Engler to MSU employees: Don’t destroy documents

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Interim President John Engler on Monday asked all Michigan State University employees to cooperate with any investigations and preserve documents related to the Larry Nassar sexual assault scandal.

In his first official day on the job, the Republican former governor penned a letter to university staff, faculty and other employees, calling it a “privilege” to be back on campus but acknowledging that the Nassar scandal has produced “likely the most difficult times ever faced by MSU.”

Engler on Monday also named Bill Beekman as interim athletic director to replace Mark Hollis, who resigned Jan. 26, two days after former President Lou Anna Simon stepped down.

Engler’s letter noted multiple law enforcement investigations and government inquiries into the way MSU handled allegations against Nassar, a former athletics doctor accused of assaulting more than 200 women over more than two decades. Engler reiterated that the university intends to fully cooperate with investigators.

“If you are contacted by the Office of the General Counsel for assistance in responding to any such inquiry, you are expected to provide full assistance and give that request your prompt attention,” he wrote.

Engler also told employees to preserve any and all documents, records or electronically stored information related to the inquiries or investigations.

“In addition, I ask that you exercise the utmost caution not to dispose of any document, record, or electronically stored information that could reasonably be relevant to the pending inquiries or any other investigation that involves allegations of sexual abuse or misconduct,” he said.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette’s office executed search warrants at the university Friday after special prosecutor Bill Forsyth had requested “the immediate production of physical items assigned” to former College of Osteopathic Medicine dean William Strampel, Nassar’s former boss who recently stepped down from his position on medical leave.

“This has not occurred,” Schuette spokeswoman Andrea Bitely said Friday. “We are continuing to investigate with our partners at the Michigan State Police and will not be providing further comment.”

The university is also subject to a U.S. Department of Education Clery Act compliance review, a National Collegiate Athletic Association request for information regarding potential violations of rules, an inquiry and request for records from the Michigan House of Representatives and a U.S. Senate request for information, Engler wrote.

“I know that all of Spartan Nation grieves for what has happened at the hands of an evil perpetrator,” he said, noting the “courage” of survivors who shared their stories of abuse. “…You have my full commitment that I will do everything in my power to fix the broken systems that allowed this to happen.”

Engler’s letter to employees comes amid continued criticism of school leadership, including professors pushing a Faculty Senate vote of no confidence in the MSU Board of Trustees. College of Education faculty are also helping plan a Tuesday morning march across campus.

Nassar was sentenced to another 40 to 125 years in prison on Monday in Eaton County, his second sentence for sexual assaults and third overall. The former MSU and USA Gymnastics doctor was previously sentenced to 40 to 175 years for sexual assaults in Ingham County and 60 years in federal prison for possession of child pornography.

John Truscott and the Lansing-based Truscott Rossman public relations firm are working with Engler in his new role. Truscott, who served as Engler’s gubernatorial press secretary for most of his 12 years in office, said Monday morning that terms of the new consulting deal have not yet been finalized.

Engler is also working without a contract at this point, Truscott said, noting trustees may need to approve the terms and are not scheduled to meet again until next week.

In a Monday morning radio interview on WILS1320-AM, Truscott said Engler hasn’t missed a beat and “hasn’t changed” since his tenure as governor.

“It’s still get the information, make decisions and march forward,” Truscott said. “The question he asks and the way he processes information I think will definitely signal a new day at MSU.”

Firm co-founder Kelly Rossman-McKinney previously did public relations work for MSU Trustee Joel Ferguson, but the firm dropped him two weeks ago after helping him issue an apology for dismissive remarks about the Nassar scandal.

Engler on Friday announced the hiring of Carol Morey Viventi to serve as his vice president and special counsel. She previously worked in the Engler administration as deputy chief of staff and counsel to his cabinet.

The MSU Board of Trustees last week unanimously voted to appoint Engler as interim president, but his political past and personal ties have generated backlash from students, faculty and Democrats. Engler was known as a strong-armed governor and sits on the board of Universal Forest Products, a Grand Rapids company whose former chairman is major MSU and GOP donor Peter Secchia.

Faculty and students from MSU’s College of Education are organizing a 10 a.m. Tuesday march from Erickson Hall to the administration building. They intend to present a list of demands, including calls for Engler and all eight elected trustees to resign.

“I think the most important thing to me is that students on this campus, particularly survivors of sexual violence and sexual assault, know that faculty are listening, that we’re here, that we also are standing up,” said associate professor Terah Venzant Chambers, who is helping organize the march.

Chris Thelen, a graduate student in the College of Education, said the march is intended to support survivors and highlight campus sexual assault problems that extend beyond the Nassar scandal.

“There are a lot of people here in the College of Education and the university at large who feel that these issues have gone completely unaddressed by the university administration and people who have the power to do something about it,” Thelen said.

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, said earlier Monday he “would have preferred” an interim president from “outside the university, outside of Michigan, not tied to donors, not tied to any of the current Michigan State leadership.”

“You need someone who brings some fresh eyes and is aggressive getting to the truth and aggressive in making changes that may be uncomfortable to the status quo but are absolutely essential to prevent this from every happening again,” Peters said.


Staff Writers Kim Kozlowski and Ian Thibodeau contributed.