CORRECTIONS AND CLARIFICATIONS: This story has been updated to clarify the timeline of events.
The University of Michigan has fired a gymnastics coach who was connected to the Larry Nassar scandal via her previous job at USA Gymnastics. Rhonda Faehn lasted less than one week at U-M.
The move generated fierce and passionate criticism in her brief time at the Ann Arbor school.
“I have come to the conclusion that it is not in the best interest of the University of Michigan and our athletic program to continue the consulting contract with Rhonda Faehn,” Warde Manuel, the university’s athletics director, said in a press release issued Sunday night.
“It was the wrong decision, and I apologize. Our student-athletes are our highest priority and I want to do everything in my power to support them fully and put the focus back on their athletic performance.”
The move came after several members of the Board of Regents said she should be let go.
“I do not support the hiring of Rhonda Faehn, and believe the university should end its relationship with her,” Regent Mark Bernstein told the Free Press prior to the firing.
Regent Denise Ilitch also expressed concerns about the hiring.
“Much to my chagrin, I learned of this employment decision this past Saturday morning. I appreciate the wise observations made by many and share their disappointment,” she said.
Fellow Regent Jordan Acker, who was elected this November to the board, agreed Faehn needed to go.
“I appreciate the input I have received from the people of Michigan and the survivor community and believe this contract should be terminated immediately.”
Faehn, believed to be the first USA Gymnastics official told of predatory doctor Larry Nassar’s abuse, was hired last week as a coaching consultant to the University of Michigan’s women’s gymnastics team.
Faehn’s hiring was announced by the university on Saturday. She began working for Michigan on Thursday.
Faehn was never formally implicated in the Nassar scandal, which included hundreds of allegations of sexual abuse under the guise of Nassar’s medical treatment. But she was ousted as the head of the USA Gymnastics women’s program in May, a week after Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman called for her to step down in an interview with the Indianapolis Star.
“I reported my abuse to Rhonda Faehn and so did Maggie Nichols, and I don’t know what she did or didn’t do with that information, but I didn’t get contacted by the FBI for over a year, and in that time 50 to 100 gymnasts were molested,” Raisman told IndyStar in May 2018.
Faehn, senior vice president for women’s programs, was first told about what USA Gymnastics has characterized as “athlete concerns” about Nassar on June 17, 2015, according to a timeline provided in 2017 by the Indianapolis-based national governing body.
About a month later, Raisman said, she told Faehn “in graphic detail” what Nassar had done to her, but Faehn and other USA Gymnastics officials still waited another week to report Nassar to the FBI.
Faehn and former USA Gymnastics President Steve Penny were criticized for not immediately calling police. Instead, Penny hired an investigator who interviewed Nichols, Raisman and McKayla Maroney. Only then, almost six weeks after the initial complaint, was the FBI contacted. Faehn has also been criticized for not contacting MSU about the allegations against Nassar.
The hiring of Faehn by U-M drew heavy criticism on social media from many, including several Nassar survivors.
“When we learned that her illegal failure to report lead to more abuse, she didn’t speak up, apologize, or help hold USAG accountable,” Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to come forward publicly about being assaulted by Nassar, wrote on Twitter. “No excuses for the failure, or her response when it became known. She was VP of the women’s program. She was in charge. This matters.
Nassar, a former Michigan State University doctor and doctor for the national gymnastics team, was sentenced to 60 years in federal prison on child pornography charges. He also faces a 40- to 175-year sentence issued in Ingham County for seven first-degree sexual conduct charges and a 40- to 125-year sentence from Eaton County, where he was charged with 10 sexual assaults. Those sentences will not begin until he finishes the federal sentence. More than 300 women have said they were sexually assaulted by Nassar.
U-M said it made a careful review of the situation before hiring Faehn.
“Rhonda Faehn joined our department in a consulting capacity shortly before our meet in Alabama (this weekend),” Manuel said in the news release announcing her hiring. “I supported the recommendation of coach Bev Plocki only after a thorough review of Faehn’s coaching career and her involvement with USA Gymnastics.
“The well-being and safety of our student-athletes is always our highest priority. Our current student-athletes had a prominent voice throughout this search process to provide their perspective. This included a meeting between me and the captains before a final decision was made.”
That explanation didn’t placate people upset by the hire.
“‘The well-being and safety of our student-athletes is always our highest priority.,’” Nassar survivor and current U-M student Morgan McCaul tweeted. “LAUGHABLE! This is a mandated reporter who CHOSE NOT TO REPORT SEXUAL ABUSE TO AUTHORITIES!”
Faehn had replaced Scott Vetere on the coaching staff. Vetere was let go and banned from campus after he was caught having sex with a female student athlete in an Ann Arbor apartment building’s parking lot.