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MSU Students, Faculty Call For Interim President Engler to Resign

John Engler has been interim president of Michigan State University for just two full days...but his appointment is already generating animosity.  On Tuesday, a student march on the Hannah administration building culminated with the delivery of a letter calling for Engler’s resignation.


Chris Thelen never thought she’d be a soldier in the Battle of Michigan State University.  But on Tuesday morning, there she was, among the dozens of protestors who’d marched to the Hannah admin building to call out her university’s leadership.


The College of Education grad student admits finding her voice in the midst of the ongoing sexual assault scandal at MSU has been scary. 


“Honestly, I’ve said and done things in terms of being a leader in the last couple of weeks that I’ve never done in my life,” Thelen says.

Thelen’s is a sentiment that’s likely shared by many students and faculty members who’ve found themselves energized against a sense of injustice. When the MSU Board of Trustees announced former governor John Engler as its choice for interim president one week ago, many were quick to criticize the board for making its decision without consulting the campus community.

Graduate student David Bowers hadn’t planned on speaking up at the rally.  Standing at the foot of the stairs, he apologized for his ineloquence.  The crowd didn’t seem to mind.

Speaking directly to reporters, Bowers spoke of the media’s tendency to title Engler as an “ex-Republican governor.”

“That’s true, but irrelevant and it dilutes the message,” said Bowers.  “This is not a partisan issue; it has nothing to do with that.  Someone who decided to block investigators from looking into the rape and assault of people in prison, does not belong in charge of anything.”

Bowers was referring to Engler’s 1998 decision to decline a meeting between state officials and a United Nations representative.  The U-N had wanted to come to Michigan to study reports of violence against female prison inmates.  Then-Governor Engler believed the visit was motivated by a federal lawsuit that alleged Michigan had violated the inmates’ constitutional rights. 

Engler dismissed the allegations as having no merit.  He called the Justice Department’s lawsuit “baseless.”

"Someone who decided to block investigators from looking into the rape and assault of people in prison does not belong in charge of anything." - Graduate student David Bowers on MSU interim president John Engler


Now, 20 years later, the MSU College of Education had its own letter to give to John Engler.

Reading the text aloud, associate professor Terah Chambers said Engler’s selection suggests the university, “has chosen a protectionist, rather than a reformation stance.” 

Then came the bottom line:  Do it over.

“MSU student government, the faculty senate and the remaining MSU administration must work collaboratively to create a process for appointing an interim president,” said Chambers, reading from the letter.  “As this was not done with Engler’s appointment, he should now resign in order for a more collaborative process to take place.”

But even if Engler’s resignation comes to pass, a list of potential candidates has yet to surface publicly. 

In the short term, MSU students are looking for a change on a more fundamental level. 

For her part, junior Laura Mortensen wants to see a clearer process for reporting sexual assault.

“Fortunately, nothing ever happened to me while I was on campus, but if it did, I don’t really know what I would do, honestly,” concedes Mortensen.  “I mean, what do you do if something happen?  Who can you trust?”

Before the rally was over, some in the crowd pledged to stage more protests each week until the Board of Trustees acts on the demands that have been handed them by students and faculty.  The board’s next official public meeting is scheduled for Friday, February 16. 

"Fortunately, nothing ever happened to me while I was on campus, but if it did, I don't really know what I would do, honestly. I mean, what do you do if something happens? Who can you trust?" MSU junior Laura Mortensen


But by then, its eight members will likely face a harsh reality.  An overwhelming 86 percent of faculty who recently took part in an electronic ballot authorized the MSU Faculty Senate to initiate a vote of no confidence in the Board of Trustees.  The senate is expected to do so at its upcoming meeting on Tuesday.

A statement calling for the resignation of the entire board is all but guaranteed to follow.


Kevin Lavery served as a general assignment reporter and occasional local host for Morning Edition and All Things Considered before retiring in 2023.
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