Letter to the MSU campus community

To the MSU campus community:

I was in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday to testify before the Senate subcommittee that has been holding hearings focused on protecting amateur athletes in the wake of the Nassar case. It was an excellent opportunity to talk about the things we’ve been doing at Michigan State and put into the Senate report all the specific steps already taken to enhance safety and accountability on campus. Many of the specifics are items that I’ve shared with you over the last several months through these letters, online on the Our Commitment website, and in the Safer Campus compilation of activity that I shared with the subcommittee.

If Michigan State’s experience can help guide other institutions seeking to ensure the safety of those in their charge, that would be a real contribution we can make not just to higher education but to our entire society.

Yesterday, Michigan State University filed a lawsuit against all its insurance carriers regarding the policies and coverage for the Nassar sexual assault claims. In particular, the largest underwriter, United Educators has been very difficult to work with and left us no choice but to sue. In our public statement we said: “It is disappointing and unfortunate we have to go to court on this matter, but we are hopeful this lawsuit will bring us to speedy resolution and that the insurance companies will honor their contractual obligations.”

I was pleased that the Board of Trustees last week unanimously approved Bill Beekman to be our permanent athletic director. Since his interim appointment in February, he’s earned the respect of coaches and staff across MSU athletics as well as supporters and fans across the state. Bill possesses the organizational knowledge, professional skills, and personal attitude needed for that very demanding job. As an outsider to the athletic department, Bill has taken a fresh look at all aspects of our administrative approach and support. His strong emphasis on compliance and legal training have prepared him to lead at a time when many programs across the country are being closely monitored.

I’m also pleased to have brought Nicholas Wittner on board as our acting chief compliance officer and director of the new Office of Enterprise Risk Management, Ethics and Compliance. Coming from our College of Law, Professor Wittner has deep experience in legal and regulatory compliance that will serve the university well. The role of a CCO is to assure that safeguards, standards, and protocols are adhered to so that required behaviors are not treated merely as “suggestions.”

Since I last wrote, I’ve had the pleasure of joining benefactors and staff of the MSU College of Music as we celebrated the start of construction for the new Music Pavilion, which will expand and improve instructional and rehearsal space for music students and faculty.

We also celebrated a long-planned upgrade to our water distribution system with a groundbreaking for a new water treatment plant and elevated tank at Service Road and Recycling Drive.

More good news, we were able to announce a new benefit as part of the student experience in time for fall semester. MSU reached an agreement with CATA to provide free campus bus service for all students, faculty, and staff. Three million rides on campus are provided each year, and we’re giving it a one-year trial to assess how much eliminating the cost of buying a separate bus pass affects ridership and increases student satisfaction.

Recently, staff from the W.J. Beal Botanical Garden and Campus Arboretum and MSU’s Landscape Services discovered gypsy moths laying eggs in many of the more than 200 teal mesh bows wrapped around trees across MSU’s campus. The bows, which have served as a visual memorial to honor the survivors, also have been an integral part of the healing process. A plan to remove and preserve the ribbons was then developed after consultation with survivors and family members.

MSU arborists and museum staff are accompanying the survivors and family members as they untie and begin the process of preserving the ribbons. A team from Beal is documenting the location and name on the ribbons and adding them to our collections of university history so that the information can be available in the future.

Finally, the Board of Trustees announced their timeline for selection of a permanent president for MSU, including a number of campus listening sessions, engagement of a search consultant, and formation of a search committee.

With the actions we have taken, and will take between now and when the new president arrives, I fully expect our next president to find MSU much better positioned for long-term success.

John Engler
Interim President

P.S.  This week my office had a visit from a student-run business called Land Grant Goods. I thought you might like to check out these young entrepreneurs. They have a student-run business that specializes in herbal tea. The tea is completely made and sold by students at MSU. They said the tea makes great gifts for visiting guests, staff members, and donors.

You can read more about them at landgrantgoods.com.