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Interim President Engler apologizes to survivors, Spartan community

June 21, 2018
Newly appointed interim president John Engler addresses the media on Jan. 31, 2018, at Hannah Administration Building. (C.J. Weiss | The State News)
Newly appointed interim president John Engler addresses the media on Jan. 31, 2018, at Hannah Administration Building. (C.J. Weiss | The State News) —

In a Thursday statement, Interim President John Engler offered an apology to Rachael Denhollander and other survivors of Larry Nassar's sexual abuse after disparaging her in emails.

The statement, obtained via email, comes amid growing calls for Engler to resign or for the MSU Board of Trustees to terminate him. 

Last week, email correspondence between Engler and his aide, Carol Viventi, was made public by a report from the Chronicle of Higher Education. The report contained April-dated emails between the two individuals. 

In them, Engler asserted that Rachael Denhollander - the first woman to publicly speak out against ex-MSU and USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar - would be getting "kickback" from her attorneys. Engler believed Denhollander was being used by her attorneys to "manipulate" other survivors. 

Read Engler's full statement below. 

"Last week while I was on my way to Texas, a private email conversation of mine from April was made public. I didn’t give it the consideration it warranted. 

That was a big mistake. I was wrong. I apologize.

When I started this interim position in February, it was never my intent to have an adversarial relationship with some of the survivors.

My speculation about the lead plaintiff receiving kickbacks or referral fees hurt her deeply and for that I am truly sorry. She and the other survivors suffered greatly and they are entitled not to have their sincerity questioned, either individually or as a group. I apologize to her and her sister survivors.

The days after the April Board of Trustees meeting were extremely frustrating. Emotions and tempers, including mine, were running at a high level. It seemed as though we would never be able to reach a successful settlement. Nothing we were doing seemed to work.

When I arrived at MSU, Larry Nassar was already in jail but students and survivors alike were protesting. I apologized publicly to the survivors on behalf of the University for the harm Nassar had done. Others from the university, including the Board of Trustees had also done so. But disappointment and anger overwhelmed those apologies. I felt from the day I arrived that the university and the survivors had to come together to reach a just and equitable settlement in order for the healing to begin.

I also want to apologize to the MSU Board of Trustees and the Spartan community because my email created a major distraction from the important work we’re doing to make our campus safer.

Days after I arrived, I moved to revoke Dean Strampel's tenure. We changed the protocols and policies in our medical clinics that allowed Nassar to escape detection for nearly two decades. We are dedicating more resources to sexual assault prevention and support services. Still that was not enough, a settlement had to be achieved.

In May, we were able to do so.

I am very proud that the plaintiffs, their very able counsel and the university were able to achieve a settlement which will help the healing begin. My private comments from April coming out last week impaired that healing and it reopened old wounds as many survivors felt compelled to come to the defense of the first woman who spoke out. My regrettable private email harmed the healing process and, for that, I am also very sorry.

I will use my remaining time as Interim President of Michigan State University to continue implementing meaningful reforms that serve to increase safety and respect on our campus. Just as our new policies have assured the safety of any patient who visits an MSU clinic or is treated by an MSU physician, our additional staff and new leadership will make a profound difference across our campus.

Finally, we continue to welcome specific suggestions about actions that might be taken to improve our success at preventing sexual misconduct or sexual assault on or off campus. Your ideas are welcomed and will be treated with the utmost consideration. Suggestions can be offered at my webpage: http://president.msu.edu."

The Board of Trustees released a statement in response to Engler's apology. 

 "John’s apology for the comments contained in an April email that was released last week is appropriate and appreciated by a majority of the Board," said Brian Breslin, Chair of the MSU Board of Trustees.

Stay with The State News for further updates to this story. 

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