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MSU Board of Trustees to meet amid steady stream of controversy

michigan state university sign in front of a blue sky

Tensions could be high at Friday’s Board of Trustees meeting at Michigan State University.

Protestors plan to show up and continue their call for increased transparenc, and for Interim President John Engler’s resignation. These calls come amid repeated blowback in how the university has handled the fallout from Larry Nassar. Nassar is the former MSU sports doctor who sexually assaulted his patients for years.

We’re gonna show up and we’re gonna make sure that our voices are heard,” said Nassar survivor and activist Morgan McCaul. She plans to be at the meeting along with student groups like Reclaim MSU. “We’re gonna make sure that MSU and those Board of Trustees members who haven’t stood up to defend what’s right understand that there are people looking to them to make those moves.”

Calls for Engler’s resignation or termination have grown louder recently amid controversial statements made public after news outlets published correspondence obtained through public records requests. In emails to an aide, Engler said one Nassar survivor, Rachael Denhollander, might be getting a “kickback” from trial lawyers. The school is currently working through a settlement with more than 300 Nassar survivors. How the school plans to pay for that$500 million settlement will likely be discussed at the meeting on Friday.

Engler’s emails caused an uproar with two Board of Trustee members, who called for his resignation, and a letter from more than 100 Nassar survivors to the Board of Trusteestelling them to fire Engler. On Thursday, Engler issued an apology for his statements about Denhollander and for saying other survivors were being manipulated by trial lawyers.

“My speculation about the lead plaintiff receiving kickbacks or referral fees hurt her deeply and for that I am truly sorry,” Engler said in a statement about one week after the emails were made public. “She and the other survivors suffered greatly and they are entitled not to have their sincerity questioned, either individually or as a group. I apologize to her and her sister survivors.”

MSU’s Board of Trustees also issued a statement soon after Engler’s apology saying that a majority of the board appreciates the statement.

“The majority of the Board believes Interim President John Engler has played a significant leadership role developing our new approaches and has been a driving force in the rapid rollout of many of these reforms,” the statement said. “He will continue to serve as interim president until a new president is selected.  John is not a candidate for the permanent position and has stated repeatedly that he wishes to depart as soon as the new president is chosen.” 

This comes as letters between MSU’s attorney and a special prosecutor appointed by the state attorney general to investigate the university were also made public through a Freedom of Information request. The special prosecutor is investigating the university’s handling of Nassar.  

In letters between the special prosecutor William Forsyth, and an MSU attorney, former Michigan Supreme Court Justice Robert Young, Forsyth says MSU is hindering the state's investigation by withholding documents. MSU says the documents are protected by attorney-client privilege.

Andrea Bitely is a spokesperson for the attorney general. She could not speak directly to the letters, but she says the investigation is ongoing.

“We’ve talked with dozens of individuals that work for the university, we’ve talked to hundreds of victims of sexual assault from the Larry Nassar case, and we are continuing to follow leads,” she said.

The Board of Trustees meets at 8 a.m. in the Administration Building on MSU’s campus.   

Before becoming the newest Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network, Cheyna Roth was an attorney. She spent her days fighting it out in court as an assistant prosecuting attorney for Ionia County. Eventually, Cheyna took her investigative and interview skills and moved on to journalism. She got her masters at Michigan State University and was a documentary filmmaker, podcaster, and freelance writer before finding her home with NPR. Very soon after joining MPRN, Cheyna started covering the 2016 presidential election, chasing after Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and all their surrogates as they duked it out for Michigan. Cheyna also focuses on the Legislature and criminal justice issues for MPRN. Cheyna is obsessively curious, a passionate storyteller, and an occasional backpacker. Follow her on Twitter at @Cheyna_R
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