MSU trustees approve $500M Nassar settlement plan; reject firing Engler

- Michigan State University trustees approved a plan Friday to sell bonds to pay for a $500 million settlement with hundreds of women and girls who said they were sexually assaulted by former sports doctor Larry Nassar.

Trustees approved the plan after rejecting calls to fire interim President John Engler for unflattering emails that disparaged victims and their lawyers. In one incident, he wrote an email to another MSU official saying one of Nassar's victims Rachael Denhollander was likely getting "kickbacks" from her attorney. Engler apologized saying it was a quote, "a big mistake." But he added he would not step down.

Several of the trustees spoke before the meeting adjourned, giving the general consensus that they disagreed with and were upset by Engler's comments but thought terminating him would set the university backwards. 

"There's a lot of good things going on, but no one cares when you're fighting with survivors. The message gets lost," said Trustee Brian Mosallam. He was the first trustee to demand that Engler step down. 

"This should be a historic day; there should be acknowledgement of the settlement, the new committee structures, the resources that are added and the reform that we're talking about, but the whole focus has been about john's comments, and that's the concern that I have," he continued. "I hope going forward - and we do need to move this university forward - and if you are (Engler) not going to step down, hopefully this was a lesson learned for everybody."

The meeting began at 8 a.m. with an effort from Mosallam to change the agenda and allow a vote to fire Engler, a request that was met with cheers from the public in the board room. But it was defeated, 6-2.

During the trustees' comments as the meeting came to a close, several people in the room wearing teal t-shirts stood in the back and held their phones up high with the message "Fire Engler" typed in big, bold letters on their screens. When the meeting adjourned they all erupted into the chant, "Shame on you, MSU."

Hundreds of teal pinwheels were also set up outside the administrative building ahead of the meeting. Teal is the color that symbolizes sexual assault awareness and prevention.

As part of the approved settlement plan, the university agree to freeze salaries for top administrative and leadership roles and raising faculty salaries by 1.5 percent instead of the typical 2.5 percent. Engler also is counting on payments from insurance companies to fund the settlement. 

Tuition will be higher for most students in fall, but Engler says the new revenue won't help cover the Nassar settlement. 

The board also approved a three-year, $1.3 million deal to hire Robert Young as general counsel, weeks after he was brought to campus by Engler. He's a former chief justice at the Michigan Supreme Court.

Trustees voted 5-3 to approve the contract. Some Nassar victims urged the board to reject Young, saying he was insensitive during negotiations that led to the settlement.

The board also announced they'll soon begin the search process for the new president. 

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The Associated Press contributed to this report 

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