We continue our consideration of Shakespeare’s Problem Plays with today’s offering on Troilus and Cressidaas an introduction to problems in compliance. Yesterday we considered All’s Well That Ends Well as a way to introduce why a corporate compliance function must be resilient. Today, we consider Troilus and Cressida and how the title character was portrayed as a fool but the main action is around the death of other characters.

The title characters of this play are not the main story, which takes place during the Trojan War. Troilus loves Cressida, who are both Trojans. Unfortunately Cressida is exchanged for another Trojan who has been captured by the Greeks. This part of the play concludes with Troilus going into battle in a very frenzied manner. Shakespeare seems to portray him as a hot-headed fool in love, but he does not die.

The main action of the play involves the Trojans, King Priam and his oldest son, Hector. On the Greek side it is Agamemnon and Achilles, with minor appearances by Ajax and Patroclus. It is the story of both Hector and Achilles being lured out to an ultimate battle. Achilles only does so after his lover, Patroclus, is killed by Hector. There is a lot of death in this part of the play, yet most commentators do not see it as the anchor to categorize Troilus and Cressidaas a tragedy. Of course, there are many deaths, including Patroclus and Hector, yet these come in honorable battle. Perhaps the final word should come from Wisam Khalid Abdul Jabbar, who said, in The Subversive Homeric Reality in Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida, “Shakespeare sacrifices the tragic form, as it sets the characters in a normative direction, in favour of a tragedy of thought.”

This week we have seen how the tragedy of the victims of Larry Nassar go to a new level when Michigan State University (MSU) Interim President John Engler said (on the record) to the Editorial Board of the Detroit News, “There are a lot of people who are touched by this, survivors who haven’t been in the spotlight. In some ways they have been able to deal with this better than the ones who’ve been in the spotlight who are still enjoying that moment at times, you know, the awards and recognition. And it’s ending. It’s almost done.” Nancy Hogshead-Makar, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Champion Women, an organization advocating for women and girls in sports and a civil rights lawyer, tweeted “Riiiiiigght, women get raped for attention — just another way victims are discounted”. Yes, the fool clothed as tragedy came out from Engler once again. As Dan Murphy, writing in ESPN.com, said, Engler’s tenure as MSU Interim President appears at an end, with the Board of Regents set to vote Thursday morning on his continued employment at the University.

This is not the first time Engler has played the fool in this horrific tragedy. He has consistently attacked, belittled and demeaned the victims of Nassar’s abuse. Kim Kozlowski, reporting in the Detroit News last summer, “Calls mounted Thursday for interim President John Engler to resign from Michigan State University in the wake of emails in which he suggested that the first gymnast to publicly accuse Larry Nassar of sexual abuse might get a “kickback” from her attorney for “manipulating” other victims.”

Engler has led the destruction of any goodwill MSU might have engendered by its commitment to compensate Nassar victims with a $500 million pool of money. Yet, as Matt Kelly wrote in a Radical Compliance blog post entitled “Another Compliance Lesson from Michigan State, “The crisis at MSU is, foremost, a crisis of mistrust. People tried raising alarm about Nassar for years, MSU leaders didn’t listen, and today everyone is skeptical that the university will start listening now. Considering the smear Engler made against a victim only a few months ago, the skepticism isn’t unfounded.”

But it is even worse than simply a fool making inane statements. MSU has fought the state of Michigan’s investigators who were tasked with getting to the bottom of the school’s mishandling of sexual abuse carried out by Dr. Larry Nassar, tooth and nail. David K. Li, writing in NBC.comin 2018,said, “Special counsel Bill Forsyth blasted MSU for allegedly trying to sabotage the state-ordered probe, which comes in the wake of Nassar’s conviction for decades of sex crimes he committed while working in East Lansing. “Their biggest concern was the reputation of the university,” Forsyth told reporters in Lansing. Forsyth’s report, released Friday as an update on the investigation, specifically accused the school of “drowning investigators in irrelevant documents,” “waging needless battles over pertinent documents” and “asserting attorney-client privilege even when it did not apply.” Both then and now, MSU has fostered a culture of indifference toward sexual assault, motivated by its desire to protect its reputation,” according to Forsyth’s report. The school employed a “protectionist tactic,” designed to slow the probe, prosecutors said. Requests for documents were often answered with papers — such as the school bed bug policy, local restaurant coupons and publicly available newspaper clippings — that had nothing to do with Nassar, the report claimed.”

When it comes to changing the culture at MSU, there was an even more complete failure. In another Radical Compliance blog post from 2018, entitled “Michigan State Reorgs Compliance Again”, Kelly wrote about the University’s effort to so obscure any compliance function as to make it basically non-functioning. “Engler said the ethics and compliance office would go away, swallowed into a new Office of Audit, Risk, and Compliance starting this week. Marilyn Tarrant, Michigan State’s head of internal audit since 2015, will oversee the new office and hold the title of associate vice president.” This meant ethics was downgraded into the Office of Audit, Risk, and Compliance. What does that tell you about MSU’s commitment to ethics? Unfortunately it tells you everything you need to know about the commitment to ethics and compliance.

Kozlowski wrote, again in the Detroit News after the latest comments by Engler, that MSU Trustees reportedly had the votes to fire Engler. We can only hope so. But the rot at MSU goes much further than simply the fool who occupies the Interim President’s office as there are still MSU regents who support Engler and think he is the right man for the job. The leadership of MSU must completely change its attitude and win back the trust of all stakeholders, the victims of Nasser, the current and future MSU students who MSU leadership has essentially thrown under the bus through its actions and the MSU graduates (of which I am one) who want the school to not only admit its failures but build a culture of ethics and compliance so that the horrors wielded upon the victims of Nassar never again stain this great university.

Perhaps the best way to sum all this is up is as a tragedy.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2019