Less than an hour after being named interim president of Michigan State University, John Engler found himself repeatedly interrupted and shouted down Wednesday as he tried to assure the media he would work to repair the university’s culture.
Engler wasn’t there when the MSU board of trustees unanimously approved the appointment, but joined trustees for a news conference after the meeting.
The former Michigan governor promised that “change is coming” and that he would “move forward as if my own daughter were on this campus.”
Then the shouting began.
Dan Martel, president of the MSU College Democrats, interrupted a reporter’s question, shouting that he was tired of being ignored by the university. He asked Engler if he would heed a list of student demands, beginning with hosting a public town hall within a week.
“No to the first,” Engler said, drawing shouts from students in the crowd.
“Shame!” shouted Can Gokcek, a 23-year-old who graduated from MSU in 2016.
Engler started ignoring the shouted questions. He turned back to reporters and was asked how he could lead in the face of so much opposition.
“I think what brings people together are solutions,” Engler said. “You’ve got people who are survivors who have been lied to for 20 years. Do you think they trust anybody?”
Engler, a Republican, will take the helm Monday as trustees conduct a nationwide search for someone to permanently replace Lou Anna Simon, who resigned last week amid widespread criticism of how the university handled reports of abuse by MSU and USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, who has pleaded guilty to 10 counts of criminal sexual conduct, though more than 250 women and girls have said he assaulted them.
Engler’s predecessor in the governor’s office, Democrat James Blanchard, will serve as a senior adviser in the new MSU administration.
Engler offered few specifics on his plans for the university, but said he would “immediately” meet with attorneys defending the university against federal lawsuits filed by Nassar’s victims and would cooperate fully with all of the pending state and federal investigations into MSU’s handling of sex assault cases.
“The changes that need to be made are the changes we’re going to be making,” he said.
The tense news conference followed a tense board meeting that was repeatedly interrupted by student protesters.
Immediately after the vote, 22-year-old MSU senior Connor Berdy climbed atop the board’s table to speak out.
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SOURCE: USA Today; Lansing State Journal, RJ Wolcott and Justin A. Hinkley