Engler Beginning To Show Signs Of Leadership

Engler Beginning To Show Signs Of Leadership

Crowley Sullivan

Engler Beginning To Show Signs Of Leadership

Acknowledgment of leadership failures of the past is first step towards re-establishing integrity of Michigan State University.

Contact @crowleysullivan

In today’s and yesterday’s Detroit News, Nolan Finley’s exclusive interview with current interim president of Michigan State University, former governor John Engler, reveals insight into the way Engler is identifying past problems while laying a foundation for strength and integrity for the future.

When the story first broke regarding the horrific crimes that Larry Nassar committed over twenty years on the campus of Michigan State, many Spartans were extremely resistant to consider that the crimes were enabled by epic failures of leadership across the university’s infrastructure and personnel.

One of the more encouraging elements of Finley’s exclusive interview with Engler is Engler’s straightforward recognition of the poor structure, the lack of organization, and the overall mess that was ingrained in Michigan State University’s leadership ethos.

People will want to parse words here – but it doesn’t take a genius to read between the lines when taking a good look at what Engler says in Finley’s interview.

Engler has looked under the hood and he’s seen a very dysfunctional engine that’s been running the university.

His comments regarding the Board of Trustees is particularly revealing in the way he stops short of providing full throated support.

For those of us who have been embarrassed by the childish and amateurish behavior of the Board of Trustees for decades, this comes as a healthy sign that an adult is now in the room.

And in the second piece we’ve attached below – another report from Nolan Finley in yesterday’s Detroit News – Engler states what we’ve stated here at SpartansWire:

Of everyone at Michigan State, Mark Dantonio stands tall as the one person who has demonstrated true leadership at every turn.

Engler references Dantonio and suggests that his leadership is a primer on how to handle these vital components of running an athletic program: “Dantonio with the football players is textbook for the NCAA.”

It would be foolish to think that Michigan State has this all figured out.

There is work to do that the university will need to focus on for generations to come due to its failures of the past.

But, in this interview, Engler is communicating to the Spartan community that there is reason to believe that progress is being made and that there is, indeed, a true commitment to getting things right.

The main reason for Michigan State Spartans everywhere to begin to have a sense of hope is Engler’s recognition of the failures of the university that caused these tragedies to occur in the first place.

Too many Spartans were immediately resistant to “rush to judgment” and listen to even a slightly critical voice directed at the school.

For any honest mind, it was apparent, immediately, that failures of leadership across the entire university’s structure allowed all of this to happen.

To turn a blind eye to these realities is to enable those failures to continue.

John Engler won’t ever make all Spartans happy in the way he works to heal the university – he’s stepped into a situation that is incredibly challenging.

However, if Engler can continue to show the humility and recognition of dysfunction as he’s shown here in this important and revealing interview, Spartans everywhere can begin to believe that the university can overcome and end up stronger for all of us.

Engler: ‘Disorganized’ MSU allowed Nassar to persist

John Engler had the same question everyone else had when he returned to Michigan State University 10 weeks ago as interim president:

How had Dr. Larry Nassar’s serial abuse of hundreds of girls and young women on the MSU campus continue for so long undetected, and who at the university knew what and when?

“I was disappointed in what I found,” Engler told me in his first extensive interview since his appointment. “There was a lot of confusion. The processes I would have thought would be there weren’t.”

Instead, the former Michigan governor and MSU alum confronted a college administration he describes as “very diffuse and disorganized” without clear lines of authority or accountability.

Or more simply put, no one was clearly in charge of anything, making it harder to determine who bore the responsibility for the Nassar mess.

“This is a different kind of organization,” Engler says. “Everyone thought they reported directly to me. Not having an institutional history here, it is not a structure that I was comfortable with.”

Engler describes it, sarcastically, as “a great system. Everybody thinks they are empowered to say yes, but nobody is empowered to say no.”

As much as anything, in Engler’s view, the lack of a hierarchy of leadership enabled Nassar to get away with his evil work.

“When you don’t have strong processes it undermines your ability to have strong accountability,” he says.

What was missing when he arrived, Engler says, was a thorough and independent assessment of the Nassar incident that he could have used as a guide to begin the repair work.

“It would have been useful to know about the weaknesses in the way the osteopathic college (where Nassar worked) kept its records, the supervision in that college, and who were the people who may have been in the position of hearing something and here’s what they did or did not do.”

So far, Engler says, he has not found evidence of an MSU attempt to cover-up Nassar’s sexual assaults. He said, though, the university was immediately aware of the massive legal liability it faced.

“They recognized there was that probability and so began to prepare for that,” he says. “And that was inward looking.”

Nassar’s boss, osteopathic dean William Strampel, was on leave when Engler arrived, but he says he spotted him as a red flag right away. Strampel has since been charged with numerous sexual misconduct offenses.

“When I asked why he wasn’t fired, I was told at a university you fire someone by revoking tenure,” Engler says. “That’s a process, and it involves faculty. I was told it was hard to do. My response was, ‘I don’t care how hard it is, let’s begin the process.’”

In the meantime, Strampel remains on the MSU payroll, collecting a $217,000 annual salary.

Engler pushes back on the notion of a campus culture that excuses sexual assault. But he acknowledges the university community has been ill-prepared to handle complaints of sexual misconduct.

“When there was a clear understanding that there was an assault taking place, they were dealing with it,” he says. “But I don’t think there was an ability and a clarity about speaking up.”

Establishing a campus where everyone understands what inappropriate behavior looks like is one of Engler’s top priorities. In that, he sees the #metoo movement as an ally.

“One of the things we’re seeing today that we’re actually celebrating is that more people are coming forward to say, ‘Hey, what’s happening over here is not right. That was inappropriate and there should be consequences.’ Our pledge is that everywhere we find that, we’re acting on it. People who engage in inappropriate conduct won’t be part of Michigan State University.”

Engler describes his mission as two-pronged. First, he has to work through the investigations and litigation and help put the Nassar era to rest.

“This community is hurting,” he says. “It cares very deeply about these young girls and women who were abused by Nassar. They want to make that right. And that’s why the settlement talks and mediation are so important. No one wants to go through years of litigation. We need to get this resolved for the victims and the university community to come to closure.”

MSU likely faces settlement costs totaling hundreds of millions of dollars. Engler says the university has insurance, but added he’s “not certain about anything” in terms of how much the policy will cover.

Asked whether MSU is at risk if the settlements exceed insurance coverage, or if tuition hikes will be necessary, Engler says, “There will be consequences here. People can create all kinds of hypotheticals. All I can say is that we’re sensitive to a quest that if successful will create an equitable result for everyone.”

He noted the co-defendants in the 306 federal lawsuits filed by Nassar’s victims are the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics, and he expects they will bear a large piece of the settlement burden.

Part of his job also involves putting in place a detailed plan for preventing, reporting and responding to sexual abuse on campus.

“We’re taking steps to foster a safer campus as we go into a whole strategy around prevention,” Engler says. “We have an opportunity to emerge as a university — because we’ve gone through the wringer and are scrubbing everything we can find to scrub — as the safest campus in the country.”

The plan, being developed by a commission that includes sexual assault experts, imposes stricter requirements on MSU health clinics, including much better record-keeping. Engler says Nassar went undetected in part because spotty billing records made it hard to track the procedures he was using on the athletes.

MSU is also putting in place stronger chaperone rules for both its clinics and its youth sports camps, and is doing criminal background checks on everyone who works with children on campus.

In developing the strategy, Engler says he will rely on Nassar’s victims for input, as well as on other victims of campus sexual assault.

“We want to know from them if there are any areas where there are gaps or weaknesses. The voices of survivors can tell us why prevention is important and how, when it fails, it damages a person. Their testimony is useful in educating people about the negative effects of abuse. That’s what their expertise is as victims.”

Engler’s second assignment is to prepare for the selection of a permanent president.

The interim president says he expects to be around until early next year, and that in helping craft a system for choosing the permanent leader, he is sensitive to the controversy surrounding his own selection.

“The board recognizes that because of the chaos on campus given the way I was selected — they talked with students and faculty on Monday about them being involved in the selection of an interim president and then on Wednesday it was announced I’d been hired; obviously that was pretty awkward — that the process matters.”

The university announced Friday it has picked two women who have previously held leadership positions in academia as finalists to advise the board on the presidential search. Engler says the preference for a new president is someone who has already led a university.

Engler served three terms as governor, from 1990-2002. I asked him if he had been governor when the Nassar scandal broke, would he have moved to replace the MSU board. His answer fell well short of defending the performance of his new bosses.

“We had this question when I was governor about the behavior of a couple of trustees,” he says. “We didn’t think we had the authority to do it, and that we would have lost the fight.”

Would he have asked the trustees to resign? “You know, they’re elected. I would have been more interested maybe in how they were responding. Again, I’m not second guessing Rick Snyder. I think he’s done a good job.

Engler took a lot of heat after one Nassar victim, Kaylee Lorincz, accused him of offering her a $250,000 settlement in a private meeting. He won’t discuss the session, beyond saying, “We have different memories of what happened.”

Critics say it revealed a lack of sympathy on Engler’s part to the plight of the sexual assault victims. Asked if he had the empathy his role requires, Engler says:

“I think so. I understand they’ve been through a lot. I talk about being the parent of daughters not much different in age, and how I would’ve felt if it had been my daughter. I can’t experience what they experienced, but I can share with them the pain and hurt that it has caused them. And I understand that.

“Where I make an error is that in the haste to get things fixed, people think you’re moving too fast so you must not care. It’s just the opposite. We’re moving fast because we care so much. I’m also over here trying to fix the processes and that’s something that sometimes doesn’t seem very empathetic. But it’s the process that determines the response to anyone who’s been through this.”

Engler keeps in his pocket a handwritten note passed to him by a woman on an airplane describing the horrendous sexual abuse her mother, aunts and uncles endured as children. She urges him to, “Do right by these girls.”

“That’s what this job is all about,” he says.

nfinley@detroitnews.com

Engler says MSU athletics addressing sex assault issues

Nolan Finley interviews John Engler on his role as MSU interim president

Michigan State University’s premier athletic programs are doing what’s necessary to address campus sexual assault, says interim President John Engler.

“They’ve got processes in place to react if an athlete does become a problem,” Engler says. “The response to misconduct or criminality is there.”

Very early in his 10-week tenure, Engler gave both football coach Mark Dantonio and basketball coach Tom Izzo votes of confidence, though both teams have been the target of numerous sexual assault complaints.

Yet Engler contends the coaches have been flawless in their response, offering particular praise for Dantonio’s handling of an incident in which three former players pleaded guilty to lesser charges in a case brought by a young woman who says they raped her.

“Dantonio with the football players is a textbook for NCAA,” Engler says. “When the incidents initially were reported the reaction on the part of the coach was absolutely perfect. I have complete confidence in the leadership of those two individuals (Izzo and Dantonio).”

Still, changes are being put in place in the athletic department.

“The department is going to aided in its ability to communicate by some of the changes we’ve made in terms of who gets informed,” Engler says. “We had a situation, for example, where a report that went to to our Title IX office would be immediately reported to the police, but the police didn’t have a concurrent obligation to tell the university.

“They could continue the investigation for a period of time without the university knowing, putting the coach, the department and the university in the position of being asked why they didn’t do something. Now we will get the information and react to it.”

Engler credits both coaches with implementing prevention strategies.

“They’re doing a lot once the athletes arrive here in terms of communicating about appropriate behavior.” he says. “There’s a tremendous amount of education that goes on. They’re also still dealing with teenagers, and so you have, just as you do in the Greek system and the residence halls, people who go across the line.”

Engler says he spoke to the football team about the importance of using good judgment, and will do the same for all students.

“We’re now looking at what we do in orientation, the first week of arrival, first semester, first year,” he says. “Since 70 percent of our students come from Michigan, we’re now even looking at what we can do in high school.”

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