Nassar fallout delays student loans for hundreds at MSU Law

Dean opens food pantry for hungry law school students in lieu of loans

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(This story was updated at 11:39 a.m.)

FRIDAY, Sept. 4 — Most law school students at Michigan State University are still waiting to receive their student loans more than a week after classes began as officials grapple with federal consequences stemming from the Larry Nassar investigation.

Nearly 400 of the 700 students registered to attend MSU’s College of Law this semester are affected, MSU officials confirmed yesterday. They are in their second week of virtual classes.

“We realize this process and situation is frustrating for students and causes disruptions in their funding plans,” an MSU spokeswoman explained to City Pulse after students reached out with concerns. “We are working closely with the federal government to get this process resolved.”

The College of Law — formerly known as the Detroit College of Law — relocated to East Lansing in the ‘90s and, until a planned integration this year, was independent of MSU, complete with its own financial aid and loan procedures.

That merger, however, hit a hiccup with the U.S. Department of Education stemming from Clery Act violations related to Nassar and the subsequent sanctions levied against MSU. As a result, MSU cannot technically add other loan-eligible locations without federal approval. Nassar is a former MSU physician and professor who is serving time in prison for sexual abuse.

Until the federal government rubber stamps the merger, that means students still don’t have access to their loan money. They found out about the problem last week. Interim Dean Melanie Jacobs hasn’t made any promises, but hopes the issue can be resolved by next week, she said.

“We had been led to believe it would happen seamlessly in conjunction with our integration, so all of us at MSU are surprised by this development,” Jacobs wrote in an email last week apologizing to students for the “financial snafu.”

“But our surprise should not be your stress,” she added.

An MSU spokeswoman also said officials hope to have the issue resolved “soon” while they await federal approval. In the meantime, Jacobs has opened a small food pantry for hungry students in her office and reportedly bought several Meijer gift cards for those who need them.

Additionally, MSU has temporarily waived a 7-percent interest rate on short-term loans of up to $1,500 for those struggling to make ends meet amid the delays. Most students are using them. Additional short-term loans are also available for students that need more than $1,500. 

Several others, in the meantime, have voiced frustration over the recent delays, especially because the shift to online classes came as a surprise to many who had already signed leases and moved to East Lansing — something they can no longer afford without stable loan money.

The rigors of law school, especially the first year, prevents many students from maintaining full-time employment while studying. Those loans are often how they pay the rent, pay for groceries or purchase thousands of dollars in textbooks required for a law degree.

One student also recounted a classmate who was “belittled” by a professor after her loan was delayed and was unable to afford the required textbook for a required classroom lecture. The federal delays are obviously less than ideal, but officials said they are working to fix it quickly.

MSU was fined a record $4.5 million by the U.S. Department of Education last year following its systemic failure to protect students from sexual abuse uncovered during the Nassar investigation. Four “serious findings” of Clery Act noncompliance were discovered, including a failure to properly report and classify crime statistics and on-campus incidents of sexual assault.

As a result of those findings, MSU was required to establish a Clery compliance committee and make dozens of other reforms. A condition of that agreement bars MSU from adding any other locations with financial aid eligibility without specific federal approval, including for MSU Law.

Emails obtained by City Pulse showed that students have attempted to procure an explanation for the delays from the College of Law’s administration over the last week. The Clery Act violations were never mentioned in response. 

Interim Dean Melanie Jacobs declined to comment when asked when she was made aware that the Nassar scandal would trigger financial aid delays for law students. She also declined to comment when asked why that full explanation was apparently never relayed to the student body.  

Though the College of Law itself doesn’t administer financial aid for students, Jacobs  was in near-constant contact with MSU officials to keep track of the issue since she took office, she said. 

“I did not anticipate this,” Jacobs added. “I did not intend it to be a lack of transparency.”

Jacobs said “hopefully” the issues are resolved by next week, but again made no promises.

“I truly am sorry for the stress that this has caused students,” Jacobs added. “Law school is stressful enough without all of this. We want our students to have a positive experience.”

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