The Department of Education socked Michigan State University with a record $4.5 million fine Thursday for its “complete failure to protect students” from sexual abuse by the school’s disgraced former sports doctor Larry Nassar and his supervisor William Strampel.
“What transpired at Michigan State was abhorrent, inexcusable,” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said. “Michigan State will now pay for its failures and will be required to make meaningful changes to how it handles Title IX cases moving forward.”
The fine was nearly twice the $2.4 million that Penn State was ordered to pay following the 2011 child sex abuse scandal that involved assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky and tarnished the reputation of longtime football coach Joe Paterno.
But John Manley, who represents some of Nasser's victims, called it a "slap on the wrist."
"A $4.5 million settlement is not a punishment for knowingly allowing little girls to be molested for more than 20 years, it is a gift," Manley said. "The Department of Education could have sent a strong and meaningful message that MSU’s behavior is not acceptable. Instead, they sent a message to every university in America that if you ignore reports of sexual assault on your campus and cover-up the crimes of perpetrators, you will get a slap on the wrist. This is completely inadequate and an insult to survivors."
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Nassar survivor and victim’s attorney Sarah Klein said the penalty DeVos imposed "represents less than 1 percent than the settlement that university was forced to make with Nassar’s victims and is probably less than the retirement package they handed to disgraced former President Lou Ana K. Simon who presided over the Nassar cover-up and is currently facing criminal charges."
"This tells universities that it is much cheaper to protect perpetrators than to properly investigate reports of sexual abuse and take action,” Klein said.
"I fear that the inadequate penalty they imposed will not stop other universities from hiding the crimes of sexual abusers on their campuses,” added Tiffany Lopez, a former MSU softball player who in 1999 was one of the first to report abuse by Nassar to her trainers at the school.
The remarks from Manley, Klein and Lopez were all in a statement which noted that "DeVos and members of her family are among the largest contributors and supporters of Michigan State University."
"The attorneys who call this fine inappropriate are misinformed," federal Department of Education spokeswoman Angela Morabito said. "It is also insulting to imply that any amount of money could erase the trauma inflicted on survivors."
In addition to paying the fine, Michigan State is required to hire an outside law firm to review all sex assault case decisions made by the school's Title IX office and issue a report to the federal government.
MSU's board and president must also receive a regular report of all cases and decisions.
Also, MSU must conduct a sweeping investigation into who knew what and didn't act on both the Nassar case and that of boss Strampel, who was convicted in June of misconduct in office and two counts of willful neglect of duty.
Strampel, the former dean of MSU’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, had been accused of groping and propositioning medical students and of inappropriate behavior with women he hired to be models for invasive practice exams.
Nassar, 56, who was also the USA Gymnastics national team doctor, pleaded guilty in January 2018 to sexually abusing 10 minors in a Michigan court and was sentenced to up to 175 years behind bars. He was accused of molesting hundreds of women and girls over two decades under the guise of medical treatment.
His accusers included some of the nation's top female gymnasts, including Olympic gold-medalists McKayla Maroney, Simone Biles and Aly Raisman.
The DOE’s move comes two months after the release of a scathing Congressional report which found that Michigan State as well as the U.S. Olympic Committee and the FBI “had opportunities to stop Nassar but failed to do so.”
Corky Siemaszko is a senior writer for NBC News Digital.