Bankole: Engler should cooperate with investigators

Bankole Thompson

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel seems to believe that John Engler, the former president of Michigan State University, doesn’t have time to sit down with her office as part of a continued investigation into the Larry Nassar sex scandal. But Engler, according to Nessel, appears to have time to watch basketball games at MSU, even as his lawyer and the AG’s office go back and forth about when and how to pin down the former governor of Michigan for a face-to-face interview.

Michigan State University Interim President John Engler answers questions from The Detroit News Editorial Board and reporters in the Tony Snow conference room at The Detroit News in downtown Detroit on Friday, January 11, 2019.

In a strongly worded March 19 letter to Dianne Byrum, the chairwoman of the MSU Board of Trustees, Nessel explained in great detail what appears to be an attempt by Engler to dodge a sit-down interview with the Office of the Attorney General. 

“Section 10 (d) of Mr. Engler’s employment contract requires that Mr. Engler respond and provide information regarding matters within his knowledge even after his employment with the university has concluded,” Nessel wrote in her letter. “That section also requires that Mr. Engler continue to provide reasonable assistance to the university in defense of any claims that may be made against it.”

The letter added, “Mr. Engler’s conduct is troubling in several aspects. In addition to our concern that Mr. Engler might be attempting to manipulate the forum of his interview to insulate himself from the repercussions of it, I am equally concerned about the message this sends to both the Nassar survivors and the community at large. The reluctance of the former interim president of the university to cooperatively participate in a law enforcement investigation into the largest sexual assault scandal in the history of higher education — yet happily sit courtside to watch the men’s basketball team on multiple occasions — speaks volumes about allegations of a culture of indifference on campus.”

Nessel’s investigation includes looking into what kinds of policies and staffing changes Engler made in addressing the deficiencies that led to the Nassar abuse. Also, she described Engler as a “critical witness” in an allegation concerning former trustee George Perles, who allegedly resigned from his position in exchange for a forgiveness for a debt that he owed.

If Engler has nothing to hide from Nessel and her investigators regarding the issues outlined in the letter, he should happily sit down for an interview without giving them the runaround. What happened at MSU remains a dark stain both in the history of the university as well as in higher education, and must never be allowed to repeat itself anywhere else.

As a former political leader Engler should demonstrate respect for law enforcement investigations and open up about what he knows when he briefly ran the university. That is not a difficult request to make of anyone who served as president of a university that was in turmoil.

Engler, through his lawyer Seth B. Waxman, is disputing claims he tried to dodge the interview.

When Engler was selected to lead MSU during its most important crisis moment, I wrote a column stating that he was the wrong choice and that he should not have held the position of interim president. But after getting the job, the man who was supposed to be leading the university out of troubling waters and comfort the victims of Nassar’s evil reportedly said in emails that a Nassar victim was being manipulated by trial lawyers, and in a separate interview claimed victims of the sex scandal are “enjoying the spotlight."

Engler decided to resign from MSU on the eve of a possible firing by the MSU Board of Trustees.

Engler can help the families of the Nassar victims continue to heal by fully explaining what he knows and when regarding his short tenure at the helm of Michigan State University.

Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

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