MSU trustee: Engler's comments on Nassar victims 'ill advised'

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News
Dianne Byrum gives her remarks after being elected chair of the Michigan State Board of Trustees Wednesday.

Michigan State University interim President John Engler is facing criticism from the newly-appointed board trustee chairman for saying some of pedophile Larry Nassar's victims are "enjoying the spotlight" while the university is "trying to go back to work."

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. 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.

"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 told The News Friday. "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.”

Interim President John Engler and trustee Joel Ferguson listen to a student during the public comment portion of Michigan State University's Board of Trustees meeting on Wed., Jan. 9, 2018 in East Lansing.

Engler said Friday he is done with investigations into the university's handling of the Nassar sexual abuse scandal, saying officials are "trying to go back to work" despite calls from victims and others for more scrutiny to bring resolution and accountability.

Dianne Y. Byrum, elected chairwoman of the university’s Board of Trustees this week, criticized Engler’s comments in a message on Saturday to The Chronicle of Higher Education.

“His remarks were ill advised and not helpful to the healing process, survivors, or the university,” Byrum, a former Democratic lawmaker, said in a direct message on Twitter to The Chronicle.

The $10 million fund was approved by the board in December 2017 as victims and their allies were calling on MSU to do something in response to the growing number of women and girls who were reporting abuse by Nassar. 

Byrum and trustee Brian Mosallam led the reopening of the fund this week, which was unanimously approved. However, Byrum took to Twitter Saturday to reassure victims Engler won't place a vote on the issue.

"John Engler does not speak for the Board and does not have a vote," Byrum tweeted in response to a Detroit News reporter Saturday. "The Board of Trustees has the authority to determine the details of a new fund to assist Survivors. This will be discussed at the MSU Board meeting scheduled for February 15, 2019."

At the time, the scope of Nassar's damage was partially known but women were steadily coming forward, starting 15 months earlier when Rachael Denhollander first publicly accused Nassar of sexual abuse.

"Engler references survivors enjoying their time in the spotlight...You mean, like having to change the day I grocery shop so my 3 kids don't see a photo of their mom demonstrating what was done to her body? Tell me more about how enjoyable this spotlight is," Denhollander tweeted. 

A university spokesperson did not immediately respond to requests for comment Saturday evening.
Twitter: @SarahRahal_