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Interim MSU President Engler details next steps, stops short of supporting trustees

May 18, 2018

We know now that Michigan State University has reached a possible settlement with more than 300 victims of sexual assault.

The lawsuit stems from the actions of former Michigan State University sports doctor Larry Nassar. Nassar sexually assaulted young women for years under the guise of treatment.

The proposed settlement would give $425 million to the current victims – and set aside $75 million for victims who come forward in the future.

John Engler, interim president of Michigan State University, joined Stateside to talk with Michigan Radio Program Director Zoe Clark about the settlement and what’s next for MSU.

On the settlement

Engler said MSU’s goal for the settlement from the beginning was fairness. “I think both sides went in to this recognizing that there had to be a settlement,” he said. “And I think one of our motivations clearly was not to put these survivors and their families through years and years of litigations and trials.”

Engler said he thinks the $500 million monetary settlement that came out of mediation between lawyers representing the survivors of Nassar and Michigan State University is fair and equitable, although no amount of money could make up for the “tremendous pain” caused to the families of the survivors.

“175 of the moms were in the rooms with Dr. Nassar when he was treating these girls and assaulting them at the same time. There’s nothing that makes up for that monetarily,” he said.

On where the money will come from

Engler said talks began this morning at MSU on how to pay the settlement, but pressure to answer that question is already mounting.

“They say, ‘It can’t come from tuition,’ ‘It can’t come from university fees,’ ‘It can’t come from endowment,’” Engler said. “That’s my job now, as president, to give to the Board of Trustees a plan that says this is how we fund this.”

He isn’t ready to say definitively where the money will come from, but said he expects insurance will cover some portion of the settlement. He pointed to bonds and reserves as possible sources but reiterated that “we’re going to look at everything.”

Despite being in Lansing this morning, Engler said discussions there today focused on briefing legislators about the settlement and MSU’s budget, not how the university will fund the settlement. “We weren’t there to talk about money, we didn’t make any ask.”

Will there be an ask?

“I don’t think so.”

The one thing he can say for sure: MSU won’t increase tuition for its incoming freshman class.

On how MSU is changing its culture

While the focus on MSU during his three months has been on the litigation in the Nassar case, Engler said the university has been working on  implementing new procedures, safeguards, and protocols to protect patients and students from sexual misconduct on campus.

In addition to these measures, Engler said MSU is also addressing how it responds when prevention fails. “We’re actually even trying to build on some of the work First Lady Sue Snyder has done and see if we can push back even into the high schools."

How will anyone know if these changes are working?

“I think much of it is already working,” Engler said. “And it will get better.”

On the Board of Trustees

When asked whether it’s possible to create a respectful campus with MSU’s current Board of Trustees, Engler said that “everybody learns from what’s happened before.”

“The Board of Trustees has approved the settlement. The Board of Trustees has apologized.”

But he wouldn’t endorse the board, either: “They have my support? That’s not important. I have their support because they hired me.”

On when he might leave MSU

With a settlement reached, Engler said the search for a new president can begin. “I always felt that was going to be hard to get underway until we were able to arrive at a settlement.”

Engler said the Board has indicated that it will hire an adviser to help search for someone to replace him, but warns that the diversity of opinions on campus means “there will not be a unanimous choice for president.”

“I don’t know if that saint has come down from the heavens to be walking on this Earth.”

When asked if he has a sense of how long he plans to remain interim president of MSU: “Not a day longer than I have to.”

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