A former longtime Michigan governor will be named interim president of Michigan State University and charged with guiding the public university forward after a devastating sexual assault scandal, according to the Associated Press.
John Engler, a former Republican governor who is a graduate of the school, is expected to be named at a board meeting Wednesday morning.
Faculty leaders said Tuesday evening that they would call for a no-confidence vote in the board of trustees if Engler is chosen. If the Faculty Senate were to vote no confidence, they said, they would ask the entire board to resign immediately.
The Detroit Free Press reported that another former Michigan governor and Michigan State alumnus, James Blanchard, will be named to serve as a senior adviser. Blanchard is a Democrat.
The board will conduct a national search for the school’s next president, trustees announced last week.
The school has been engulfed by controversy, which came to an emotional turning point earlier this month as more than 150 women spoke out about the sexual assault they had endured from sports medicine doctor Larry Nassar. He was a former Michigan State doctor and USA Gymnastics team physician.
At Nassar’s sentencing hearing, the women also decried the lack of help they said they had received from university officials.
Last week, hours after Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison, the school’s long-serving president, Lou Anna Simon, announced she would resign, saying, “As tragedies are politicized, blame is inevitable.”
The scandal and its aftermath have generated intense interest as the #MeToo movement has swept the country, spurring people to speak out about sexual assault and harassment. The university faced public outrage for what many perceived as a lack of empathy and an unwillingness to aggressively investigate complaints. At a board meeting last week, trustees apologized, some struggling to speak through tears.
The university’s home page is now dominated by a message to victims:
Engler, the chairman of the board and other trustees did not immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday.
Jason Cody, a university spokesman, said Tuesday afternoon he did not have information about a possible interim president and was able to confirm only that the board plans to meet Wednesday morning.
Lorenzo Santavicca, the president of the student body, declined to comment until after the meeting Wednesday.
Faculty leaders issued a statement Tuesday night opposing the choice.
“Our hearts have broken for the scores of courageous survivors who have come forward to share their stories of horrific sexual abuse at the hands of Larry Nassar, a member of the MSU faculty,” faculty leaders wrote. They pledged to those survivors to help change Michigan State to ensure it could never happen again.
Their efforts had thus far been thwarted, they wrote, “by a myopic and entrenched administrative structure that has placed political expediency and institutional branding” above the need to regain trust and promote healing. At a meeting with trustees Monday, they wrote, they strongly expressed that appointing a political leader with no academic experience would not further healing, especially in such a politically polarized climate. They suggested a longer process to select an interim president, and a preference for a woman from academia.
Not only were their suggestions ignored, they wrote, but they learned that through the media rather than from trustees. They objected to both the choice of Engler and the process, which they said “gave the appearance of consultation” with faculty, students, and deans. The letter was signed by Laura McCabe, president of the steering committee, and others on the committee.
Engler was raised on a Michigan farm, graduated from Michigan State and spent most of his life in politics, serving as Michigan’s governor from 1991 to 2003.
In the fall, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos named Engler, with whom she had worked as a Republican Party official in Michigan, to chair the National Assessment Governing Board. The panel sets policy for the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as “the nation’s report card,” which evaluates U.S. education.
As governor, Engler pushed for education reforms, including charter schools, in Michigan in the 1990s.
Last week, DeVos announced that the department was investigating Michigan State and “will hold MSU accountable for any violations of federal law.” A spokeswoman for the department said Tuesday that the agency cannot comment on an open investigation.
The Michigan State House speaker, Republican Tom Leonard, praised the choice in a statement. “John Engler is the right choice to be Michigan State University’s interim president. He is a strong leader with a proven track record of reform, and the school needs someone who is able to come in from the outside, stand up to the status quo and make immediate changes. I look forward to working with the interim president on new reforms that will better protect women, the students at MSU and the local community.”
Michigan House Democratic Leader Sam Singh also responded to the expected choice with a statement saying he would have preferred an independent outsider but that if Engler is named, he would work with him to ensure the right changes are made. “I believe that the survivors of this tragedy deserve leadership that honors their courage and focuses on creating a supportive culture while rebuilding the university. That leadership must be free from politics and political ambition,” he said.
Rachael Denhollander, a former gymnast who was the first woman to speak publicly about Nassar’s abuse, to the Indianapolis Star in 2016, posted on social media Tuesday that she was “beyond disappointed to hear this. Engler is a deep political insider at MSU. At a time the university desperately needs, and survivors pleaded for, outside accountability and leadership, the board chooses one of the most entrenched insiders.”
She also wrote, “The board issued good words a few days ago about moving away from litigation and toward healing, but they have yet to act on those words. My hope is that Engler will be the first leader to truly act on what is right, and put immediate action behind the board’s statement.”
She did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
The news sparked strong reactions on social media.