John Engler was supposed to be a safe choice. He was a former Michigan governor and an alum of Michigan State University, and last January he was brought in to replace Lou Anna K. Simon, who had resigned following the Larry Nassar scandal. He was a Republican, and his board-appointed senior adviser was a Democrat; the board thought that would quell fears of overt partisanship. On Wednesday, Engler, not yet 365 days on the job, tendered his resignation.
The board was initially happy with its choice in Engler; the students and survivors of sexual abuse by Larry Nassar, who pleaded guilty to criminal misconduct for molesting seven girls and was accused of assaulting more than 150 people, were not. Engler himself had been accused of failing to respond to allegations of sexual assault at a women’s prison while he was governor. “To choose someone like John Engler, it tells us that they’re learning nothing from what’s going on,” Natalie Rogers, a student and co-founder of #ReclaimMSU, told The Atlantic at the time.
A full year had not lapsed before the board was at Engler’s throat. In April, Kaylee Lorincz, who was sexually assaulted by Nassar, said that Engler offered her $250,000 to drop her lawsuit against the university. One of his senior advisers called the accusation “fake news.” In June, emails revealed that Engler accused Rachael Denhollander, the first gymnast to accuse Nassar, of getting a “kickback” for helping lawyers “manipulate” other gymnasts into coming forward. Eight days after the initial report, Engler apologized. Then, in an interview with The Detroit News this month, he suggested that some Nassar survivors might be “enjoying” the “spotlight.” Finally it was one comment too many. Survivors, students, and advocates fumed. The board, which had been fielding calls for his removal since he was appointed, called an emergency session. Individual board members voiced their frustration.