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Michigan State President Steps Down After Insulting Comments About Abuse Survivors


Michigan State University has a new president again. It's the school's third leader in less than a year. Interim President John Engler stepped down last night after making insulting comments about some of the abuse survivors of former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar. Michigan Radio's Kate Wells reports.

KATE WELLS, BYLINE: Kaylee Lorincz just wants to be done - done with coming to these Michigan State Board meetings, done with trying to get the university's leaders to own the fact that for decades, one of its sports doctors, Larry Nassar, sexually abused hundreds of women and girls like Lorincz even though some of them had been reporting it to MSU for the last 20 years. Lorincz says John Engler, the school's interim president, never seemed to get that.

KAYLEE LORINCZ: You know, they announced his resignation immediately. And I had tears coming to my eyes. I think, like, oh, my God (laughter) - I think that after everything we've been through, I think it's, like, finally time that I can be positive and optimistic. And I'm so excited about it.

WELLS: Engler is a former governor of Michigan, and he was brought in to lead Michigan State last January after MSU's longtime president, Lou Anna Simon, resigned over the Nassar scandal. That came after she and others appeared tone-deaf and unapologetic, denying that the school could have stopped Nassar earlier. But survivors say John Engler did not improve the school's image. Take, for instance, Kaylee Lorincz, the survivor you heard earlier. At a board meeting Engler was running last year, she got up to make a public comment, telling the board that Engler privately offered her $250,000 to drop her lawsuit against the school. And then Engler tried to cut her off.


LORINCZ: President Engler then tried to back up his statements, saying...

JOHN ENGLER: Kaylee, your time is up.


ENGLER: Her time is up.


ENGLER: Kaylee, thank you very much.


ENGLER: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Let her speak. Let her speak. Let her speak. Let her speak.

WELLS: Then, in leaked emails, Engler said another survivor was probably getting kickbacks for manipulating other survivors into joining the lawsuit. Then the school shut down a $10 million healing fund it had set up for survivors' therapy bills. Finally, last week, Engler told The Detroit News that some survivors were enjoying their time in the spotlight, as well as the awards and recognition. At first, it looked like just another self-inflicted wound for MSU. But this time was different because three new members had joined the board, giving it enough votes to fire Engler. Here's Chairwoman Dianne Byrum at a hastily scheduled board meeting this morning.


DIANNE BYRUM: As chairperson of the board of trustees, I move that the board of trustees of Michigan State University hereby accepts John M. Engler's resignation as interim president of the university with an accelerated date of January 17, 2019, effective immediately.


WELLS: In his 11-page resignation letter, Engler laid out what he says are his many accomplishments at MSU - reorganizing the school's health system, upgrading mental health services and reaching a settlement with Nassar survivors for $500 million. But he did not offer any kind of apology. One of the new board members, however, Kelly Tebay, did apologize today.


KELLY TEBAY: We hear you, and we're listening. And we are sorry it took so long. I really hope this is the first step in a long road to really changing the culture of this institution that we all love so much.

WELLS: The board named a former dean, Satish Udpa, as its new interim president. Michigan State University will hire a new permanent president this summer. For NPR News, I'm Kate Wells in East Lansing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist and co-host of the Michigan Radio and NPR podcast Believed. The series was widely ranked among the best of the year, drawing millions of downloads and numerous awards. She and co-host Lindsey Smith received the prestigious Livingston Award for Young Journalists. Judges described their work as "a haunting and multifaceted account of U.S.A. Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar’s belated arrest and an intimate look at how an army of women – a detective, a prosecutor and survivors – brought down the serial sex offender."
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