A letter signed by at least 120 survivors of sexual abuse by former sports doctor Larry Nassar on Tuesday urged Michigan State University’s governing board to oust interim president John Engler, saying he had reinforced a “culture of abuse” at the school.
The women and girls issued their joint statement three days before the board of trustees’ next meeting and after a week in which demands for Engler’s resignation reached a fever pitch.
Engler, a former governor who took over on an interim basis in February after the previous president resigned amid fallout from the Nassar scandal, has resisted pressure to step down. Media outlets last week reported that he sent emails to another university official in April criticizing lawyers for Nassar’s sexual assault victims and suggesting the first woman to go public with her accusations was probably getting a “kickback” from her attorney.
Among those who signed the letter are Olympic gymnastics gold medalist Aly Raisman, and Rachael Denhollander, a former gymnast who has been one of the most vocal critics of Engler.
In their lengthy written statement, the 120 “sister survivors” said they stand together against “character attacks” and that Engler “has only reinforced the culture of abuse at MSU.” Current and future victims of sexual abuse “should know they can raise their voice without being characterized as pawns too foolish to know they are manipulated,” they said.
Two of the university’s publicly-elected trustees, Democrats Brian Mossalam and Dianne Byrum, have called for the resignation of Engler, who served as the state’s Republican governor from 1991 through 2002. A portion of the statement is directed at the six other trustees, four Republicans and two Democrats, asking them to “stand for what is right.”
“Unfortunately, and with great regret, John Engler’s tenure as interim president has continued the bleeding rather than stem it,” Brian Mosallam said in a statement released Friday morning.
Trustees hired Engler after the former president, Lou Anna Simon, suddenly resigned in January in the wake of the Nassar scandal. Nassar himself was fired from Michigan State in 2016, two years after he was the subject of a sexual assault investigation.
Under his tenure, Michigan State has agreed to a $500 million settlement with 332 women and girls who said they were sexually assaulted by Nassar, a former campus sports doctor who also worked with the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team. Nassar now is in prison. Of that, $75 million will cover future claims.