After Comments on Sex Abuse Victims, Michigan State Interim President Resigns

by | January 17, 2019 AT 7:25 AM

By Lauren Gibbons

Nearly a year after former Michigan State University President Lou Anna Simon resigned in disgrace over the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal, her interim successor John Engler stepped down amid a similar storm of controversy.

Engler put in his resignation ahead of a emergency Board of Trustees meeting scheduled for Thursday after public outrage over comments about survivors of Nassar's abuse reached a boiling point. During an editorial board meeting with the Detroit News, Engler said that some Nassar survivors were enjoying the spotlight.

In his 11-page resignation letter, Engler says he will step down effective Wednesday, Jan. 23.

Board Chairwoman Dianne Byrum tweeted Wednesday evening that she had received Engler's resignation letter, and it would be discussed and acted upon Thursday.

In his letter, Engler touts his accomplishments during his tenure at MSU, such as reaching a $500 million settlement with Nassar survivors and creating a program to offer 24-hour first response to victims of sexual assault.

"At all times my goal has been to prepare a renewed, effective organization for our permanent president," he wrote.

"The bottom line is that MSU is a dramatically better, stronger institution than it was one year ago," he adds.

Engler served as Michigan's governor from 1991 through 2003 and started his role as the university's interim president on Feb. 5 following Simon's resignation on Jan. 24. He was initially set to stay on as MSU's president until the board selects a permanent president in June, tasked with moving the university beyond the Nassar crisis.

Engler was an unpopular pick from the start among students, faculty, and Nassar survivors, who were frustrated by the lack of public input in the decision and his past record in politics.

Frequent controversies over his interactions with and remarks about survivors has only deepened the resentment. Since then, Engler has become repeatedly embroiled in controversies over his interactions and remarks regarding the women abused by Nassar.

One Nassar survivor, Kaylee Lorincz, said during an April Board of Trustees meeting that Engler had asked her, "If I wrote you a check for $250,000 would you take it?" and told her to give him a number that she would settle for without a lawyer present during a meeting. Engler denied her account of the meeting when he was called to testify in Washington, D.C., but Lorincz said she refused to be bullied into silence: "What is Mr. Engler so afraid of?" she asked at the time.

In May, Engler's administration reached a $500 million settlement agreement for women and girls who were molested by Nassar under the guise of medical treatment for decades. The settlement included $425 million that will be paid to the 332 current claimants and $75 million set aside in a trust fund to protect any future claimants alleging sexual abuse by Nassar.

But when the university made the settlement payment in December, Engler simultaneously announced the closure of a Healing Assistance Fund dedicated to ongoing costs for Nassar survivors, angering the MSU community further. The Board of Trustees balked at that decision and voted to reinstate a healing fund at its last meeting.

Up until this week, Engler had the backing of the Board of Trustees despite ongoing flareups with survivors -- in June, Trustees Brian Mosallam and Dianne Byrum called for Engler's termination after an email of his accusing Rachael Denhollander -- the first woman to publicly come forward about Nassar's sexual abuse -- of taking "kickbacks" became public, but the board majority blocked a vote on the issue.

The November 2018 election and a health-related resignation from Trustee George Perles sparked a significant shift in the board dynamic, however. Democrats Kelly Tebay and Brianna Scott replaced outgoing Republican Trustees Brian Breslin and Mitch Lyons both of whom did not seek reelection, and former Gov. Rick Snyder appointed Nancy Schlichting to the board before the end of the year.

Had Engler not handed in his resignation, the Board of Trustees was prepared to terminate his contract Thursday after his latest comments about Nassar survivors, sources told MLive. Board Chairwoman Dianne Byrum asked Engler to resign Wednesday, a source close to the board said.

The board already has identified Engler's replacement and will appoint that person as interim during the meeting scheduled for 8 a.m. Thursday.

It's unclear exactly how the vote to terminate Engler would have panned out, although some trustees made their opinions on the embattled interim president clear.

"JOHN ENGLER'S REIGN OF TERROR IS OVER," Mosallam declared on social media.

(c)2019 MLive.com, Walker, Mich.