Back in January, LOLGOP and I had Rachael Denhollander on our podcast to talk about her experience as the woman who opened the floodgates that led to notorious serial rapist Larry Nassar being put behind bars for the rest of his life. Without her bravery and willingness to come forward when literally hundreds of his victims had been afraid or shamed into remaining silent or, more egregiously, were silenced by the adults tasked with protecting them at Michigan State University, Nassar may still be raping children today.
When MSU President Lou Anna Simon resigned over what the university had done to their own students, the MSU Board of Trustees inexplicably chose corporatist and former Republican Governor of Michigan John Engler to take her place as interim president. Those of us who were old enough to have lived through Engler as governor know that everything he did was done to enrich his cronies in the corporate world. His actions led to the demise of schools in Michigan as they were defunded to pay for corporate tax breaks and he laid the groundwork for turning the birthplace of the modern labor movement into a so-called “Right to Work” state, kneecapping labor unions and ensuring that workers have an ever-diminishing voice as they bargain collectively for better wages, benefits, and working conditions.
So, it came as little surprise to many of us to learn that Engler is now accusing Rachael Denhollander of profiting from her ordeal at the hands of this country’s most notorious rapist, Larry Nassar:
Michigan State interim President John Engler, in a private email to a top adviser, accused a prominent survivor of former MSU doctor Larry Nassar — Rachael Denhollander — of likely getting kickbacks from the trial attorneys involved in lawsuits against the school. […]
The email chain started with Nassar victim Kaylee Lorincz accusing Engler during a board meeting of offering her $250,000 in a private meeting to settle her lawsuit against the university.
That weekend, [Engler’s top aide Carol] Viventi emailed board members, saying she wanted to set the record straight. She claimed Lorincz’s statements were totally inaccurate and the meeting was set up by Lorincz in order to “set up” the school.
She then went on to say the trial lawyers were manipulating the survivors.
That seemed to strike a chord with Engler.
“Thank you for your strong defense,” Engler wrote in a 9:23 a.m. April 15 email. “It is deeply appreciated. At least we know what really happened. The survivors now are being manipulated by trial lawyers who in the end will each get millions of dollars more than any of (sic) individual survivors with the exception of Denhollander who is likely to get (sic) kickback from [Denhollander’s attorney John] Manley (sic) for her role in the trial lawyer manipulation.”
Denhollander’s response was swift and brutal, reminding us all that John Engler views everything in the world around him through the lens of self-enrichment and money:
Engler is so used to focusing on money and power, bullying and manipulating, he can’t conceive that I would do what I’ve done because it’s RIGHT, not because I’m getting something from it. I truly pity him. What a sad way to live. Engler and Viventi truly think they are the ones who have tried to help survivors, without answering a single question we’ve asked or acknowledging the incredible failures at MSU. And while attacking us personally. This is the culture of abuse.”
Her husband Jacob was equally direct:
Until the board of trustees at MSU confront and fire Engler for this sort of repulsive behavior, no reasonable person will believe that MSU is serious about providing a safe environment for its students and staff. There is no need to refute Engler’s comments — they are self-evidently absurd and have not even a remote semblance of truth.
[John Engler’s] ignorant and revolting comments reveal that the man is incapable of believing that someone could be motivated by something besides money or power. This sort of characterization is entirely at odds with Rachael’s character and conduct over the past two years, but is entirely in keeping with Mr. Engler’s propensity to denigrate and bully those he regards as opponents.
It is a perfect example of why victims remain silent — even in the face of overwhelming evidence and hundreds of corroborating testimonies, they are subjected to scorn and character attacks.
Engler has so far crossed a line this time that a bipartisan and growing coalition of lawmakers — along with anyone else with a shred of compassion and integrity — are calling for his removal:
Interim Michigan State University President John Engler must step down immediately from his position leading the university, a growing number of lawmakers, including U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, said Thursday.
“The senator did not believe he was the right choice to lead MSU when he was appointed and doesn’t believe he is the right choice now,” Stabenow spokesman Matt Williams said. Stabenow is an MSU alumna.
Also calling for Engler to step down were state Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, and state Sen. Margaret O’Brien, R-Portage. […]
Joining them was the Michigan Association for Justice, formerly the trial attorneys association.
“John Engler’s crass personal attack on Rachael Denhollander is detestable and a betrayal of all the survivors, and he should resign immediately,” President Debra Freid said in a statement. “We support Rachael and every survivor, each of whom was strong enough to come forward in the face of years of Nassar’s abuse while Michigan State University looked the other way.
The Michigan Progressive Women’s Caucus, headed up by state Reps. Stephanie Chang, Erika Geiss, Donna Lasinski, and Winnie Brinks, released their own strongly-worded statement:
With his own words, interim President John Engler has made it clear that he is not capable of handling the sensitive and important work of rebuilding a campus and a community in the wake of a disturbing sexual assault scandal. He must resign. After everything these survivors suffered, the last thing they deserve is to be attacked by the very institution that failed them. If Engler will not resign of his own volition, it is time for the Michigan State University Board of Trustees to exercise its authority and remove him from a position he clearly is not capable of fulfilling.
The bravery and inner strength it takes for a survivor to come forward to share what has happened to them cannot and should not be maligned. As a state, we should be focused on creating a culture where survivors feel believed and supported, not perpetuating one where their motives and experiences are questioned.
Moving forward, the Michigan State University Board of Trustees must immediately put in place a leadership team that will be respectful and sensitive to the unique needs and experiences that survivors face when they speak out, as well as to the students on campus speaking out and calling for change. The Progressive Women’s Caucus will continue pursuing our mission of lifting up the voices of women and girls throughout the state by advocating for policy changes to ensure college campuses have the resources and culture needed to protect survivors and prevent sexual assault altogether. This is an issue that affects far too many Michigan communities. All our universities, starting with MSU, need to step up and lead to combat sexual assault.
John Engler should never have been appointed as the interim president of MSU to begin with. It is now time for him to be unceremoniously removed from this undeserved position and any MSU Trustee who supported him should resign or be replaced by voters with a credible leader when their term is over.
[CC image credit: Chuck Grimmett | Wikimedia Commons]