Michigan State University interim president John Engler, a lightning rod for controversy since taking over in the midst of the school's ongoing scandal involving serial sexual predator Larry Nassar, has resigned, the university confirmed Thursday morning.
The university Board of Trustees accepted the resignation, effective immediately, and voted unanimously to appoint Satish Udpa, currently executive vice president for administrative services, as acting president.
Udpa is now responsible for all duties associated with the office of the president and will serve in the role until a permanent president is selected as part of the university’s ongoing search.
Engler's resignation came on the day the Board of Trustees was scheduled to discuss his future at the school in an open meeting, and less than a week after the former Michigan governor said in an interview that some of the survivors of Nassar's sexual abuse are "enjoying" the "spotlight."
Nassar was a doctor in the MSU athletic department and with USA Gymnastics and has been sentenced to decades in prison for sexually abusing dozens of women.
Board chair DIanne Byrum issued a statement in the wake of Engler's resignation that read, in part:
“While we collectively are working very hard to make needed improvements regarding the prevention of and response to sexual misconduct and relationship violence, as well as enhancing patient care and safety, none of our hard work will matter if people in leadership say hurtful things and do not listen to the survivors. To the survivors, the entire Board of Trustees extends our remorse over the regretful comments Engler has made. We are diligently seeking a new leader to continue our healing and guide our campus to achieve our aspirations in integrity, inclusion, research and education.”
While discussing a program called the Healing Assistance Fund, which will focus on helping those who aren't part of the $500 million settlement, Engler last week told the Detroit News editorial board: "You’ve got people, they are hanging on and this has been … there are a lot of people who are touched by this, survivors who haven’t been in the spotlight. In some ways, they have been able to deal with this better than the ones who’ve been in the spotlight who are still enjoying that moment at times, you know, the awards and recognition.”
Engler's comments drew immediate criticism from survivors and others.
"This university can no longer move forward with him at the helm," trustee Brian Mosallam told ESPN on Wednesday.
The agenda for Thursday morning's special open meeting officially had been posted mid-morning Wednesday, but, the Free Press noted, a showdown had been brewing almost since Jan. 31, 2018, the day Engler took over as interim president at his alma mater. He replaced Lou Anna Simon after Simon herself resigned under heavy criticism for her response to the Nassar scandal. She is now facing criminal charges in the case.
Engler's remarks to the News — which included saying he was done investigating the university's handling of the scandal (officials are "trying to go back to work," he said) — only further fanned an ongoing firestorm that on Wednesday apparently consumed his future at MSU.
Rachael Denhollander, who was the first to come forward publicly with allegations against Nassar of sexual abuse, was among those who questioned Engler's leadership after Friday's interview with the News.
"Engler references survivors enjoying their time in the spotlight," Denhollander tweeted. "You mean, like having to change the day I grocery shop so my 3 kids don't see a photo of their mom demonstrating what was done to her body? Tell me more about how enjoyable this spotlight is."
Engler references survivors enjoying their time in the spotlight.— Rachael Denhollander (@R_Denhollander) January 12, 2019
You mean, like having to change the day I grocery shop so my 3 kids don't see a photo of their mom demonstrating what was done to her body?
Tell me more about how enjoyable this spotlight is. https://t.co/1QkeNer4Zc
By late Wednesday, when reports of Engler's resignation — The Wall Street Journal reported that the board had asked him to resign or face a vote on being fired in Thursday's meeting — Denhollander was thanking board members for their stand, adding "(t)here is *much* left to be done, but this is an important beginning."
Thank you, @Bmosallam63, @NancyNans803, @KellyforMSU, @Brianna4MSU and @DianneByrum for sending a clear message of a new direction today. There is *much* left to be done, but this is an important beginning.https://t.co/a43M8hr0Qc— Rachael Denhollander (@R_Denhollander) January 17, 2019