LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Former Gov. John Engler will be named the interim president of Michigan State University amid the fallout over sexual assaults committed by former sports doctor Larry Nassar, a high-ranking school official involved in the board of trustees’ plan said Tuesday.
The official told The Associated Press that the board will vote to hire Engler on Wednesday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision had not been publicly announced.
President Lou Anna Simon and athletic director Mark Hollis quit last week, and the board named vice president Bill Beekman as acting president.
Engler, a 69-year-old Michigan State graduate, served as Michigan’s Republican governor from 1991 through 2002 and later led the National Association of Manufacturers and the Business Roundtable in Washington, D.C. He will head the school as it confronts civil lawsuits filed by more than 100 women and girls, and investigations by the state attorney general, the NCAA and Congress.
His selection was greeted positively in official circles but criticized by a victim who is widely credited with playing a major role in bringing down Nassar. Rachael Denhollander said Engler is a “deep political insider” when the school needs outside accountability.
Engler is expected to serve while the elected board of four Democrats and four Republicans searches for a permanent president.
Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison last week at the end of an extraordinary seven-day hearing at which more than 150 women and girls said he had molested them under the guise of medical treatment. Nassar worked for Michigan State and USA Gymnastics, treating numerous athletes including some Olympians. Victims blamed Michigan State, USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic Committee for not doing more earlier to stop him.
Reacting to several media reports that Engler will be named to the post, state House Speaker Tom Leonard, a DeWitt Republican, said in a statement that the former governor is the “right choice.”
“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,” he said. “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.”
Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette, whose office prosecuted Nassar and is criminally investigating how Michigan State handled past complaints by Nassar’s accusers, also applauded the selection of Engler, citing his “integrity, toughness and intellect.” Schuette is running for governor this year and has come under criticism for not launching a review of Michigan State much earlier.
Denhollander, who stepped forward in 2016 after USA Gymnastics was accused of mishandling sexual abuse allegations, said on Facebook that she was “beyond disappointed” over Engler’s pending appointment.
She later wrote, though, that she hoped he would “be the first leader to truly act on what is right, and put immediate action behind” trustees’ recent statements that they want to resolve litigation filed against the university by her and others.
The vote to bring Engler aboard is expected to be bipartisan, but the Michigan Democratic Party said it raises additional conflict of interest concerns regarding Schuette, whom Engler has endorsed in the gubernatorial race and who was a cabinet member in the Engler administration. Chairman Brandon Dillon noted Schuette’s ties to GOP and Michigan State donor Peter Secchia and football coach Mark Dantonio, who wrote the forward to Schuette’s book.
Schuette’s probe relates not only to Nassar but also “related incidents” in the wake of an ESPN report detailing various allegations involving Michigan State football and basketball players. He has said his investigation will be independent, transparent and prompt.
On Tuesday, former basketball player Travis Walton defended himself after ESPN reported he was named in a sexual assault report and had assault and battery charges dismissed in 2010. At the time, Walton’s four-year career as a guard with the Spartans was over and he was assisting Hall of Fame coach Tom Izzo while taking classes to graduate.
Walton said in a statement that he had multiple consensual encounters with a woman, who accused him of rape. Walton said he never hit a woman as alleged in a bar, where he said she threw a drink at him.
Also Tuesday, one of Michigan State’s corporate sponsors said it chose not to have its logo behind Izzo and football coach Mark Dantonio during recent news conferences. Auto-Owners Insurance spokesman Trevor Mahoney told the AP the company did not think it was appropriate.
AP Sports Writer Larry Lage contributed to this report.