law 200 and NLJ 500 to intricate details and comparisons of firms’ financials, staffing, clients, news and events.
March 27, 2023 - March 28, 2023
Join the industry's top owners, investors, developers, brokers & financiers at THE MULTIFAMILY EVENT OF THE YEAR!
March 30, 2023
Where the region's top lawyers, law firms and in-house teams will gather to celebrate their most stellar achievements of the year.
April 03, 2023 - April 04, 2023
This conference brings together the industry's most influential & knowledgeable real estate executives from the net lease sector.
Looking for an Associate Attorney with 2 to 5 years experience to handle Labor and Employment Law, Pension Appeals and Workers Compensation....
Apply Now ›
Health Law Associate CT Shipman is seeking an associate to join our national longstanding health law practice. Candidates must have t...
Apply Now ›
Regional mid-sized firm with diverse civil litigation practice seeking hardworking and dedicated attorneys with 1-5 years experience for it...
Apply Now ›
Snyder Sarno D'Aniello Maceri & daCosta would like to announce that...
View Announcement ›
COLE SCHOTZ P.C. WELCOME HONORABLE GARRY S. ROTHSTADT, J.A.D. (RET.)
View Announcement ›
Subscribe to Law.com
Don't miss the crucial news and insights you need to make informed legal decisions. Join Law.com now!
Unlimited access to Law.com
Access to additional free ALM publications
1 free article* across the ALM subscription network every 30 days
Exclusive discounts on ALM events and publications