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Political roundup: Is Engler right for MSU interim president job?

Feb 2, 2018

The Michigan State University Board of Trustees has appointed former Governor John Engler as interim president of the university. That’s after Lou Anna Simon resigned in the wake of the scandal over MSU sports doctor Larry Nassar sexually assaulting girls and women for decades.

Bridge Magazine published an article reporting that Engler was dismissive of sexual assault claims by women in Michigan prisons while he was governor.

Ken Sikkema, Senior Policy Fellow at Public Sector Consultants and former Republican Majority Leader in the Senate, and Vicki Barnett, a former Mayor of Farmington Hills and a former Democratic legislator, joined Stateside to discuss former Gov. Engler’s appointment.

Listen above for the full conversation, or read highlights below.

On former Governor John Engler’s appointment

Sikkema is generally positive on Engler’s appointment as interim president of MSU, touting his bipartisan credentials. “He’s a strong leader,” he said. “I think he’s always well-informed. He won’t be manipulated or intimidated.” Still, he thinks the “volatile” situation will test Engler.

Barnett, meanwhile, doesn’t believe Engler is right for the job. “It’s a tone-deaf response to the struggles of women on campus trying to get their stories out and have the campus administration believe them,” she said.

Barnett also recalled an episode during his time as governor when he effectively closed down a number of mental health facilities, which, to Barnett, indicated a lack of “understanding and compassion” needed to deal with the Nassar scandal.

On the need for legislative investigations

Michigan House Speaker Tom Leonard called on two committees to launch investigations into Michigan State’s handling of the Nassar scandal, but there are already investigations underway by the Attorney General’s office and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

Sikkema finds the efforts to be less deliberate than the Flint investigations, which involved both chambers of the state legislature. “You’ve got all these other investigations going on, as you did in Flint, but I just think it was a bit premature,” he said. “I think it would have been better to wait, and then look at the results of these other investigations to decide whether or not some state law needs to be changed or amended.”

Barnett is also hesitant about supporting the legislative effort. “It will be divisive, and I don’t think that it’s the right timing to do this,” she said. “They’re trying to at least look like Michigan is acting in some direction to address this horrible, terrible scandal.”

On whether a number of MSU trustees should be removed from the board

Sikkema predicted that the 2018 election will mark the first time many voters take note of university Board of Trustees candidates: “A lot of people who just don’t pay attention to who they vote for for the Board of Trustees at MSU are actually going to pay attention.”

Barnett has a simpler solution. “I wish they would just save us the problem of removing them and all resign,” she said.

Ken Sikkema and Vicki Barnett join Stateside every Friday to break down the week’s political news.

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