Joel Ferguson leaves MSU presidential search committee

The Detroit News
Trustee Joel Ferguson addresses the crowd.

Michigan State University Trustee Joel Ferguson, who has faced fierce criticism from victims of sex abuser Larry Nassar, is stepping down from the university's presidential search committee in favor of new Trustee Brianna Scott.

Dianne Byrum, who was elected chair of the trustees this month, announced the switch Wednesday on Twitter. 

"Trustee Ferguson volunteered to step aside in order for Trustee Scott to join the committee effective immediately," she wrote.

Ferguson nominated Byrum when she was chosen to head the trustees instead of Brian Mosallam.

Brianna Scott, of Muskegon,  is one of the candidates for Michigan State University board of trustees.

In a phone interview, Ferguson said he learned Scott was interested in joining the search committee and he wanted to give her the opportunity.

He called Scott sharp and bright and said that since only four board members can be on the search committee, he decided to let her step in. "It’s the right decision," Ferguson said. "I'm trying to make the board not about me, but about we."

The other trustees on the panel are Byrum and Melanie Foster, who are co-chairs, and Dan Kelly.

Scott is one of three new board members who have taken office since last month, shifting the board from an even partisan split to control by Democrats. John Engler, a former Republican governor, resigned as interim president Jan. 16 after Byrum informed him a majority of the trustees wanted him to step down.

Engler resigned amidst an intense backlash over a remark he made Jan. 11 during an interview with The Detroit News editorial board in which he said some of Nassar's victims were "enjoying" their time in the spotlight. It was the last in a series of comments and actions by Engler that angered Nassar survivors and their supporters during his nearly yearlong tenure.

The trustees named Satish Udpa, MSU's executive vice president of administrative services, to replace Engler pending the selection of a permanent president this summer. MSU began searching for a new president last year after longtime leader Lou Anna Simon resigned under pressure as anger mounted about the university's handling of allegations against Nassar.

Ferguson generated backlash among Nassar accusers last year when he referred to the scandal as "that Nassar thing" and characterized Nasser accusers as only looking for a paycheck.

Ferguson, who has been on the board since 1986 and is a former chair and vice chair of the trustees, praised Byrum during the meeting where she was elected chair.

"I was working hard, and gave long speeches for Dianne," Ferguson said at the time. "She is the most deserving. She paid her dues."