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Engler: New healing fund may not aid all Nassar victims

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News
Allies of Larry Nassar victims demand that Michigan State University restore the $10 million Healing Assistance Fund during the Oct. 26 meeting of the Board of Trustees.

Days after the Michigan State University Board of Trustees approved a resolution calling for the revival of a fund to pay for counseling costs of those sexually abused by Larry Nassar, interim President John Engler suggested the fund may not be designed for all victims.

In an interview Friday with The Detroit News Editorial Board, Engler said the Healing Assistance Fund may be focused on the victims who are not part of the primary $500 million settlement.

The historic settlement was reached in May, requiring MSU to pay $425 million to 332 claimants and $75 million to future claimants, of whom 172 are under consideration.

"We are really thinking about that 172," Engler said. "The people who got the $425 million are probably OK."

Asked to clarify his comments later, MSU spokeswoman Emily Guerrant said Engler was likely speculating about the parameters of the fund after trustees voted unanimously this week to reopen it. The university will have to develop a framework, decide how much money to put in the fund, determine who can access the money, and then present a finished proposal to the board.

MSU established the $10 million Healing Assistance Fund in December 2017 as outrage was spreading about Nassar's crimes. The university suspended the fund in July, saying it had found evidence of fraud that did not involve victims or family members, then canceled it last month.

"I think a lot of ideas will be tossed around," Guerrant said. "We are focused on setting up a fund by learning the lesson we can from the fraud process this summer so the fund is stronger ... We are thinking of ideas of how the fund will look. Nothing is in stone."

Grace French, who was abused by Nassar, said in a telephone interview that MSU should make money from a reinstated fund available to all victims.

"All survivors should be supported no matter what," said French. "I do hope they keep in mind that everybody is struggling." 

The resolution to restore the fund was approved Wednesday as three new MSU trustees — Brianna Scott, Nancy Schlichting and Kelly Tebay — took their seats for the fist time.

In canceling the Healing Assistance Fund last month, the university announced it would roll the remaining $8.5 million into the $500 million settlement.

Engler explained at the time that the transfer would reduce the amount MSU has to borrow to pay for Nassar's crimes by $8.5 million and was one of several ways "MSU is accountable to those harmed." But the move and his explanations angered victims and their families.

In December, Kathy Haselmaier, a Michigan Technological University alumna who lives in Colorado, created an online appeal demanding that the fund be reopened. Within hours, dozens, then hundreds of people signed. A few days later, five trustees had signed, as did newly sworn-in Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Engler said the challenge, from the board's perspective at MSU and other campuses, is what is going to be done about "the almost unlimited, the demand for mental health services on these campuses, what's happened in society...."

"What's interesting is about half of those who seek help have already been in treatment before they came to the university," Engler said. "I was blown away by that number. I just hadn't thought about how many people might (have had) crises before coming to the university."

Engler said the next president will have many challenges but work has been done so that person can come in and look ahead.

But he acknowledged it's been a tough time, "very emotional."

"You’ve got people, they are hanging on and this has been … there are a lot of people who are touched by this, survivors who haven’t been in the spotlight," Engler said. "In some ways they have been able to deal with this better than the ones who’ve been in the spotlight who are still enjoying that moment at times, you know, the awards and recognition. And it’s ending. It’s almost done.”