Two Michigan State University trustees are calling for interim school president John Engler to resign immediately, joining a chorus of sexual assault victims of disgraced former sports doctor Larry Nassar and top legislators who say the campus community cannot heal until Engler steps down.
“Unfortunately, and with great regret, John Engler’s tenure as interim president has continued the bleeding rather than stem it,” Brian Mosallam said in a statement released Friday morning. “His misguided actions and comments have failed to re-establish trust and confidence in Michigan State.”
His disapproval was echoed by trustee Dianne Byrum a few hours later.
“The despicable and disparaging comments made about survivors by interim president John Engler are completely unacceptable,” she said. “I have concluded he is no longer the right person to lead Michigan State University.”
Engler sent emails in April to another university official criticizing lawyers who represent Nassar’s assault victims and suggesting the first woman to go public with her accusations was probably getting a “kickback” from her attorney.
Michigan State has since agreed to a $500 million settlement with hundreds of women and girls who said they were sexually assaulted by Nassar, a former campus sports doctor now serving decades in prison.
“I’m very grateful to see leadership coming from trustee Mosallam,” said Rachael Denhollander, the Nassar victim mentioned in the Engler emails. “Leadership isn’t going along to get along. Leadership is doing the hard and right things, no matter what.”
Engler was unbowed Friday, saying he is looking ahead to a public board of trustees meeting scheduled for next Friday, “where we will continue our progress and efforts to move forward.”
“Whatever the tensions were before, we have successfully negotiated a settlement agreement — something that is fair and equitable to both sides, and that both sides agreed to,” he said in a statement. “I believe actions matter, and that is how the success of our work will be determined.”
Denhollander, who has repeatedly criticized Michigan State’s response to the Nassar scandal, called on trustees Melanie Foster, Mitch Lyons and chairman Brian Breslin to join their colleagues, saying they so far “haven’t had the courage to do the same.”
The Associated Press has left messages for comment with Foster, Breslin, Lyons and fellow trustees Joel Ferguson, George Perles and Dan Kelly.
Pressure from outraged Michigan politicians is mounting in both Washington and Lansing. U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, both Michigan Democrats, reiterated that Engler is unfit to lead the university. Several Michigan gubernatorial hopefuls also denounced him Friday.
Joining fellow Republicans in his caucus, Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof “is very disappointed and does agree that Engler should resign,” said his spokeswoman Amber McCann. Republican House Speaker Tom Leonard declined to comment. Engler was once Michigan’s Republican governor.
The Chronicle of Higher Education and Detroit Free Press reported on Engler’s emails Wednesday. He was found to have exchanged emails with Carol Viventi, a Michigan State vice president and special counsel following allegations at a stormy public meeting that Engler was trying to pay off a woman without her lawyer’s input.
“The survivors now are being manipulated by trial lawyers who in the end will each get millions of dollars more than any of individual survivors with the exception of Denhollander who is likely to get kickback from Manley,” Engler said, misspelling attorney John Manly’s name.
Denhollander first identified herself as a Nassar victim to the Indianapolis Star in 2016. A former gymnast, Denhollander filed a criminal complaint in 2016, saying Nassar had sexually assaulted her while treating her for back pain years earlier.
Her lawyer, Manly, has been outspoken in his criticism of Engler, tweeting on Wednesday: “Engler spent his time as MSU President verbally urinating on child molest survivors of Nassar and scheming to hurt them. … I wear his contempt & attacks as a badge of honor.”
Trustees hired Engler after the former president, Lou Anna Simon, suddenly resigned in January in the wake of the Nassar crisis. Nassar himself was fired from Michigan State in 2016, two years after he was the subject of a sexual assault investigation.