EAST LANSING – The judge who told disgraced former doctor Larry Nassar, "I just signed your death warrant,” as she sentenced him to decades in prison would consider becoming Michigan State University’s interim president and a candidate for the permanent post.
Ingham County Circuit Court Judge Rosemarie Aquilina told the Lansing State Journal on Friday that she is open to filling the role of interim president. She also did not rule out the possibility of becoming MSU's next permanent president.
MSU President Samuel Stanley Jr. announced his resignation on Oct. 13, saying he had lost confidence in the Board of Trustees. Stanley’s resignation came after trustees sought an investigation into the handling of Title IX reports by Stanley and other officials as well as the forced resignation of former Broad College of Business Dean Sanjay Gupta over additional Title IX concerns. Trustees Dianne Byrum and Dan Kelly had asked him to retire early.
Trustees said they were looking to appoint an interim president quickly as Stanley is expected to leave MSU by mid-January after giving the board 90 days notice.
Nassar survivors have reached out in the past asking her to take a leadership position at the university that has struggled to move past the national scandal that resulted from the hundreds of women and young girls the former university and USA Gymnastics doctor molested under the guise of medical treatment.
"They still haven’t had the answers they need or the investigations that are needed and I feel like they need a voice," Aquilina told the State Journal. "And it’s not just about them, it’s about the whole university and making sure it’s safe and that the policies and practices are good ones."
Byrum, chair of the Board of Trustees, could not immediately be reached for comment.
The trustees have been widely criticized for pushing Stanley out, and the University Council, MSU Faculty Senate and Associated Students of MSU have all passed no confidence votes in the board.
Aquilina, 64, said she would be forced to resign as an Ingham County Circuit Court judge if she were to take the role of interim president. She said while she's open to the appointment, she said it's a decision that would take careful consideration.
Prior to being elected in 2008 to a six-year Circuit Court term, she served as a 55th District Court judge for four years, while also working as chief judge and sobriety court judge. She was reelected in 2014 and 2020.
Aquilina has at times sparked controversy. He death warrant comment, and others she made to Nassar such as calling him a “monster,” were the basis for an appeal of his sentence. The Michigan Supreme Court ruled this summer that the sentence would stand, but called it a “close question” and justices had “concerns” for her conduct during the seven-day sentencing that including victim impact statements from 156 of Nassar’s victims.
Aquilina, who graduated from MSU in 1979, authored an opinion column in The Detroit News on Wednesday, writing that the university has not fixed the issues that ultimately allowed Nassar to sexually abuse hundreds of women and girls.
“In 2018, after putting a serial sex offender employed by the university behind bars for life and then some, I was hopeful MSU would get to work and take the necessary actions to protect its students and communities from relationship violence and sexual misconduct (RVSM),” Aquilina wrote. “But four years and four presidents later, our state’s largest university and one of the world’s most renowned R1 research institutions hasn’t fixed the problem.
“Despite the best intentions of the president and the board of trustees — people who I know care deeply about MSU — the university remains broken because it has failed to address the core issue of this crime — the inability to prioritize student safety on campus with an accountable administrative structure.”
Faculty Senate Chairperson Karen Kelly-Blake and other leadership declined comment.
Reclaim MSU, an advocacy group composed of students, faculty, staff and alumni, said trustees must conduct a transparent search.
"To restore the trust of the MSU community, MSU must have an open and inclusive search that centers the voices and perspectives of faculty, staff and students," according to a statement from Reclaim MSU.
She included recommendations to address the issue at MSU in the op-ed, including immediately appointing a permanent leader of the Office for Civil Rights and Title IX Education and Compliance and giving that leader the necessary resources and authority.
If appointed interim president, Aquilina would use her platform to pursue some of those recommendations. She acknowledged the job would be made more difficult if there continues to be interference with trustees.
"The university will be a role model of universities," she said. "If they want to keep fighting that’s a problem. I can be the healer, but I can also be the hammer. No one is going to heal until there’s a proper investigation.
"I think it starts with the interim president."
This story will be updated.
This article originally appeared on Lansing State Journal: Judge who sentenced Larry Nassar open to being Michigan State interim president