MSU interim president: 'We need to do more'

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News
Michigan State University's Board of Trustees accepted the resignation of John Engler as president and name Satish Udpa as new interim president in January.

Michigan State University’s acting president on Tuesday issued a call to address sexual misconduct on campus and protect victims as the university faced an “important and overdue reckoning” for past failures.

“Going forward, we must reflect on how we acknowledge and support survivors of relationship violence and sexual misconduct and determine what actions within our control can best prevent and respond to such incidents on campus,” Satish Udpa said in a message to students, staff and others.

“Another difficult job faces us — one of intentionally shifting our culture to include care, respect and, yes, kindness along with the other virtues we embrace as Spartans.”

Last month, the East Lansing school’s board of trustees unanimously named Udpa to replace embattled leader John Engler, who took over as interim president in February 2018 after Lou Anna Simon stepped down in the wake of the Larry Nassar sex abuse scandal.

Engler, a former Republican governor and MSU alum, was tasked to lead the university out of crisis and implemented many changes. He courted controversy during that time, including what led to his departure last month: comments during a Detroit News Editorial Board meeting in which Engler said that Nassar victims were "enjoying" the spotlight as they were being recognized nationally for their courage in speaking out.

Udpa, the university’s former executive vice president for administrative services, is leading MSU pending the selection of a permanent replacement this summer.

In his letter Tuesday, which coincided with the institution's Founder's Day on Tuesday, he noted “Much has been done in the last year to make MSU more stable, accountable and safe, and to give the next president a firm foundation for success. But we need to do more. The reckoning for our past shortcomings — an important and overdue reckoning — is incomplete.”

He added: “Almost exactly a year ago, I described my feelings in a message to my colleagues and coworkers. I write to you today offering the same sentiments — that we must treat each other civilly and with kindness, and make sexual harassment and other forms of abhorrent behavior alien to our culture.”

Udpa, who has worked at MSU since 2001 and previously served seven years as dean of its College of Engineering, described his work since the presidential appointment, including meeting university leaders and student groups, sharing “an intent to reinstate key decision-making councils” and convening with a Relationship Violence and Sexual Misconduct Expert Advisory Workgroup.

He also shared more about other far-reaching goals.

“Beyond the boundaries of campus, I am working to assure our many alumni, partners and stakeholders that such culture change is consistent with this institution’s important educational, research and outreach missions,” his letter said. “It is complementary to our enduring legacy of providing everyday people extraordinary opportunities for the ultimate betterment of our communities and our society. Michigan State’s upward trajectory in core areas such as research and student success will benefit from our introspection.”