EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan State University’s governing board rejected an effort to oust the school’s interim president Friday as trustees met to discuss how to pay for a $500 million settlement with hundreds of women and girls who said they were sexually assaulted by sports doctor Larry Nassar.
Trustee Brian Mosallam tried to change the meeting agenda and allow a vote to fire John Engler, who had disparaged victims and their lawyers in emails that surfaced last week. The audience cheered, but the board turned him down, 6-2.
Engler apologized Thursday for suggesting Rachael Denhollander, one of the most outspoken victims, probably received a “kickback” from her attorney. The controversy over his remarks broke open days ago while Engler was out of town.
“I didn’t give it the consideration it warranted,” he said. “That was a big mistake. I was wrong. I apologize.”
Board chairman Brian Breslin called Engler’s apology “appropriate and appreciated by a majority of the board.” But Mosallam said the apology “is too little too late.”
Denhollander said she appreciated Engler’s gesture but remains convinced he cannot lead the university.
“I am disappointed that it took eight days and came on the heels of intense political pressure,” she said on Thursday. “The most disturbing thing is that these comments are not isolated. They are a pattern that reveals a mindset toward assault survivors. And words don’t change that mindset.”
Denhollander said Engler, who did not address her by name in the statement, did not reach out personally to apologize.
When asked why his apology took more than a week, Engler told The Associated Press that he was traveling and “wasn’t as focused on it.” He said when he returned and realized the reaction, he wanted to make his position clear in an apology.
Engler, a former Michigan governor, touted some of the policies the university has implemented to avert future crises like the Nassar one.
“Could another Larry Nassar ever emerge in Michigan State?” Engler said. “I think the answer quite clearly is no because of the policies that have all been changed.”
Engler was tapped in February to temporarily lead the university after the crisis surrounding Nassar, who abused hundreds of girls and women under the guise of medical treatment while employed at Michigan State. Nassar is now serving a decades-long prison sentence for molesting patients and possessing child pornography.
Engler’s presidency, however, has become tangled in further public relations scandals of his own doing.
“The survivors now are being manipulated by trial lawyers who in the end will each get millions of dollars more than any of individual survivors with the exception of Denhollander who is likely to get kickback from Manley,” Engler said, misspelling attorney John Manly’s name.
He exchanged the emails following allegations at a stormy public meeting that Engler was trying to pay off another Nassar survivor, Kaylee Lorincz, without her lawyer’s input. Engler later said he remembered the events differently.
In his Thursday statement, Engler said when he started as president in February he never meant to have an adversarial relationship with some of Nassar’s victims. He said his speculation about Denhollander “hurt her deeply,” and other survivors “suffered greatly.”
A grass-roots student group has garnered at least 1,000 signatures in its petition calling for Engler’s ouster and is not backing down.
“One apology for the months of anger and disrespect he has shown our community means nothing,” said Reclaim MSU spokeswoman Katie Paulot, who will be a sophomore in fall. “Engler has to go, now.”
Morgan McCaul, another Nassar victim, said in a written statement she also isn’t accepting his apology.
“It is unfortunate that it took over a thousand signatures calling for his resignation and a two-day workshop with his employers for Mr. Engler to produce this apology,” McCaul said.