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Despite new leadership, MSU trustees again decline to share private Nassar documents

Friday's Board of Trustees meeting was the first since the Feb. 13 shooting that occurred on campus.
Arjun Thakkar
Friday's Board of Trustees meeting was the first since the Feb. 13 shooting that occurred on campus.

Michigan State University’s Board of Trustees has once again refused Attorney General Dana Nessel’s request to release thousands of documents for her investigation into Larry Nassar.

That’s after new leaders on the board said they were committed to being transparent with the documents.

Last week, Nessel renewed a request for the board to turn over all documents related to the Nassar sex abuse scandal to her office without redactions. Nessel closed her investigation in 2021 when trustees declined to cooperate fully with the request.

The board heard from several advocates for survivors Friday asking them to grant Nessel access to documents that remain confidential due to communications and notes from legal counsel.

At the tail end of the meeting, right before it was adjourned, newly elected Chair Rema Vassar said the school will not comply with Nessel’s request to maintain attorney-client privilege.

“We understand that for those who continue to push for transparency with this particular action, this might not be what you want to hear,” Vassar said. "On behalf of the board, please know we are sorry."

The decision comes after Vassar and other trustees told WKAR they supported releasing the documents unredacted. Following the 2022 election, newly elected Trustee Dennis Denno and reelected Trustee Renee Knake Jefferon said they supported unsealing those files.

In a statement Friday, Nessel said the board's decision was "a disappointing outcome."

"With new leadership and new members, we expected more from the Board of Trustees, and hoped they were as dedicated to accountability and transparency for their student-victims as the Department of Attorney General continues to be," she said. "The University that shielded Larry Nassar from justice and this new board who refused today to take the vote, still has something to prove to the people of Michigan, the current students they ought to protect, and the Nassar victims the school has failed for decades.”

According to reporting from The State News, Nessel had received reassurance from Vassar that she had enough support on the board to authorize the release of the documents. The attorney general said she had "literally no idea" why the board did not follow through.

Friday's board meeting was the first since the Feb. 13 shooting that occurred on MSU's campus. The board paused to honor the victims of the violence several times, including a moment of silence at the beginning.

Close to 20 public commenters came to speak the trustees about a range of topics. Those included a requested update to MSU's firearms policy, advocates for the return of the swim and dive program, and supporters of ousted business college dean Sanjay Gupta.

Trustees also approved a seven percent rate hike on the cost of room and board for incoming freshmen.

Trustees voted unanimously to raise the cost of housing in residential halls and meal plans for first-year students attending this fall. The annual rate for accommodations will see an increase of nearly $800.

MSU students are required to live in a residence hall for their first two years on campus.

Senior Vice President for Student Life and Engagement Vennie Gore says the increase is the largest the school has seen in 14 years. He adds the increase is meant to mitigate inflation and the rise in food costs.

“So many of you who are in this room, if you buy bought your eggs this time last year was $1.69," Gore said. "At some point, it got to be $8 for a dozen of eggs, and we're we're not exempt of that.”

In her final remarks to the board as president of MSU's student government, Jo Kovach took a brief moment to criticize the rate hike.

"A seven percent increase in room and board rates without a subsequent increase in student employment wages is incredibly inhumane," Kovach said.

Officials say they guarantee a set room and board rate for current students. That means returning second-year students will not see an increase in their housing and dining costs.

Arjun Thakkar is WKAR's politics and civics reporter.
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