MSU interim president Engler closes fund for Nassar survivors

Wednesday, December 5, 2018 - 5:03pm

On Wednesday, two Michigan State University board members, as well as two board members-elect, spoke out against Interim President John Engler’s decision to close a $10 million fund created to pay for mental health services for survivors of former MSU doctor Larry Nassar’s abuse.

Engler announced the closure of the Healing Assistance fund Tuesday in light of MSU settling a $500 million lawsuit with more than 300 women who have been assaulted by Nassar. The fund has been frozen since July over concerns of fraud, and Engler said the remaining balance of $8.6 million will be used “to reduce the amount of our borrowing to pay the settlement.”

Current board members Brian Mosallam and Dianne Byrum and recently elected board members Brianna Scott and Kelly Tebay released a statement on Twitter in opposition to the interim president’s decision.

“The press announcement by interim President Engler announcing the closure of the Healing Assistance Fund came as a surprise and we do not support his decision,” the statement read. “This decision is counter to the research and advice provided to us by the Relationship Violence and Sexual Misconduct Expert Advisory Working Group.”

According to Rachel Campbell, the chair of MSU’s Relationship Violence and Sexual Misconduct Expert Advisory Workgroup, when asked by members of Engler’s administration what should be done about the fund, the group advised the fund should be reopened as soon as possible. The group’s document, “Summary of Research on Trauma and Treatment for Sexual Assault Survivors,” was published in The State News. 

“If sexual assault survivors have entered into treatment based on the understanding that there were dedicated funds available to cover the cost of therapy, and then learn that they are no longer eligible for those funds, they are likely to feel that such changes are a gross violation of trust,” the summary read. “This betrayal will likely cause significant distress that will compound trauma symptoms they are already experiencing.”

Engler’s decision to cut the fund has incited criticism from Rachael Denhollander, who was the first survivor to publicly share her story about Nassar’s abuse.

In a series of tweets, Denhollander laid out a timeline of the fund, and said “Engler/MSU are lying about the purposes, terms and circumstances of creation, for this fund,” also writing MSU determined in October no survivors had committed fraud related to the fund.

“MSU creates fund to help survivors in December,” Denhollander wrote. “At this time, they are trying to get our suit dismissed and refusing to answer calls. Fund was not ‘until settlement’. MSU was refusing to even talk and had no plans to settle.”

The statement released by the four MSU board members said they plan on discussing the issue with the full board at the next meeting Friday. Their hope is to force the reinstatement of the Healing Fund.

“At every possible turn, @MSUPresEngler confirms the abusive culture at MSU, the utter lack of meaningful change, and his abhorrent views on SA victims. MSU spokesperson Emily Guerrant and the BoT needs to stop agreeing to spew his lies. This is shameful,” Denhollander wrote.