As Michigan State University looks to navigate the aftermath of the Dr. Larry Nassar scandal, leadership is key. The trustees have chosen former Republican Gov. John Engler as interim president, but his appointment shouldn’t distract from the fact the trustees themselves must go.
Engler’s appointment this week by the MSU Board of Trustees was met with an uproar, even though his position is only temporary until a permanent replacement is found.
We do have concerns about the political divisiveness surrounding him and some of his ties to university donors. And reports about his dismissive approach when governor to rape and harassment allegations by women prisoners against male guards are also worrisome.
We’ve already called for the eight elected trustees to do the honorable thing and step down, following the lead of former President Lou Anna Simon last week. They’ve broken the trust of the MSU community, and this board shouldn’t get to choose the next permanent president when they have proven they couldn’t hold former university leaders accountable.
The trustees are: Chairman Brian Breslin, Joel Ferguson, Dianne Byrum, Melanie Foster, Dan Kelly, Brian Mosallam, Mitch Lyons and George Perles. Lyons and Breslin have said they aren’t seeking re-election this fall, but no one else is budging.
Since the trustees don’t appear to be going anywhere soon, Gov. Rick Snyder and the Legislature should pursue the options available to them. The governor has the ability to remove the trustees, and lawmakers could impeach them. It’s rare for either action to happen, but this case deserves the close attention of top state leaders.
The university’s No. 1 priority must be to restore its broken reputation and overturn a culture of secrecy that allowed Nassar to molest young gymnasts for decades. The university faces nearly 200 suits in federal court from Nassar’s victims and damages could top $1 billion.
Following Engler’s three terms as governor, he has held several national positions in the past 15 years, including as head of the Business Roundtable and president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers.
Even though Engler has been largely absent from Michigan since he left as governor in 2002, his political ties have many on the MSU faculty (and students) concerned. And those concerns should be considered.
In the meantime, those worried about Engler’s political affiliations should take some comfort that he has said he will bring in former Democratic Gov. Jim Blanchard to work closely with him.
MSU faculty have sworn they will call for a no confidence vote on the trustees, and good for them. It’s nonbinding but perhaps that would further encourage the board to step aside. The faculty also expressed concern that the trustees didn’t select a “woman with extensive academic leadership experience.” Yet Simon fit that description and the scandal unfolded under her watch.
One student got his 15 minutes of fame Wednesday for climbing on the table during the trustees’ meeting, complaining about how Engler “further corporatizes Michigan State University, defunds and de-integritizes Michigan State’s public education reputation.”
He won applause in some quarters but that has little to do with the crisis at hand, and the women who were let down by MSU for years. Change isn’t going to come immediately. There are deep, systemic problems that will have to be rooted out.
Ensuring justice is served for the victims — and making certain such abuse doesn’t happen again — is what matters going forward. A new Board of Trustees is essential to that process.