Failing to fire John Engler a bad decision by Michigan State
It was confirmed by Brian Breslin, the Chairman of the Michigan State University Board of Trustees, that Michigan State interim president John Engler will not be fired over the disparaging remarks he made about Rachael Denhollander in an e-mail to Carol M. Viventi, the vice president and special counsel to the president, back in mid-April.
Denhollander was the first of over 300 people to publicly accuse 54-year-old disgraced former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State physician Larry Nassar of sexual assault. She did so by taking her story to The Indianapolis Star shortly before they published it in September of 2016.
Three months later, Nassar was finally arrested after sexually assaulting hundreds of his patients under the guise of medical treatment for more than two decades. He has since been given a 60-year federal prison sentence on three child pornography charges, a state prison sentence for between 40 and 175 years on seven sexual assault charges and another state prison sentence for between 40 and 125 years on three more sexual assault charges.
He was given these three prison sentences this past December, January and February, respectively, and he is currently serving his 60-year federal prison sentence at United States Penitentiary, Tucson in Tucson, Arizona.
In this e-mail, which was revealed last week, Engler accused Denhollander of likely receiving a "kickback" from John Manly, her lawyer. Manly also represents several of the other people who have accused Nassar of sexual assault and are filing lawsuits as a result of it.
Here is what the e-mail said, according to Deadspin.
“It is deeply appreciated. At least we know what really happened. The survivors now are being manipulated by trial lawyers who in the end will each get millions of dollars more than any of (sic) individual survivors with the exception of Denhollander who is likely to get (sic) kickback from Manley (sic) for her role in the trial lawyer manipulation.
“It is too bad we can’t have a debate about who is really trying to help those who were harmed by Nassar. At least, all of the positive changes are beginning to get some modest attention. It will be years before the use and abuse by trial lawyers point is understood. Have a good Sunday. See you Tuesday morning. John.”
After receiving tons of criticism, including calls for his resignation, from a lot of people, including lawmakers, Michigan State trustees and people who have accused Nassar of sexual assault, for making these disparaging remarks toward Denhollander in this e-mail, Engler responded by talking about "moving forward".
Here is what he had to say about the matter, according to ABC News.
"Whatever the tensions were before, we have successfully negotiated a settlement agreement -- something that is fair and equitable to both sides, and that both sides agreed to. We are now committed to continuing our efforts to strengthen sexual misconduct prevention on and off campus and to respond promptly to and appropriately if prevention fails.
"I am looking forward to the Board of Trustee meeting next week where we will continue our progress and efforts to move forward. I believe actions matter, and that is how the success of our work will be determined."
Now, several days later, the former Michigan governor has apologized for making the remarks he made about Denhollander, and as a result of his apology he will not be fired.
Here is his full apology statement, according to Detroit Free Press.
"Last week while I was on my way to Texas, a private email conversation of mine from April was made public. I didn’t give it the consideration it warranted.
"That was a big mistake. I was wrong. I apologize.
"When I started this interim position in February, it was never my intent to have an adversarial relationship with some of the survivors.
"My speculation about the lead plaintiff receiving kickbacks or referral fees hurt her deeply and for that I am truly sorry. 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.
"The days after the April Board of Trustees meeting were extremely frustrating. Emotions and tempers, including mine, were running at a high level. It seemed as though we would never be able to reach a successful settlement. Nothing we were doing seemed to work.
"When I arrived at MSU, Larry Nassar was already in jail but students and survivors alike were protesting. I apologized publicly to the survivors on behalf of the University for the harm Nassar had done. Others from the university, including the Board of Trustees had also done so. But disappointment and anger overwhelmed those apologies. I felt from the day I arrived that the university and the survivors had to come together to reach a just and equitable settlement in order for the healing to begin.
"I also want to apologize to the MSU Board of Trustees and the Spartan community because my email created a major distraction from the important work we’re doing to make our campus safer.
"Days after I arrived, I moved to revoke Dean Strampel's tenure. We changed the protocols and policies in our medical clinics that allowed Nassar to escape detection for nearly two decades. We are dedicating more resources to sexual assault prevention and support services. Still that was not enough, a settlement had to be achieved.
"In May, we were able to do so.
"I am very proud that the plaintiffs, their very able counsel and the university were able to achieve a settlement which will help the healing begin. My private comments from April coming out last week impaired that healing and it reopened old wounds as many survivors felt compelled to come to the defense of the first woman who spoke out. My regrettable private email harmed the healing process and, for that, I am also very sorry.
"I will use my remaining time as Interim President of Michigan State University to continue implementing meaningful reforms that serve to increase safety and respect on our campus. Just as our new policies have assured the safety of any patient who visits an MSU clinic or is treated by an MSU physician, our additional staff and new leadership will make a profound difference across our campus.
"Finally, we continue to welcome specific suggestions about actions that might be taken to improve our success at preventing sexual misconduct or sexual assault on or off campus. Your ideas are welcomed and will be treated with the utmost consideration. Suggestions can be offered at my webpage: http://president.msu.edu."
Here is what Breslin had to say about why Engler is allowed to continue to serve as the interim president of Michigan State, according to Detroit Free Press.
“John’s apology for the comments contained in an April email that was released last week is appropriate and appreciated by a majority of the Board. 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. 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.”
While Michigan State may be willing to overlook Engler's mistake, they will likely be the only party to do so, as his mistake is yet another mistake on a long an ever-growing list of mistakes made by officials at the university in regard to the Nassar scandal and its aftermath.
As a result of the fact that Michigan State did not fire Engler over this matter, the court of public opinion will likely continue to weigh heavily on the university, and justifiably so.
Engler just took over as the interim president at Michigan State following the resignation of former Michigan State president Lou Anna Simon, who resigned in the wake of the Nassar scandal in late January after serving as the university's president for more than 13 years.
It took Engler roughly two months to lash out at Denhollander behind her back. Yet in his apology statement, Engler claimed that "it was never my intent to have an adversarial relationship with some of the survivors."
Then why did Engler feel the need to do that shortly after taking over as Michigan State's interim president?
Plus, it took another two months for the disparaging remarks that Engler made about Denhollander to be revealed. Had the e-mail in which he made these disparaging remarks not been revealed, would he have apologized? Of course not. But then again, why would he if nobody knew about them? Why rile up the masses over something that nobody knows about?
There is one reason that would make this something to consider. It would eliminate the risk of that information leaking another way and becoming a huge embarrassment. Well, that is exactly what happened.
But even not regarding this issue, the real issue here is the fact that people did know the remarks that Engler made when they were publicized last week, yet it took him until now to apologize.
As referenced above, Engler's first response to this e-mail being publicized was not an apology in any way, shape or form. He simply wanted Michigan State to continue to move forward. It almost seemed like he wanted the remarks he made in this e-mail to be ignored.
Only after 137 of the people who have accused Nassar of sexual assault signed a letter urging Michigan State to fire Engler did he finally apologize. Only after mo had passed since his remarks were revealed and only after several days had passed since he first responded to the criticism against him for making those remarks did he finally admit that what he said about Denhollander was completely out of line.
In Michigan State's eyes, that is good enough given the fact that he has "played a significant leadership role" in regard to the university's new approaches and reforms in response to the Nassar scandal.
However, doesn't the fact that Engler ripped one of the survivors at least somewhat taint what he has done to supposedly help those survivors and the children of future generations so that nothing like what happened with Nassar happens again?
Are there really no better options available right now to be Michigan State's interim president, or even Michigan State's president, than a person who is bashing one of the survivors behind her back and then waiting until his job is on the line to apologize for doing so?
Once again, Michigan State has dropped the ball. This is starting to sound like a broken record.