Takeaways from The State News' sit down with John Engler
Members of The State News Editorial Board sat down with MSU Interim President John Engler Nov. 27. Engler was asked a wide range of questions about his tenure and current campus issues. Here are five takeaways from Engler’s interview.
Status of the Attorney General’s investigation
Engler was asked if he’d spoken with Attorney General-elect Dana Nessel and if he expects anything to change once she assumes oversight of the investigation into Michigan State’s handling of former doctor Larry Nassar. Engler said he has not spoken with Nessel and doesn’t expect any changes, but also said the charges filed against former MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon brought the investigation to a close.
"I should say that I presume things will change in terms of how she functions as attorney general, but in terms of Michigan State, there’s really nothing left pending because the charges brought against former President Simon conclude the Attorney General’s investigation," Engler said.
Internal candidates unlikely in closed presidential search
Ahead of MSU announcement that the presidential search will be closed to the public, Engler was asked his opinion on having an open search where candidates would be able to meet with members of the community.
Engler said the search cannot be open because attracting presidents of other universities is a priority, and university presidents are unable to publicly be interested in another presidency while in office.
MSU university spokesperson Emily Guerrant, who accompanied Engler during the interview, informed The State News that the aforementioned announcement was coming.
When questioned about the search committee potentially considering internal candidates, Engler stated he does not think any internal candidates are under consideration. Because of feedback from the search’s listening sessions, he said he’d be surprised if any were considered.
Engler also said the search committee, which includes half of the Board of Trustees, is sufficiently representative of the MSU community. There are four trustees on the 19 person search committee.
“Search committee members (are) a lot of faculty members, different interests on the campus, obviously if you ask anybody on campus there’d be 50,000 members who would like to be part of it, or at least 7,000 faculty members who would like to be on the search committee,” Engler said. “I think they’ve done a pretty good job at getting a mixture of staff, faculty, deans, the alumni participants … it’s a good cross section of MSU.”
“At the end of the day the test is getting a good president,” Engler said. “My test is to get ready for the president so when they come in, that individual … can find things organized and begin to exercise their presidential responsibilities.”
Healing and Assistance Fund unlikely to reopen
MSU Police determined Nassar survivors have not made any fraudulent claims concerning the $10 million Healing and Assistance Fund. In light of this, Engler was asked why the fund has not been reopened to survivors, and when it will.
Engler said the university is close to making payments from the $500 million settlement reached between MSU and survivors of Nassar’s sexual abuse.
“We’re now very close, perhaps within a week of making payments to the Nassar survivors,” Engler said. “...Those (court) issues will all go away once we write the check.”
He said he’s not sure the Healing and Assistance Fund will pay survivors following the settlement, as the fund was set up to carry the same affected individuals through the litigation.
“The $10 million then pales in comparison, clearly, to the $500 million,” Engler said.
When asked if there are concerns survivors who did not join the lawsuit might be cut off from funds, Engler said the litigation was well-publicized and it was unlikely someone wasn’t aware of the lawsuit or the mediation. Guerrant said MSU also tries to remind all survivors about free campus resources that are available to them.
“It’s also important — of the 332 plaintiffs in the lawsuit, 31 are (MSU) students,” Engler said. “ So, you’re talking about a small percentage. Many, many of the plaintiffs were never on our campus. They were at a ranch in Texas, or at an Olympic training center, or in Eaton County at the gymnastics center, or — I guess in some cases — in his basement.”
MSU reconsidering tobacco, marijuana policies
Proposal 1, a ballot initiative to legalize adult recreational marijuana use in Michigan, was approved by voters during the Nov. 6 election. MSU has previously stated marijuana use will remain illegal on campus following the implementation of the law, in accordance with the ongoing federal ban.
However, when asked about the university’s response, Engler said the General Counsel’s office is looking at MSU’s policy.
“I know we we're already looking at 'Does our anti-smoking policy cover non-tobacco products?' I mean, we don’t have a policy on brownies, either,” Engler said. “That’s a good question.”
At several points, Engler was also asked questions about the MSU community’s distrust in the administration. At one point, Engler was asked what the alternative is to some demands that the university’s leadership needs to resign to move forward.
“Just moving forward,” Engler replied. “The board’s not resigning. I am resigning as soon as the new president is here ... I think when you get knocked down in life you have to get back up.”
Engler said many procedures and protocols have been changed in response to Nassar, which would hopefully prevent any misdeeds from going unreported. He said the university has tried to create and respond to many hypotheticals to prevent potential actions of bad actors, and has vetted lots of ideas and suggestions.
"The fixes that we’ve put in place, the changes, they’re real," Engler said. "They’re substantive and they’re real. ... You do focus on those going forward. You do not deny what did happen but that’s now been some time ago. The fellow’s been in jail for a long time. He’s not here. We want to make sure there’s never another him or her out there that could do something. That’s what I think we’ve accomplished.”
When asked what would stop someone from ignoring procedures, like when former MSU Dean of Osteopathic Medicine William Strampel failed to enforce oversight over Nassar, Engler said colleagues would speak out.
“Let’s just say any dean breached protocols and procedures," Engler said. "The people in the department now would feel uncomfortable keeping it quiet, saying ‘well that’s the way Green is or that’s the way White is.’ I don’t think so. I think they’d speak up.”