Friday, June 5, 2020

'We are sorry it took so long': Trustees appoint new interim president

January 17, 2019
Media surrounds Dianne Byrum and newly named interim president Satish Udpa during a Board of Trustees meeting on Jan. 13, 2019 at the Hannah Administration Building.
Media surrounds Dianne Byrum and newly named interim president Satish Udpa during a Board of Trustees meeting on Jan. 13, 2019 at the Hannah Administration Building. —
Photo by Sylvia Jarrus | The State News

The MSU Board of Trustees unanimously approved John Engler's resignation — effective immediately — and appointed former dean Satish Udpa as the new interim president at an emergency MSU Board of Trustees meeting Thursday morning.

Applause erupted after Chair of the Board of Trustees Dianne Byrum read the board’s approval of a motion to accept Engler’s resignation at an “accelerated date” of Jan. 17. In his letter, Engler stated his resignation would be effective Jan. 23.

His resignation follows his recent comments suggesting survivors of Nassar’s abuse are "enjoying" the spotlight. 

Reactions to Engler’s resignation

The entire board — excluding Trustee Melanie Foster, who was absent, and Trustee Joel Ferguson — commented on Engler’s resignation at the meeting. Several trustees said Engler’s comments about survivors were hurtful and do not reflect the values of the university.

Byrum said the board “deeply regrets the impact on survivors and to the community.” She said she believes this is the beginning of a better relationship between the board and the community. 

“MSU’s been working hard to make needed improvements regarding the prevention of and response to sexual misconduct and relationship violence, as well as enhancing patient care and safety," Byrum said. "But none of our work will matter if our leaders say hurtful things and do not listen to survivors."

Trustee Brian Mosallam was outspoken about Engler’s resignation. After it was publicly announced that the board would hold an emergency meeting to discuss Engler’s future, Mosallam tweeted, “JOHN ENGLER’S REIGN OF TERROR IS OVER.”

Mosallam previously made a motion to terminate Engler at the June 22 Board of Trustees meeting. The motion was supported by him and Byrum, but the other six trustees at the time voted it down.

He said the new trustees "changed the whole dynamic" of the board.

“It’s not fun sitting in a room and you’re the only one, and there’s 12 people looking at you like you’re an alien,” Mosallam said. “Sometimes you’ve gotta stand up for what you believe in and you gotta keep pounding the same message home and stick true to your beliefs. That’s what we did, and we got some help.”

Mosallam said Engler’s resignation is a “new day” for the university. 

“On this new day, our courageous survivors no longer have to go to bed in sadness, feeling like no one will listen to them. On this new day, our students, faculty, employees and alumni get their university back. On this new day, the values of this institution — empathy, compassion and respect —are no longer held hostage by one individual’s instinct to face division, callousness and hostility,” Mosallam said. “Today, the healing can truly begin. John Engler’s reign of terror is finally over.”

Trustee Brianna Scott, elected to the board in November 2018, said there was agreement among board members when they issued a statement calling for Engler’s resignation on Jan. 16.

“I don’t think there was much of a thought process," Scott said. "We were pretty much all on the same page."

Scott said she believes Engler had both benefited and damaged the university during his tenure as interim president, but that the healing process for the survivors and the university wouldn’t begin until he left.

Trustee Kelly Tebay — elected to the board alongside Scott in November 2018 — became emotional while apologizing that Engler’s resignation didn't come sooner.

“A wrong has been righted today and the first thing I have to say is I’m sorry it took so long,” Tebay said, tearing up. “To the survivors, to their families and this community: We hear you, and we’re listening, and we are sorry it took so long. I really hope this is the first step in a long road to really changing the culture of this institution.”

Trustee Nancy Schlichting — appointed Dec. 21, 2018 by then-Gov. Rick Snyder to replace George Perles following his resignation — said she is proud of the board for making the right decision. She thanked the survivors and those at MSU who have “had an important voice over the last few years.”

“We are listening, and we will continue to listen,” Schlichting said.

Trustee Dan Kelly said he did not agree with Engler’s “insensitive comments with regards to the survivors.”

In Engler’s 11-page resignation letter, he did not mention the comments he repeatedly made about survivors. He defended his tenure at MSU and outlined the changes the university has made during his tenure as interim president.

Mosallam said the board received the resignation letter in “typical John Engler fashion.”

“I expected him to make it political, I expected him to not apologize, and I expected him to tout a lot of things that really our experts on campus did,” Mosallam said.

Kelly said Engler was "justified in pointing out some of the accomplishments that he made.”

“If you look at some of the personnel changes, some of the policies and procedures we’ve implemented in the last year, he is the one who pushed for some of those,” Kelly said. “Having said that, I am satisfied with what happened today."

Reactions to Engler's replacement 

Satish Udpa, the former dean of MSU’s College of Engineering, has replaced Engler as interim president until a permanent president is chosen in June.

Udpa currently serves as the executive vice president for administration. A university-distinguished professor, Udpa has worked at MSU since 2001.

Several trustees cited Udpa’s leadership, and Scott said she is looking forward to working with Udpa. 

“I met him not long ago,” Scott said. “(We needed) someone who can value all the academics and that side of it, but also understand the human element, which I also think is very important.”

Mosallam said he believes “a lesson all of us should take from this experience is that leadership matters; that the tone set by leadership matters.”

He said Udpa is the right leader.

“I want to congratulate Interim President Satish Udpa on his new appointment,” Mosallam said. “Satish is a person of integrity, compassion and empathy. He has broad-based support throughout the university and I am extremely confident that he will help us heal.”

Schlichting said she is “so excited” to work with Udpa and believes he will bring stability and thoughtful decisions to the university. 

Once it was publicly known Engler was resigning, sources close to the administration told The State News the board was likely going to replace him with an in-house dean. 

According to Engler's letter of resignation, Byrum informed him five trustees — enough to successfully fire him if a vote was called — had requested his resignation early Wednesday. Engler turned in his resignation later that night.

Engler was not present at the meeting, as he is in Texas for his father-in-law’s funeral.

Riley Murdock contributed to this report.

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