Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Engler to discontinue Nassar fund, despite expert advice, source says

December 4, 2018
<p>Interim president John Engler sits down with The State News on Nov. 28, 2018.&nbsp;</p>

Interim president John Engler sits down with The State News on Nov. 28, 2018. 

Photo by Matt Schmucker | The State News

The Healing and Assistance Fund will be discontinued, an email obtained by The State News said. Instead of paying survivors of ex-MSU doctor Larry Nassar's sexual abuse from the fund, all future payments will come from the $500 million settlement. 

Interim President John Engler went forward with this decision, despite being advised not to by a sexual misconduct expert advisory workgroup he created.

The State News obtained a memo written by the MSU Relationship Violence and Sexual Misconduct, or RVSM, Expert Advisory Workgroup from someone close to the Engler Administration. The workgroup was established at the end of February and is in charge of recommending improvements, protocols and policies involving student safety to Engler.

The memo summarized the workgroup's research on trauma and treatment for sexual assault survivors, and went into detail about how discontinuing the Healing and Assistance Fund could negatively affect survivors. The workgroup is made up of leaders within MSU who have "significant expertise relevant to relationship violence and sexual misconduct," according to the Office of the President website.

The fund was established in December 2017 to provide Nassar survivors with resources needed for counseling and mental health services. In July, MSU spokesperson Emily Guerrant said the university decided to suspend further payments to the Healing Assistance Fund in light of an investigation into fraudulent claims.

In October, MSU Police determined Nassar survivors have not made any fraudulent claims concerning the $10 million fund, but it remains suspended

Recommendation from expert advisory workgroup

Chair of the RVSM workgroup, psychology professor Rebecca Campbell, said they received an email asking for the workgroup's insight regarding the fund. Specifically, the email asked how the advisory workgroup felt about putting an end date on the fund and excluding survivors who are a part of the settlement from access to the fund. 

From these questions and from the RVSM workgroup's own conversations with senior officials, they assumed Engler's administration was only contemplating making changes to the fund, Campbell said. 

In a Nov. 30 interview with The State News Editorial Board, Engler said he is unsure if the Healing and Assistance Fund will payout to survivors.

"I think not, perhaps, because at that point we’ve paid out $500 million to the same individuals the fund is set up to carry them over through that period of time,” Engler said.

"The idea that it would be closed was a shock to us when we saw The State News article," Campbell said. "That is completely inconsistent with anything we have discussed or recommended to any member of Engler's administration." 

The RVSM workgroup wrote back and said they assumed changes were being discussed in regards to who is eligible for the fund and how long the fund would be open, Campbell said.

To help inform conversation, Campbell said they sent back the memo. It had implications for the Healing and Assistance Fund as well as research on trauma that was backed up by scientific research.

Also in the response, Campbell said they noted "there are significant health risks for survivors if treatment is delayed or interrupted." 

"If sexual assault survivors have entered into treatment based on the understanding that there were dedicated funds available to cover the cost of therapy, and then learn that they are no longer eligible for those funds, they are likely to feel that such changes are a gross violation of trust," the memo said. "This betrayal will likely cause significant distress that will compound trauma symptoms they are already experiencing." 

Campbell said since the advisory workgroup was formed in February, they've sent multiple recommendations to Engler and have been in regular communication with him. 

MSU Spokesperson Emily Guerrant said via email there are many areas the workgroup and Engler have agreed on in working together. 

"I would like to point out that the president has supported most of the recommendations the workgroup has put forth to him including the creation of Sexual Assault Prevention, Outreach and Education  within the Title IX office," Guerrant said in an email. 

Campbell agreed that their recommendations are generally listened to and implemented. 

"Not this one though," Campbell said. 

The RVSM workgroup has yet to receive a response to their memo, Campbell said.

Engler and other members of the administration were forwarded the memo on Dec. 3, the source said.

Engler's response 

In response to the memo advising against discontinuing the healing fund, Engler sent an email back that said because of the ability to pay out the $500 million settlement earlier than expected, the remaining $8.6 million in the Healing and Assistance Fund will go towards the settlement.

MSU announced today it will begin paying out its $500 million settlement.

Engler's email said it was "consistent with the board's position that the healing fund would be used as a bridge transition to a global settlement."

All future payments will come from the $500 million dollar settlement, instead of the Healing and Assistance Fund. The fund was originally designed to provide survivors money to access the support they needed before the settlement money was distributed, Engler said in the Nov. 30 interview with The State News.

At the last Board of Trustees meeting, Trustee Brian Mosallam said the university is developing a request for proposals for a new fund administrator, and the current administrator, Commonwealth Mediation and Conciliation Inc., has been involved in this process. 

In the email Engler sent Dec. 3, he said the earlier than expected settlement resolution also removed the "need to hire a new fund administrator to run a new temporary fund."

Engler Email by on Scribd

It also said they will resolve any reimbursement claims made before the university publicly suspended the fund in July. 

At the end of the email, Engler wrote any monetary recovery from the fraud and any recovery from the insurers will be used to pay the settlement.

The email also elaborated on how campus mental health services have been expanded and provided a couple links to articles that discuss these changes. 

Many Nassar survivors have taken to social media to express their frustration with the discontinuing of the fund last week.

A statement was released later by MSU trustees Dianne Byrum, Brian Mosallam and incoming trustees Kelly Tebay and Brianna Scott. They said they don't agree with Engler's decision to discontinue the fund, and that it came as a surprise. 

"This decision is counter to the research and advice provided to us by the Relationship Violence and Sexual Misconduct Expert Advisory Working Group," the statement read. "We intend to bring this topic before our current and future board colleagues."

Editor's note: This article was updated at 11:28 a.m. on Dec. 5 to include a comment from MSU Spokesperson Emily Guerrant and again at 12:46 p.m. to include a joint statement from trustees Brian Mosallam, Dianne Byrum and incoming trustees Kelly Tebay and Brianna Scott. 

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