Engler protests investigators’ surprise visit at MSU
Michigan State University interim President John Engler defended the school’s cooperation with the Michigan Attorney General’s Office and expressed disappointment that agents arrived on campus without warning last week in the wake of the Larry Nassar scandal.
In a letter, Engler wrote he would have appreciated a phone call Friday from Special Independent Counsel William Forsyth, who was appointed by Attorney General Bill Schuette to oversee the independent Nassar investigation at MSU.
Agents arrived on campus with search warrants and removed items from several offices after AG officials said they requested records and other items from key players in the scandal a month ago.
“Your decision to arrive without warning at the Hannah Administration Building with search warrants and camera crews was ... very much at odds with the cooperation I have pledged,’” Engler wrote to Forsyth. “I realize that I was not the Interim President on Friday, but I would have appreciated a phone call regarding any perceived lack of cooperation, which we would emphatically dispute.
“As for the accompanying camera crews, the Attorney General has made clear this investigation is to be not ‘political,’” Engler continued. “Hopefully, their presence was not part of an investigation ‘media strategy’ but rather inadvertent and the result of indiscrete (sic) behavior that can be stopped.”
In an email, AG spokeswoman Andrea Bitely said, “Mr. Forsyth is currently reviewing the letter from Interim President Engler.”
The letter was released Tuesday by MSU, a day after Engler wrote it on his first day as the school’s interim president.
The AG’s office launched a probe into MSU to find out who knew what and when during the more than two decades that Nassar, one of the most notorious and prolific child predators, worked at the university.
He sexually assaulted 265 young women by inserting his fingers into them under the guise of medical treatment.
The probe comes more than a year and a half after MSU police launched an investigation into one woman’s complaint about Nassar, and scores of other women came forward. Nassar initially denied the accusations, then pleaded guilty after prosecutors charged him and victims testified in preliminary court proceedings.
In December, a federal judge handed Nassar a 60-year prison sentence for possessing 37,000 child pornography images. Then, after more than 200 women testified over nine days in two courtrooms about the impact the abuse had on their lives, two county judges gave Nassar prison sentences of 40-175 years and 40-125 years. His last sentence came Monday.
Many are now turning their attention to Michigan State, to see who and what within the culture may have allowed the former doctor to prey on victims for so long.
Last month, a Detroit News investigation showed reports of sexual misconduct by Nassar reached at least 14 MSU representatives in the two decades before his arrest, with no fewer than eight women reporting his actions.
AG agents issued a search warrant on Friday at MSU after Forsyth sought every record from the university related to former women’s gymnastics coach Kathie Klages, former College of Osteopathic Medicine dean William Strampel, as well as emails and text messages sent to or from former MSU President Lou Anna Simon regarding the convicted sports doctor.
Forsyth also asked for the immediate production of physical items assigned to Strampel, Nassar’s former boss, who recently stepped down, Bitely said last week.
AG special agents and Michigan State Police removed records and what appeared to be a flash drive from the Hannah Administration Building and Fee Hall, and made other stops, including the Office of the Provost.
They also went to the office of Kristine Moore, assistant general counsel at the university, who oversaw a Title IX investigation into Nassar’s conduct that led to two reports, including one that recently became public.
Engler said getting the facts out and changing the culture that allowed Nassar to flourish for so long at MSU is critical to healing.
“The abuse suffered by so many survivors as young women under the guise of treatment by Larry Nassar has created unimaginable pain for these women and their families,” Engler wrote. “My mission is to change the culture that could have prevented this tragedy.”
Engler added that the university must understand and be able to answer the questions being asked, such as why Nassar was not discovered earlier, what warning signs were missed, whether MSU officials knew about Nassar’s conduct and chose to ignore or cover it up, and what can be done to prevent this tragedy from ever appening again.
“I hope we can become a model for university communities across the state and nation,” Engler wrote. “My top priority is to have a safe and respectful campus for those who learn and work here.”
In another development, MSU Board of Trustees Chairman Brian Breslin is taking a leave of absence from his job as manager of appointments for Gov. Rick Snyder.
As allowed under Michigan Civil Service rules, Snyder’s office said Breslin will take an unpaid leave of between 30 to 90 days as he and other MSU trustees grapple with continued fallout from the Nassar scandal.
“He wants to devote his attention to being on the Board of Trustees, given all the activities” Snyder told The Detroit News during a brief Tuesday interview at the state Capitol. “So I appreciated his focus on Michigan State.”
Breslin’s leave comes as the Snyder administration considers potential intervention at MSU, where the eight trustees have come under fire and face a looming no-confidence vote by the faculty senate.
The Snyder administration is reviewing options for action at MSU, “and we continue to work on that,” the governor said.
Jonathan Oosting contributed.