MSU board rejects effort to oust interim president who sent controversial emails

Then-Business Roundtable President and former Michigan Gov. John Engler participates in a news conference at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce July 9, 2014, in Washington.

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EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State University’s governing board rejected an effort to oust the school’s interim president Friday as trustees met to discuss how to pay for a $500 million settlement with hundreds of women and girls who said they were sexually assaulted by sports doctor Larry Nassar.

Trustee Brian Mosallam tried to change the meeting agenda and allow a vote to fire John Engler, who had disparaged victims and their lawyers in emails that surfaced last week. The audience cheered, but the board voted 6-2 against taking up the issue.

Engler apologized Thursday for suggesting in emails that Rachael Denhollander, one of Nassar’s most outspoken victims, probably received a “kickback” from her attorney. The controversy over his remarks broke open days ago while Engler was out of town.

“I didn’t give it the consideration it warranted,” he said. “That was a big mistake. I was wrong. I apologize.”

Later on Thursday, board chairman Brian Breslin called Engler’s apology “appropriate and appreciated by a majority of the board.” But Mosallam said the apology “is too little too late.” Fellow trustee Dianne Byrum agreed.

Denhollander has been an outspoken critic of the school, sharing her frustrations with “CBS This Morning” after Nassar’s trial.

“It was empowering and it was beautiful to see so many women reclaiming their voice, but it was also incredibly heartbreaking because the vast majority of us did not need to be there,” she said. “Had those first reports to MSU [Michigan State University] head coach Kathie Klages in 1997 been taken seriously, the vast majority of victims would not have been in that courtroom.”

On Thursday, Denhollander said she appreciated Engler’s gesture but remains convinced he cannot lead the university.

“I am disappointed that it took eight days and came on the heels of intense political pressure,” she said Thursday. “The most disturbing thing is that these comments are not isolated. They are a pattern that reveals a mindset toward assault survivors. And words don’t change that mindset.”

On Friday, another Nassar survivor, Kaylee Lorincz, urged against a general counsel hire, saying instating Robert Young would “only contribute to the current culture at MSU where victims are blamed and shamed and not taken seriously.” She said during mediation for the $500 million settlement, he responded to a plaintiff attorney’s inquiry on whether he would apologize to the victims with, “Why would I do that?”

The board voted 5-3 for Young’s contract Friday. Mosallam, Byrum and Dan Kelly voted against the nearly $1.3 million deal.

Engler, a former Michigan governor, was tapped in February to temporarily lead the university after the crisis surrounding Nassar, who abused hundreds of girls and women under the guise of medical treatment while employed at Michigan State. Nassar is now serving a decades-long prison sentence for molesting patients and possessing child pornography.

Engler’s presidency has since become tangled in further public relations scandals of his own doing. But he refused to back down.

“We have a lot of work to do and I’ll be here until that work is done,” Engler said while reading a portion of the apology in the Friday meeting.

Engler exchanged the emails about Denhollander following allegations at a stormy public meeting that Engler was trying to pay off Lorincz without her lawyer’s input. Engler later said he remembered the events differently.

In his Thursday apology, Engler said he never meant to have an adversarial relationship with Nassar’s victims. He admitted his speculation about Denhollander “hurt her deeply,” and that other survivors “suffered greatly.”

Another Nassar victim, Morgan McCaul, told the board of trustees Friday that she won’t back down until Engler is out.

“I would like to assure President Engler right off the bat that I am here on my absolute own accord and I’m not receiving kickbacks for this,” she said, to applause. “Stand with the fearless survivors of both Larry Nasser and William Strampel and beyond, and do what’s right. Fire John Engler.”

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