The board of trustees at Michigan State University named a brand new interim president on Thursday to change John Engler, a day after he resigned amid widespread criticism over his remarks that some victims of Lawrence G. Nassar, the previous college and U.S.A. Gymnastics physician, appeared to be having fun with “the spotlight.”
The trustees appointed a prime college administrator, Satish Udpa, because the interim chief on Thursday morning at a rapidly scheduled board assembly, the place they roundly condemned Mr. Engler’s feedback and accepted his resignation, efficient instantly, by a vote of seven to zero with one trustee absent.
The swift upheaval, almost a 12 months after a high-profile sentencing listening to for Dr. Nassar the place greater than 150 younger girls informed tales of sexual abuse, underscored the challenges nonetheless going through Michigan State within the wake of the scandal.
Many of the abuse prices stemmed from Dr. Nassar’s time on the college, the place he had been a college member and the staff doctor for 2 feminine varsity squads, as well as to his function with the American gymnastics staff. The college’s longtime president, Lou Anna Okay. Simon, stepped down underneath intense strain the identical day, Jan. 24, that Dr. Nassar was sentenced to jail final 12 months.
Michigan State later agreed to a $500 million settlement with hundreds of Dr. Nassar’s victims, but the fallout has lingered as Mr. Engler butted heads with survivors and the state’s attorney general continued an investigation into the university’s handling of the case. Just this week, the state’s new attorney general, Dana Nessel, ordered her office to interview Mr. Engler as part of the investigation.
A spokeswoman at Michigan State confirmed that the university received the attorney general’s request to interview Mr. Engler and had relayed it to him. Mr. Engler was in Texas on Thursday on bereavement leave for a family member and could not be reached for comment.
Mr. Udpa, 68, is the fourth person to lead the university since January 2018 and is expected to be in the role only temporarily. He told The Detroit Free Press that he was not a candidate for the permanent position, which the board plans to fill by June. But the board’s swift action to replace Mr. Engler signaled a growing urgency to move forward.
Mr. Engler, who had been criticized as being antagonistic and insensitive toward survivors, was facing mounting pressure to resign since last week, when The Detroit News reported on recent comments disparaging victims.
“There are a lot of people who are touched by this, survivors who haven’t been in the spotlight,” Mr. Engler told the newspaper. “In some ways they have been able to deal with this better than the ones who’ve been in the spotlight who are still enjoying that moment at times, you know, the awards and recognition. And it’s ending. It’s almost done.”
In an 11-page resignation letter on Wednesday, Mr. Engler, a former three-term Republican governor, asserted that five Democratic members of the board had requested his resignation. But on Thursday, several members of the board noted the consensus of their decision and said it did not involve politics.
“None of our work will matter if our leaders say hurtful things and do not listen to survivors,” the board’s chairwoman, Dianne Byrum, said at the meeting. “The board deeply regrets the impact on survivors and the community.”
[Here’s a look at the dozens of officials ousted or charged in the Larry Nassar scandal.]
Mr. Engler was a politician who came to the job after years in the public eye and was immediately a contentious choice to lead the university through scandal. Faculty members and students protested his hiring last year, and on Wednesday the Deans Council of the university wrote a letter to the board making clear it did not support his leadership.
In contrast, Mr. Udpa is an academic and an administrator with a far lower profile.
Mr. Udpa, who is trained as an engineer, is the former dean of the college of engineering and most recently served as executive vice president for administrative services at Michigan State, overseeing things like human resources and information technology. His wife, Lalita Udpa, is a professor of engineering at Michigan State.
Ron Hendrick, the dean of the college of agriculture and natural resources, who was among those who signed the Deans Council’s letter, called Mr. Udpa a “sensible” choice for interim president. He said Mr. Udpa was well known by administrators on campus and had a reputation for being fair-minded.
“Satish has earned people’s respect,” Mr. Hendrick said. “People pay attention to what he says, but he is not someone who brings attention to himself. He is quiet and goes about things in a quiet way.”
In a letter to the faculty and staff last year, Mr. Udpa addressed the scandal engulfing the university and said the pain inflicted on Dr. Nassar’s victims “will remain seared in our memories as long as we live.”
“Let us promise to do better tomorrow than we did yesterday,” he wrote. “To do any less is a disservice to our conscience.”
Mr. Udpa, who was unavailable for an interview Thursday, was greeted with applause by the crowd at the meeting and said he was excited about the new opportunity. “I look forward to working with all of you,” he told the board members.
For those who have fought for justice for Dr. Nassar’s survivors, the change in leadership was largely symbolic.
John Manly, a lawyer who represents many of Dr. Nassar’s accusers, said on Thursday that in order to move forward, the university’s leadership needed to recognize that Nassar survivors “are not the enemy.”
“Indeed,” Mr. Manly said in an email, “the enemy was the toxic institutional arrogance at M.S.U. that allowed Nassar to flourish.”
Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to publicly accuse Dr. Nassar, commended the board for sending a message with his removal. Mr. Engler had once suggested she was being paid by Mr. Manly to coerce women into making abuse claims, a comment for which he later apologized.
“His perception is that sexual assault survivors speak up because they want money and fame,” Ms. Denhollander said in an interview Thursday. “This is the last thing anybody wants to be famous for, and there is no amount of money that can compensate for losing your childhood.”
But she cautioned that the university still had much work left to do to change its overall culture, a point that some board members acknowledged.
Kelly Tebay, a newly elected board member, said she hoped Thursday’s action would be “the first step in a long road.”
“A wrong has been righted today,” she said, and added, “I’m sorry it took so long.”
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