EAST LANSING, Mich. -- More than 100 people gathered Friday night at the steps of the administration building on Michigan State's campus to call for the resignations of interim university president John Engler and the school's board of trustees.
Engler, a former governor of Michigan, and the board who appointed him to take over in the aftermath of former Michigan State doctor Larry Nassar being sentenced to up to 175 years in state prison for sexual assault crimes have been criticized for the university's response to survivors of Nassar's abuse. Calls for their ouster intensified last week after a contentious public board meeting.
At the meeting last Friday, 18-year-old college gymnast Kaylee Lorincz recounted her version of an encounter with Engler weeks earlier in which she said he bullied her into a discussion about settlement money for ongoing lawsuits and downplayed the recent arrest of Nassar's former boss. Engler warned Lorincz to "be careful" while she spoke last Friday and interrupted her to say her time was up before the crowd shouted for her to be allowed to finish.
Lorincz is one of hundreds of people suing the university and other institutions in civil court for failing to stop Nassar in the two decades that he abused his patients. Morgan McCaul, a fellow 18-year-old Nassar survivor and a former dancer, said she was at the board meeting and that it inspired her to organize Friday night's rally.
"Engler berated and threatened Kaylee in front of cameras, in front of protesters and in front of the entire university," McCaul said. "We realized we had to come together to make our voices heard, because one voice wasn't enough. This is bigger than just the Larry Nassar case. This penetrates every level for the MSU administration."
Carol Viventi, a university attorney and top adviser to Engler, was also at the meeting with Lorincz. She called Lorincz's account of the encounter with Engler false and told trustees in an email obtained by the Detroit Free Press that Lorincz was attempting to "set up" Engler and Michigan State to get a more favorable settlement offer.
Attorneys for Michigan State and the plaintiffs suing the university are scheduled to meet next Wednesday to resume mediation in hopes of reaching a settlement. Viventi apologized earlier this week for her email, saying she was "sorry my words added to [the survivors'] pain."
McCaul and Lorincz were among a group of survivors, political candidates and activists who spoke to the crowd gathered on campus Friday night. Most speakers expressed their anger at the "extraordinary failure" and "fundamental mismanagement" with how the school's administration has handled fallout from the Nassar case since he was arrested in September 2016. Speakers such as Michigan State gymnast Lindsey Lemke and Dana Nessel, who is running for the state's attorney general seat in 2018, said the school would not be able to move forward until Engler vacates his leadership position.
"There is no place at MSU for people like John Engler," Nessel said in a statement read aloud at the rally. "People who put politics before people and care more about the university's bottom line than dismantling the system that has enabled these predators for decades."
Lorincz spoke for nearly 10 minutes and stood by the version of her encounter with Engler that she told at last week's board meeting. She said Engler tried to use their meeting to get information from her that would help Michigan State in mediation.
"Engler and his administrators know how to lie really well," Lorincz said. "They say sorry, sometimes, but don't realize how those lies will hurt survivors. Their lies will linger because they have told so many. The lies have permeated the walls of that institution. You may ask, 'What specifically have they lied about?' It's simpler to ask, 'What haven't they lied about?'"
Friday's rally was organized by McCaul and ReclaimMSU, a grassroots group on campus. The ReclaimMSU group started in February after Engler was appointed as interim president despite protests from faculty members, students and others who claimed he was too much of a political insider instead of an advocate for substantial change. Along with calling for his resignation, members of the group Friday passed a petition to change the university's bylaws to give students and faculty a voice in future decisions about the school's administration.
Michigan State's faculty senate has previously issued a vote of "no confidence" in the board of trustees and Engler. Earlier this week, the student newspaper also published an editorial asking the board members to resign.