The board has scheduled an emergency 8 a.m. board meeting for Thursday. Sources said at least five board members are prepared to vote to fire Engler.
However, board chairwoman Dianne Byrum had a conversation with Engler Wednesday and asked him to resign before the meeting.
Engler and MSU spokeswoman Emily Guerrant did not return requests for comment.
Board members are expected to name a replacement for Engler during the meeting Thursday, sources told the Free Press.
It's a meeting that has been brewing almost since the day Engler took over as interim president at his alma mater, stepping in for Lou Anna Simon. Simon resigned under heavy criticism and is now facing criminal charges — all tied to her response to the Larry Nassar scandal.
Like Simon, much of Engler's tenure has been taken up with fallout from the Nassar scandal and heavy criticism from survivors of Nassar's sexual abuse. Engler survived a motion to fire him this summer, but the criticism hasn't abated.
Once the meeting was announced, board member Brian Mosallam, the leading critic of Engler, told the Free Press the time had come for Engler to leave.
"John Engler's reign of terror is over," said Mosallam, who has been pushing for Engler's departure for nearly a year. "Michigan State University will be returned to its people."
The latest round of criticism came after Engler told the Detroit News editorial board that Nassar survivors were "enjoying the spotlight" while the university is "trying to go back to work."
That launched a fresh set of criticism on social media and elsewhere from those who believe Engler should be gone.
Twenty-three of MSU's top academic administrators — mostly deans of various colleges and schools — signed a letter sent Wednesday to the board demanding that Engler be replaced.
"The pattern of comments by interim President Engler, including his most recent statement suggesting that some of the survivors of sexual abuse are 'enjoying' the spotlight, further harms the very people it is our responsibility to support," the letter said. "We do not support his continued leadership."
The advocacy group ReclaimMSU cheered the news that Engler was likely on his way out. It has been calling for his removal for months.
"He was a known entity," said Betsy Riley, a graduate student with the group. "He was a conscious choice by the the board to play defense."
The group would like the board to engage various groups around campus in the search for an interim president.
"They say, 'trust us," Riley said. "We can't trust them. This is the group that brought us Engler."