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New trustees, fresh scandal brought Engler down this time

John Engler
Cheyna Roth

They say timing is everything.

Just last week, Michigan State University Trustee Dianne Byrum seemed resigned to Interim President John Engler sticking around until a new, permanent president is hired this summer.

“John Engler’s going to be here for three more board meetings, and then we will have a new president come July,” Byrum told reporters at last week’s board meeting.

But then, on Friday, Engler made those comments to the Detroit Newsabout some of Larry Nassar’s survivors “enjoying” the “spotlight,” and the New York Times and other national outlets jumped on it.

Learn more: Believed, the podcast from Michigan Radio and NPR, looks at how a team of women brought down Larry Nassar

This wasn’t the first time Engler made comments like this. But it was the first time he’d done it since three new MSU trustees joined the board. Combined with Byrum and fellow trustee Brian Mosallam (both of whom tried to get Engler fired before) they formed a five vote majority on the 8 member board.

Mosallam said Wednesday that the writing was on the wall for Engler.

“I knew that when [two of the new trustees] Kelly Tebay and Nancy Schlicting called me with concern [about Engler’s comments.] That is the first time other trustees have ever called me after his comments,” Mosallam said. “I knew this board was headed in a different direction.”

The other new trustee, Brianna Scott, has also been publicly critical of Engler, and signaled on Wednesdaythat she would also vote to fire Engler. 

On Wednesday, Byrum announced the board would be holding a last-minute meeting Thursday morning, with just one item on the agenda: John Engler’s employment. By the afternoon, Mosallam said they had the votes to fire Engler if he didn’t resign. Engler submitted his resignation letter Wednesday evening.

Several Nassar survivors took to Twitter as word got out about Engler stepping down. “On a day that began some of the hardest days of our lives, fast forward to one year later, we recognize bad guys no longer have a place in our space,” Trinea Gonczar tweeted. “Bye @MSUPresEngler. We knew you would dig your own grave and we are happy to see you go.”

“Finally! I feel like I can slowly start breathing again!” Larissa Boyce tweeted.

Attorney John Manly, who represents more than 100 Nassar survivors in the civil suit against MSU, called Engler’s resignation “long overdue.”

“John Engler has always treated survivors as the enemy,” Manly said in a written statement. “His reckless and vile personal attacks upon individual survivors and their legal counsel continued to revictimize them. It is sad that Engler actually had to say publicly that he believed that survivors ‘enjoyed the spotlight’ brought about by their abuse for the University to finally force him to resign as President. It was long overdue.”

“By finally removing John Engler as President of MSU, the Board of Trustees has placed MSU on the path to reconciliation with survivors and has taken a giant step forward to reclaim its reputation,” Manly said.

In an unapologetic, 11-page resignation letter, Engler details the university’s accomplishments and improvements during his tenure in a role he says he “did not seek but accepted in order to assist the university that I love.”

“The bottom line is that MSU is a dramatically better, stronger institution than it was one year ago,” Engler writes. “I am proud to have a key role in preparing my school to welcome a new President who will have the opportunity to take us to new heights.”

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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