A Michigan State board of trustees meeting on Wednesday was interrupted by students, who used the meeting to vent frustration about the board’s unanimous decision to pick former Michigan Gov. John Engler as interim president.
President Lou Anna Simon resigned last week amid the fallout over sexual assaults committed by former Michigan State sports doctor Larry Nassar.
Immediately after the board’s vote, MSU senior Connor Berdy jumped on a table and sat cross-legged in the middle of it.
“I’d like to speak,” Berdy said, supplanting the person who was supposed to speak next. “This is not the democratic process. This meeting was put in a room specifically so there wouldn’t be a lot of people out here. This is something that we do not believe as students, as members of this university and community, that reflects what we believe as Michigan State students. I just want this to be known. I just want this to be heard. …
“We hope that you as a board of trustees make better decisions going forward and allow us in on the process.”
Ashley Fuente, president of the council of graduate students and a doctoral candidate in curriculum, instruction and teacher education, decried the quick selection of Engler and chided the board.
“I’ve tried to maintain my faith that MSU, despite its shortcomings and mistakes, is a place that can help pave a path forward in ending a pervasive rape culture and divisive climate,” she said. “I was even moved by your statements last Friday and hopeful you’d make good on your promises to listen to victims, students, faculty, staff and all other stakeholders in this institution.
“And when several leaders met with you … I was glad to see you sincerely wanted our input in selecting both an interim president and president. But yesterday, roughly 24 hours after meeting with students, campus or deans across campus, many of us learned that the decision had already been made.
“Disappointed does not feel like a strong enough word to use upon learning of your hasty appointment of ex-Gov. John Engler. Even on a temporary basis, the damage that can be caused by appointing a politician as an interim president on an already polarized campus is catastrophic,” Fuente said. “Ex-Gov. Engler’s past legislation and policies in the past are in direct conflict with our core value of our inclusion.”
Fuente went on to say that she didn’t have much faith in the school after Engler’s appointment.
“During your joint statements, you repeatedly stated you would listen, that you heard the victims. You all pledged to do better. You acknowledged your shortcomings to the victims and community, and yet it seems your words were just that — words,” she said. “I hope I’m wrong, and each of you will live up to the integrity of the office that each of you has been elected to hold. I will state this: John Engler is the wrong direction. This has already spurred protest. This will be detrimental to the university. Honor your words.”
Faculty liaison Laura McCabe read from a joint statement from faculty leaders, echoing the students’ frustration with the process.
“We learned of their apparent decision to select Gov. Engler through public media,” McCabe said. “They seem to have selected, without appropriate consultation from the MSU community, an individual with no academic leadership experience as an interim president.”
McCabe said they would call for a no-confidence vote in the board of trustees. She said they would ask the entire board to resign immediately if the faculty senate voted no-confidence.
Engler, 69, a Republican, was Michigan’s governor from 1991 to 2003 and is an MSU alumnus. The school has also said it will bring in former Gov. Jim Blanchard, a Democrat and also an MSU graduate, as a senior adviser.
Dan Martel, president of the MSU College Democrats, discussed how students who marched for transparency from the school last Friday hoped to restore trust in the university.
“What we got were shady backroom dealings, which resulted in the political appointment of a straight, white, wealthy male who is just conservative enough to keep our elected officials down Michigan Avenue pacified for a little while longer,” he said. “We as students have been told first through the reaffirmation of Lou Anna K. Simon last week, and again through the appointment of Gov. Engler today, that our voices don’t matter.”
Later, Engler accepted the board’s nomination, reinforcing that it is an interim appointment.
“I’m only here to help the university community address this challenge that must be addressed,” he said. “It’s humbling to accept this interim position in these difficult times at my beloved alma mater, Michigan State University.
“As a father of three daughters who just completed their own undergraduate degrees, I put myself in the place of every parent who sent their loved ones to this great institution. I understand the concern and uncertainty, as well as the frustration and anger.
“To those parents, be assured that I will move forward as if my own daughters were on this campus, and will treat every survivor and every student as I would my own daughter.”
Engler said he had moved swiftly to enact changes that will “protect anyone” affiliated with the campus from sexual assault, harassment and bullying.
“Everyone should understand that this extends to all Spartans — off campus, on campus, in dorms, in frat houses, in apartments or wherever they may be. Anyone affiliated with the university will face the same scrutiny for their conduct.”
Engler then called on the school to continue to give support to survivors.