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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of responding the way that MSU did—in a manner that broke my heart for its insensitivity and cluelessness.Theirs is the outdated playbook that sophisticated corporate clients threw out decades ago.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.

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