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MSU Trustees update firearm restrictions, hear from Nassar survivors

Trustees Kelly Tebay, Dan Kelly, and Rema Vassar sit alongside Interim President Teresa Woodruff.
Wali Khan
MSU's Board of Trustees voted five-to-two Friday to prohibit visitors from bringing concealed weapons on MSU property.

Michigan State University is updating its firearms policy to restrict individuals with a concealed carry permit from bringing guns on campus.

At the Board of Trustees' first meeting since the start of the new school year, the group voted 5-2 to prohibit visitors from bringing concealed weapons on MSU property.

The new policy takes immediate effect. Previous restrictions banned bringing firearms on campus "except as permitted by state law," which allowed for concealed carry. The revised policy strikes that language while maintaining exceptions for law enforcement and anyone who happens to be driving through campus without stopping or exiting their vehicle.

The change comes after a Michigan court ruled this year that schools are “sensitive places” where firearms can be banned to ensure public safety.

MSU Trustee Kelly Tebay said the change provides important clarity in the wake of the February mass shooting. But she added the ordinance is not directly responding to the incident, as student advocates had been calling for tighter restrictions on concealed weapons since 2019.

“I want to sort of give them credit for this, they’re the ones that brought this ordinance to me and have subsequently continued to engage and educate us,” Tebay said.

Chair Rema Vassar and Trustee Dan Kelly voted against the ordinance. Kelly said it would result in "law-abiding citizens" facing criminal charges.

"I'm sensitive to the fact that students faculty and other people on this campus are uncomfortable...that somebody on campus may have a concealed weapon," Kelly said. "But that's state law...I don't believe that passing this will have any impact on the safety of this campus."

In other action at the meeting, survivors of disgraced sports doctor Larry Nassar served each of the eight trustees with copies of a lawsuit they filed earlier last month. The survivors demanded the board of trustees initiate a public vote to release 6,000 documents related to Nassar.

MSU had previously said the documents are protected by attorney-client privilege in then-ongoing litigation with United Educators, which was once MSU’s biggest insurance carrier.

In an interview with WKAR in March, Board of Trustees Chair Rema Vassar said releasing the documents was a priority for her. However, theboard again declined to publish them during an April meeting.

The contents of the documents, which have been characterized by Trustee Knake Jefferson (D) as being “consistent with information already known to the public,” have long been a matter of contention for the college.

The board’s decision to withhold thousands of documents resulted in campus protests and drew sharp criticism from Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel.

Survivor Kristin Nagle spoke directly to Trustee Tebay, accusing her of making performative campaign promises in 2018 where she had pledged to fight to release the documents.

"For six years, you have anxiously sat behind the board table, wringing your hands and telling us that you can't do anything because the board members would not go along with you, we helped elect you. We have called on you to represent us and all we have seen is you crying, lying cruel crocodile tears," Nagle said.

MSU Board Chair Rema Vassar said after the meeting that the insurance disputes have since been resolved.

Azzam Elder, a lawyer for the Nassar survivors urged the board to take a public vote to release the documents. Elder alleges the trustees took a secret vote in April to withold the documents.

"The court system is designed to make sure that those who are in power are transparent. That's why they asked for this lawsuit that we filed. They shouldn't have to go through that. Just have the guts vote, if you want to vote to keep the documents secret vote, but they have a right to know where you stand. They have a right to know." he said.

The board also heard from swimming coach professionals who joined calls for the university to reinstate its swimming and diving team.

The program was cancelled in 2020. Administrators say the school needs to overcome challenges with funding and facilities to bring it back.

Nationally recognized advocates offered their support for getting the program up and running.

Samantha Barany is executive director of College Swimming and Diving Coaches Association of America. She said bringing the team back would get more student athletes to consider attending MSU.

“Once you reinstate the program, the expectation and confidence should be that you are competing with your peers at the big 10 to recruit the best students out of Michigan, out of the United States, and globally,” Barany said.

The trustees have said supporters need to raise about $26 million for swim and dive to return. MSU recently broke ground on a Student Recreation and Wellness Center that supporters say could be used to host the team.

Arjun Thakkar is WKAR's politics and civics reporter.
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