Two Michigan State trustees call for interim president John Engler to resign

Posted at 9:18 AM, Jun 15, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-15 12:35:22-04

Two Michigan State University board trustees have called for interim president John Engler to resign immediately.

Brian Mosallam was the first to call for Engler to resign. He was shortly followed by Dianne Byrum.

"His misguided actions and comments have failed to reestablish trust and confidence in Michigan State University," Mosallam said in a statement released Friday morning.

“The despicable and disparaging comments made about survivors by Interim President John Engler are completely unacceptable," Byrum said in a statement. "Yesterday I called upon the interim president to apologize for these hurtful remarks, he failed to do so, and therefore I have concluded he is no longer the right person to lead Michigan State University during this difficult period.”

According to emails, Engler has criticized lawyers who represent Nassar's assault victims and suggested the first woman to go public with her accusations was probably getting a "kickback" from her attorney.

His remarks were made to another university official in April, a month before Michigan State 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.

The Chronicle of Higher Education and Detroit Free Press reported on the emails Wednesday.

Engler, a former Michigan governor, 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 (Rachael) Denhollander who is likely to get kickback from Manley for her role in the trial lawyer manipulation," Engler said, misspelling attorney John Manly's name.

Denhollander, who identified herself as a Nassar victim to the Indianapolis Star in 2016, has repeatedly criticized Michigan State's response to the Nassar scandal.

"John Engler's most recent comments questioning the motives and intentions of our courageous survivors, and specifically, Rachael Denhollander, a survivor of Larry Nassar's horrific sexual abuse, who he accused of taking "kickbacks" were disgraceful and unfit for a university president tasked with rebuilding trust and confidence in this institution," Mosallam said.

Denhollander, of Louisville, Kentucky, posted a statement on her Twitter account saying she grateful for Mosallam's words, adding that she was waiting to see leadership from four more trustees: Dianne Byrum, Melanie Foster, chairman Brian Breslin and Mitch Lyons.

"Standing alone is never easy, but vital to leading and protecting people and institutions," Denhollander said. "There is no honor in everyone agreeing to support the wrong things. Still waiting to see leadership from Byrum, Foster, Breslin, Lyons."

Byrum previously issued a statement saying the emails were "completely unacceptable and tone deaf" and that Engler should publicly apologize for them. Engler was hired by trustees after Lou Anna Simon suddenly resigned in January in the wake of a crisis that also led to the retirement of athletic director Mark Hollis.

A message seeking comment was left with Michigan State spokeswoman Emily Guerrant.

Nassar was fired from Michigan State in 2016, two years after he was the subject of a sexual assault investigation. His dismissal came less than a month after former gymnast, Denhollander, filed a criminal complaint saying Nassar had sexually assaulted her while treating her for back pain years earlier.

At an emotionally charged board of trustees meeting in April, a sexual assault victim of Nassar alleged Engler pressured her to accept a payoff to settle her lawsuit without her attorney present. Engler later issued a statement, saying his memory and interpretation of the meeting was different and that he was sorry if anything said was misunderstood.

Mosallam said Engler's apology didn't go far enough.

"Our courageous survivors all came forward out of their own bravery and courage rather than a manipulative game," he said. "Such a suggestion otherwise is disgusting. I fear that this most unfortunate tone has sent a chilling message across our campus to survivors of relationship violence and sexual misconduct. I no longer believe that John Engler's presence on this campus will allow Michigan State University to move forward.

"We need leadership that sets a tone of empathy and compassion towards our courageous survivors, and reembraces them as important members of our Spartan community. John Engler simply can no longer do that."