The Larry Nassar scandal has been so horrific and so horrible that new shock and outrage didn’t seem possible. Then Kaylee Lorincz stepped to a lectern at a Michigan State Board of Trustees meeting on Friday and told a story that ought to lead to a sweeping removal of university leadership.
Lorincz is 18. When she was 13, Nassar, then a doctor in the Michigan State College of Osteopathic Medicine, began sexually abusing her after she came to him as a patient.
Lorincz said she and her mother were recently on campus to sign up to speak at Friday’s board meeting when they ran into MSU interim president John Engler. Lorincz asked if she could meet with him because she had found many of his comments since assuming office in late January “hurtful.”
“My hope was if he actually met a survivor he would be more empathetic,” Lorincz said.
Engler agreed to the impromptu meeting, but rather than listen, Lorincz says, she was told not much could be discussed until civil litigation against the school is complete. Lorincz is one of nearly 200 women suing the university.
If this was MSU’s opinion, and on a legal basis it had merit, then Engler never should have met with Lorincz in the first place. Such a meeting exposed Michigan State to considerable liability in a case it already has considerable liability. Instead, they did meet and Engler had something to say.
“Mr. Engler then looked directly at me and asked, ‘Right now, if I wrote you a check for $250,000, would you take it?’ ” Lorincz said.
There were gasps and shouts from the audience at the board meeting. Lorincz wasn’t with her attorney at the time and the meeting with Engler, she said, wasn’t about settling a lawsuit. Engler, sitting directly in front of Lorincz as she spoke at the board meeting Friday, didn’t dispute her allegation.
(On a side note, a check for $250,000 is a ridiculous offer in this case. Victims in the somewhat similar Jerry Sandusky scandal received an average of about $3 million from Penn State. It is possible MSU’s culpability here is actually greater than Penn State’s.)
Mostly though, it was stupid on Engler’s part. Either don’t meet with Lorincz or make sure her lawyer is present before discussing lowball payoffs. This is abject failure by a CEO.
Engler is the former three-term governor of Michigan, and the way he has conducted himself since taking the interim job in January is not to gently manage a highly sensitive and troubling scandal. Rather, he has used the opportunity to engage in some kind of hardball political fight for old-time’s sake. He likes to pit sides against each other. He likes to stir things up in the media.
It’s why he was never a fit for the job and shouldn’t hold it for an hour longer.
“When I explained that it’s not about the money for me and that I just want to help, he said, ‘Well, give me a number,’ ” Lorincz said.
Give me a number?
“He also said that he met with Rachael Denhollander [the first of Nassar’s victims to come forward publicly] and that she gave him a number,” Lorincz said.
“Give me a number” would be inappropriate but more problematic is that when Lorincz and her mother contacted Denhollander later, Denhollander denied ever meeting with Engler, let alone engaging in settlement negotiations. Denhollander, in a statement to reporter Kate Wells, backed this story up, calling Engler’s assertion “a bald-faced lie.”
Lorincz wasn’t done.
“Then President Engler started saying how sad it was that hundreds of good osteopathic doctors at MSU are being judged by one bad doctor,” Lorincz said. “My mom interrupted and said, ‘Well, what about former Dean William Strampel, wasn’t he just arrested?’ ” (Strampel, Nassar’s boss, was arrested on four counts, including an alleged sexual assault of his own.)
“President Engler rolled his eyes and tried to fluff it off and said, ‘Oh, that was no big deal, it was just a slap on the butt,’ ” Lorincz said. “My mom and I were just so shocked.”
This was now something out of a Hollywood movie. Could Engler have really said such a thing? Could he have really rolled his eyes?
Well, Engler sat there, however, and disputed nothing. Earlier in Lorincz’s speech he cut her off when she inaccurately called another person in the meeting Engler’s lawyer. On this, however, he was silent. Engler did not make an immediate public comment or defense at any time and did not make himself available to the media afterward.
Engler instead went and huddled with his MSU team before, hours later, issuing a brief statement that declared, “our memories and interpretations of the March 28 meeting are different. I am sorry if anything said during the meeting was misunderstood.”
An MSU spokeswoman who said she was at the Lorincz-Engler meeting told the Lansing State Journal the $250,000 figure wasn’t a direct settlement offer but part of a “philosophical discussion.” Why in the world would John Engler think Kaylee Lorincz was a good partner for a philosophical discussion about civil litigation?
This is all par for the course with Engler, who has struck nearly every wrong chord since taking the job.
Earlier Friday, he had to express “regret” the school released confidential information about an MSU student who, in a separate lawsuit, is alleging she was raped by three men’s basketball players in 2015. Engler noted the school “provided an unnecessary amount of detail … which has been perceived by some as violating privacy expectations.”
He has also stated that Nassar payouts would fall to students and taxpayers, something he alluded to again Friday when he proposed a nearly 3 percent tuition increase. He’s tried to battle the media. Upon getting the job, he endorsed the current attorney general in his race for governor. That’s the same AG who is investigating MSU, albeit months or even years after he should have.
None of this has done much to move Michigan State or the community forward.
Neither did Friday’s meeting when Lorincz was trying to get through her statement in the allotted three minutes. As she detailed the worst of Engler’s alleged behavior, she was, quite incredibly, told to stop talking … by no less than John Engler.
“Kaylee, your time is up,” Engler said. “Your time is up.”
Time’s up? It was said without irony or awareness. This is what John Engler wanted to say to Kaylee Lorincz, who as an injured 13-year-old came to MSU to see an MSU doctor for treatment and wound up repeatedly raped?
Time’s up? That was his first thought? That’s how he thought to help Michigan State? This is who MSU wants as its leader?
Lorincz and her family have been front and center on this case, attending even rudimentary Nassar hearings. She, like so many others, has carried herself as an inspirational hero far beyond her years, not a shattered victim.
If nothing else, Engler should have known this was not a woman to combat. She is small, petite and youthful. She is also fierce, smart and confident. Whatever power he thinks he has (or once had as governor) is meaningless at this point.
He was going to lose this fight. He will lose every time against Kaylee Lorincz.
“Let her speak, let her speak,” the crowd began chanting.
Kaylee decided her time was not up.
“I’m not done yet.”
“You are out of time, I’m sorry,” Engler said.
Lorincz barreled through.
“President Engler, you wanted to talk about money,” Lorincz said. “I wanted to talk about helping and healing. You tried to make us feel like we were the problem and MSU was the victim because of the civil suits. This is how it works. When you protect and promote a sexual predator and foster a culture of lies and cover-ups, you are responsible.”
Engler kept trying to interrupt her.
“I have like four sentences left,” she pleaded.
“Finish your four sentences,” she was told. “You are done.”
“You are so rude,” someone shouted from the crowd.
“If you could turn back the hands of time and take Larry Nassar’s fingers out my 13-year-old vagina we wouldn’t be here today,” Lorincz said. “The fact is you can’t. … You are the ones who care about the money, and I just want my life back. Now I am done. Thank you.”
The room erupted in applause. Engler tried to continue the meeting.
In January, Lou Anna K. Simon was forced into resignation because she was incapable of handling the Nassar fallout. Somehow, someway, John Engler has proven even worse at the job.
If Friday’s meeting isn’t the last thing he does for that school, every one of the many right-minded alums, professors, staff members and students ought to storm the place.
Someone’s time is up, and it sure isn’t Kaylee Lorincz’s.
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