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4 presidents, 4 years: A history of recent leadership changes at MSU

October 17, 2022
President Stanley walks on stage to deliver a brief welcome speech at Sparticipation on Aug. 31, 2021. The event was held in-person at Cherry Lane Park, after being forced to move online in 2020.
President Stanley walks on stage to deliver a brief welcome speech at Sparticipation on Aug. 31, 2021. The event was held in-person at Cherry Lane Park, after being forced to move online in 2020.

Since the departure of Lou Anna K. Simon from the Michigan State University presidency in 2018, the university has seen three presidents at its helm. Now, upon the resignation notice of Samuel L. Stanley Jr. on Oct. 13, the search begins for what the MSU community hopes will be a president with longevity.

After Simon’s resignation, MSU was headed by former Michigan governor John Engler, former College of Engineering Dean Satish Udpa, and then Stanley, whose background as a physician included biomedical research.

Here’s a brief history of this period of transition for MSU.

Simon's resignation and court cases

Simon officially resigned on Jan. 24, 2018, hours after former MSU and USA gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar was sentenced to a maximum of 175 years in prison. Prior to her exit from the university, Simon faced calls to resign from survivors of Nassar’s abuse, Michigan government officials and the national press. 

Simon was one of three MSU faculty members to be charged in connection with Nassar. Of the three, Simon is the only one without a guilty verdict after charges against her were dismissed in 2020. 

The charges included two counts of lying to a peace officer in a violent crime investigation and two counts of lying to a peace officer in a four-year or more crime investigation. Each of Simon’s four charges carried a potential $5,000 fine, as well as potential prison time.

In May 2018, U.S. marshals subpoenaed Simon to testify in front of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance and Data Security investigating the Olympic community's role in handling sexual assault. At the hearing the following month, Simon maintained that she was not aware that Nassar's practices were of a criminal nature.

Simon allegedly discussed Nassar's sexual abuse in a meeting in May 2014, according to an agenda from her office presented in court. Initially, she told investigators she didn't know the "nature of the complaint" that launched the investigation. When asked by investigators if she was aware of an investigation into Nassar before 2016, she gave a statement implying she did not know Nassar was the subject of the 2014 investigation.

After she resigned in January 2018, Simon maintained a tenured faculty position and a Wills House office until August 2019. She secured a payout of $2.45 million over three years upon her retirement. 

Appointment of John Engler

A week after Simon's resignation, former governor John Engler was appointed as MSU's interim president on Jan. 31, 2018. His appointment was met with backlash from Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to go public with her story about the abuse she endured at the hands of Nassar, who called him “a manipulator.”

In April of 2018, Nassar survivor Kaylee Lorincz alleged Engler had tried to coerce her into settling the lawsuit between the over 300 survivors of Nassar's sexual abuse and the university in a meeting without her lawyer present. Lorincz also alleged Engler tried to offer her a monetary sum of $250,000 to settle the lawsuit.

Engler's resignation and appointment of Satish Upda

During Engler’s stint as president, the MSU Board of Trustees conducted a search for a permanent replacement for Simon. 

Without a conclusion to the presidential search, in January 2019, Engler resigned after calls for his resignation by those inside and outside the university. His resignation occurred after comments he made about Nassar survivors in an interview with The Detroit News Editorial Board, where he said they were “enjoying the spotlight."

After Engler's resignation, Satish Udpa, former dean of the MSU College of Engineering, was appointed as MSU's interim president the next day.

Upda's resignation and hiring of Stanley

Upda served as interim president from January to August 2019. He vacated the position upon the hiring of Stanley and worked as Executive Vice President for Administration for a brief period of time before returning to the faculty of the College of Engineering. 

Stanley arrived at MSU after a tenure of ten years as president of Stony Brook University. He entered the role hoping to create a culture of accountability surrounding sexual assault post-Nassar.

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He notified MSU of his resignation on Oct. 13, citing a lack of confidence in the Board of Trustees. Further coverage of Stanley’s departure, along with a timeline of his last months at MSU, can be found with The State News.

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