John Engler taps his former aide for communications help at Michigan State University

EAST LANSING, MICH. - The former Michigan governor who takes over as interim president at Michigan State University on Monday has tapped his former press aide to help craft the university's public response to the fallout over the Larry Nassar scandal.

John Engler has tapped the Lansing firm Truscott Rossman to help run strategic communications. The firm is run by John Truscott, who served as the Republican governor's press aide, and Kelly Rossman-McKinney, who was a press aide for Engler's Democratic predecessor, James Blanchard.

Blanchard will serve as Engler's senior adviser at MSU.

The two former governors were named to the MSU posts on Wednesday. Engler vowed that day to repair the MSU culture that critics say allowed Nassar, a former MSU physician, to sexually abuse patients for decades despite multiple complaints to university officials. 

Truscott said Friday his firm won't run the day-to-day press operations but will instead help Engler develop a broad strategy for public outreach. That will include "setting expectations, better information flow, more communication between folks who should be talking."

Jason Cody, who had been the media's main contact at MSU, "has now been reassigned to other duties in MSU Communications and Brand Strategy Office," MSU spokesman Kent Cassella said in an email to the State Journal on Thursday night. 

The Thursday email from Cassella was copied to another communications firm, the New York-based Weber Shandwick. It wasn't immediately clear how long that firm has worked with the university, what role it plays or how it will work with Truscott Rossman. Neither Cassella nor a Weber Shandwick representative could be reached for comment on Friday.

Truscott said Friday a formal contract with his firm still was being worked out. 

Many people, including Nassar's victims — dozens of whom are suing MSU in federal court — have criticized the university's public response to the crisis as insensitive and lacking transparency.

MSU board Vice President Joel Ferguson was slammed for saying on a Lansing radio station on Jan. 22 that he still supported then-MSU president Lou Anna Simon because more happened at MSU than "this Nassar thing." When Simon stepped down two days later, her resignation letter was widely panned for appearing to blame her ouster on politics.

Truscott said Friday he can't control what every individual says but Engler's MSU administration would try to plug leaks to the press and would make sure everyone is on the same page, helping communications stay consistent.

Engler and Blanchard are serving interim roles while the MSU board searches for a permanent replacement for Simon. 

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has launched an investigation into MSU's handling of the Nassar case and other sexual assault cases. The Legislature, Congress, the NCAA and the U.S. Department of Education also are investigating the university. Engler said he would cooperate with all inquiries.

Truscott's partner, Rossman-McKinney, is expected to retire from the firm this spring as she seeks a state senate seat.

Contact Justin A. Hinkley at (517) 377-1195 or Follow him on Twitter @JustinHinkley.

© 2018 Lansing State Journal


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