Engler admits mistake in MSU’s response to suit

Kim Kozlowski

Michigan State University Interim President John Engler acknowledged Friday that the university provided “an unnecessary amount of detail” in a statement made earlier this week regarding a federal lawsuit filed by a student who accused university officials of discouraging her from going to police after she reported being raped by three basketball players.

“In our urgency, given the filing of a federal lawsuit against MSU late Monday, to assure the campus community that MSU employees are acting lawfully and following reporting protocols, following appropriate treatment protocols, and are not discouraging reporting, we regret that we provided an unnecessary amount of detail to convey that point, which has been perceived by some as violating privacy expectations,” said Engler, reading from a statement during the Board of Trustees meeting.

The suit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court, alleged that officials from the MSU Counseling Center suggested that the student refrain from reporting to police; otherwise she would face “an uphill battle that would create anxiety and unwanted media attention and publicity as had happened with many other female students who were sexually assaulted by well-known athletes.”

According to the suit, the rape occurred in April 2015, a few days after MSU had been defeated by Duke University in the college basketball Final Four and the team had returned to East Lansing. The MSU basketball players were not named in the lawsuit.

On Wednesday, MSU fired back in a statement regarding the lawsuit and included information that the alleged victim had visited a counseling office, had an appointment and didn’t show up, and that her father had made an appointment with an academic adviser, among other information. Some viewed the disclosure of that information as violating the student’s medical and student privacy rights under federal laws.

The response also was a reversal of course for MSU. When asked for comment the day the suit was filed, university spokeswoman Emily Guerrant said MSU does not comment on pending litigation.

“While we remain firm in our position that appropriate protocols for treatment and reporting were followed, there is always room to improve client experiences and treatment protocols,” Engler said in his Friday statement. “We also want the campus community to know that we take these allegations very seriously and are working towards improvements.”

Karen Truszkowski, an attorney for the victim, declined to comment.

Engler ended his statement by calling sexual violence “abhorrent and inconsistent with our institutional values.”

“MSU is committed to responding to all reported incidents and continuing to examine underlying climate issues to promote a culture of safety and respect at MSU,” he said.

The lawsuit is the latest to haunt Michigan State in the wake of the Larry Nassar child predator scandal, in which the sports doctor assaulted victims over 20 years.