Engler faces trustee criticism over victim fund closure
A slate of current and incoming Michigan State University trustees on Wednesday denounced interim President John Engler's move to eliminate a fund to assist victims of serial pedophile Larry Nassar — and said they plan to take it up with other officials.
Trustee Brian Mosallam posted a joint statement on Twitter, signed by Trustee Dianne Byrum and Trustees-elect Kelly Tebay and Brianna Scott, saying they opposed Engler's decision to end the $10 million Healing Assistance Fund, which was set up a year ago to cover counseling costs for Nassar's victims and their families.
"The press announcement by interim President John Engler announcing the closure of the Healing Assistance Fund came as a surprise and we do not support his decision," the statement read.
"We intend to bring this topic before our current and future board colleagues," the statement continued. "We are grateful the $500 million global legal settlement has been completed so the healing of the brave survivors can begin."
Michigan State spokeswoman Emily Guerrant declined comment because Engler was not available due to his attendance in Washington, D.C., at the funeral of former President George H.W. Bush.
Engler announced Tuesday that the university was folding approximately $8.5 million remaining in the Healing Assistance Fund into MSU's historic legal settlement to reduce MSU's borrowing from $500 million to $491.5 million.
Trustee Dan Kelly said he thought Engler's action was appropriate since it was his understanding that the victim aid fund wasn't meant to be permanent.
"It was to assist survivors during the period of time before there was a settlement," Kelly said. "I'm open minded to continue it if it's appropriate to use university funds for whatever the board members think we should be spending the money on."
He added: "I'm concerned about university expenditures along this line but I'm open to it. There had to be an understanding as to who is going to be paid and what money is available."
MSU Trustees Joel Ferguson, Melanie Foster and Mitch Lyons did not sign the statement, and could not immediately be reached Wednesday for comment.
Mosallam said he and his colleagues believe the decision is unwise and goes against expert advice.
"It is extremely critical we take the advice of our RVSM Committee experts," he said.
Mosallam was referring to the statements by Rebecca Campbell, professor of psychology, expert on sexual assault and chair of the MSU Relationship Violence and Sexual Misconduct Workgroup appointed by Engler. She said the university should continue to provide financial assistance to victims and their families through the Healing Assistance Fund.
"The Fund should be available to all survivors — those in the primary settlement and those who are not part of the settlement," Campbell said.
The MSU trustees will gather for their final meeting of the year Dec. 14.
The statement opposing the elimination of the fund comes a day after Engler announced that MSU had transferred $500 million into two funds to cover the historic civil lawsuit settlement for 500 victims who said MSU did not protect them from the now-imprisoned Nassar.
Engler also announced the elimination of the Healing Assistance Fund, established when pressure was mounting on MSU, the board and former President Lou Anna Simon to do something about all the victims who were coming forward about Nassar's abuse.
MSU suspended the fund in July following fraud allegations after paying out more than $1 million but declined to reinstate it even though officials said that the fraud was not committed by any victims or family members. Many victims and their allies have been lobbing the university to reopen the fund so they could get help as they try to heal.
Outgoing MSU Board Chair Brian Breslin said in a university statement that the fund was intended to be "a bridge from the point of creation to when the survivors would receive payments from a settlement with the university."
Nassar victims and supporters reacted angrily to the decision, saying it's yet another action by Engler that hurts those abused by the disgraced sports doctor.
"Engler and MSU have chosen despicable and dishonest behavior yet again," Sarah Klein, the first woman believed to have been assaulted by Nassar, said on Twitter. "Playing with survivor’s lives and treatment is the worst that it gets. Self-harm and suicide are REAL."
Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to publicly accuse Nassar of sexual abuse, posted a lengthy "fact check" on Twitter about the university's moves leading up to the elimination of the Healing Assistance Fund.
"At every possible turn, (Engler) confirms the abusive culture at MSU, the utter lack of meaningful change, and his abhorrent views on (sexual assault) victims," Denhollander tweeted. "This is shameful."
David Harns, writer and editor at the Michigan State community site The Only Colors, echoed Denhollander's statement on Twitter.
"This is a shameful action by my alma mater," Harns tweeted. "These vacuous decisions continue to be an embarrassment to the vast, vast majority of us Spartans."
Tom Ealey, an Alma College professor, called the move, "bad faith on steroids."