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How Michigan State reached another crisis point

The "Sparty" statue on the MSU campus
Betsy Weber
Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0
The administration at Michigan State University continues to face criticism over its handling of the Larry Nassar sex abuse scandal.

A group of Larry Nassar survivors are organizing a rally tonightat Michigan State University to call for the resignations of interim president John Engler and the entire board of trustees.

The rally comes after accusations and apologies about a meeting between Engler and one of Nassar’s victims. 

Just three months after Engler came into the job as what the Board hoped would be a brash but steadying force to ride out the Nassar crisis, it now looks like any hope of a functional relationship between Engler’s administration, the Trustees and survivors is dead.   

Last week, MSU’s leadership lurched from one self-inflicted problem to another. The board drew fresh criticism for appearing to be dismissive of women and girls who say they were sexually abused at MSU or by its former employees.

Morgan McCaul, a first-year student at the University of Michigan and survivor of former MSU sports doctor Larry Nassar’s abuse, says watching last Friday’s board of trustees meeting descend into open revolt was a turning point.

“Watching that chaos unfold was surreal, but it was also a wakeup call that we really need to do something to get through to this board,” McCaul says. “Because clearly speaking to them directly as individuals, does nothing.”

A disastrous board meeting

At that meeting, 18-year-old Nassar victim Kaylee Lorincz accused Engler of trying to buy her offduring an earlier, private meeting. She said Engler offered her a $250,000 check to drop her civil suit against the school and when she told him it “wasn’t about the money,” he pushed her further. “Well, give me a number then,” Lorincz recalls Engler saying.

At that point in the board meeting, Engler, sitting just a few feet in front of Lorincz, interjected.

“Kaylee, your time is up,” he said, referring to the 3-minute period allotted for public comments. “Her time is up,” Engler insisted, as audience members began chanting “Let her speak! Let her speak!" 

Leaked emails

Engler’s team released a response later that afternoon.

“Our memories and interpretations of the March 28 meeting are different than hers. I am sorry if anything said during the meeting was misunderstood. Regardless, since mediation of all claims begins on April 25, there will be an appropriate place for discussions concerning what would be a fair and equitable resolution.”

But just a few days later, theDetroit Free Press published leaked emails between MSU’s Vice President and Special Counsel to the President Carol Viventi and the trustees. Viventi defended Engler’s meeting with Lorincz and accused her of trying to “set up” MSU and spreading “fake news.” Viventi also warned trustees that Nassar survivors are quick to claim “victimization” in order to get a better settlement from MSU.

Viventi later issued an apology. But soon after, MSU’s student newspaper released an editorial calling on the trustees to resign.

“The State News Editorial Board — among several other voices echoing in your ears — is calling for every single one of you to resign, effective immediately. Atmosphere and attitude reflect leadership. None of you know where to take this university or how to properly use your authority and power as trustees. It’s arrogant of you to think you can.”

A new focus

Morgan McCaul, one of the organizers of tonight's rally, says the event is about directing that kind of frustration toward a specific goal: getting Engler and the board to step down.

“This is an opportunity for survivors, students and the Spartan community at large to come together and make their voices heard,” she said.  

Michigan Radio’s Kate Wells reported on the Nassar case and has been covering the aftermath at MSU. She joined Morning Editionhost Doug Tribou. You can hear their conversation by clicking on the play button above.

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
Doug Tribou joined the Michigan Public staff as the host of Morning Edition in 2016. Doug first moved to Michigan in 2015 when he was awarded a Knight-Wallace journalism fellowship at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
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