Is John Engler the Right Man for the Job at MSU?

Some of the people who knew or interacted with Engler as governor react to his appointment as MSU interim president.

Cheyna Roth/MPRN

On Wednesday, the Michigan State University Board of Trustees unanimously named former Michigan Governor John Engler the interim president of the university.

Engler comes in to guide MSU through a period of time of multiple investigations into the university’s handling of Larry Nassar while he was faculty at the school. 

Hiring Engler has some clear benefits on the surface. He’s known for being a political pit bull who understands how to navigate bureaucracies and get what he wants out of allies and rivals alike.

But he’s also a deeply polarizing figure in the state with political baggage. And critics of his appointment to MSU say he has conflicts of interest with the university and the attorney general’s office. 

As if this story isn’t odd enough, Engler will be joined by a senior advisor at MSU. That advisor? Former Michigan Governor Jim Blanchard, a Democrat and former political rival to Engler. 

Zach Gorchow, editor of the Gongwer News Service, and an alum of MSU, speaks with Detroit Today host Stephen Henderson about the implications and fallout of John Engler becoming interim president at MSU. 

The decision to appoint Engler as interim president is an attempted “rescue mission,” says Gorchow. 

There were other names thrown around such as former governor of Michigan, Jennifer Granholm, and former Grand Valley State University President Mark Murray. But according to Gorchow, there weren’t many other options. 

“When you got down to it, there wasn’t going to be a terribly large pool of people…with the resume and ability and credibility to come in on (a) day’s notice,” says Gorchow. 

Jake Neher/WDET

Matt Resch, founder of the political PR consulting firm Resch Strategies, also joins the program. Resch is the former press secretary for Dick Posthumous who served as lieutenant governor under John Engler. 

Resch says Engler was a sensible choice and is a different person than he was fifteen years ago when he left the governorship. 

“I think people are reflecting their…2000 memories on John Engler of 2018,” he says. “And I think he left the state…in 2002 a political figure. I think he’s returning to the state as a statesman.” 

Henderson also speaks with Deborah LaBelle, a practicing civil rights attorney in Ann Arbor.

LaBelle was quoted in a Bridge Magazine article that outlines how, as governor, Engler brushed aside complaints by female inmates that they were being harassed, abused, and raped by male prison guards.

The state of Michigan would eventually settle the lawsuit in 2009 and pay the female inmates $100 million. Given that history, LaBelle is skeptical Engler is the right person to be interim president at MSU. 

“You would think you’d get someone in that role who had…not a history of turning away and not understanding and dismissing sexual abuse complaints by women and girls,” she says. 

Click on the audio player above for the full conversation. 


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