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First phase of independent review says MSU is Title IX compliant

November 20, 2017
MSU'S Title IX Coordinator Jessica Norris addresses students during an ASMSU meeting on Oct. 19, 2017 at Student Services.
MSU'S Title IX Coordinator Jessica Norris addresses students during an ASMSU meeting on Oct. 19, 2017 at Student Services. —
Photo by Sylvia Jarrus | The State News

An independent review conducted this fall by a third party found that MSU's Title IX policies are compliant with federal legal requirements, according to a press release from MSU Monday. Areas for improvement are MSU's mandatory reporting procedure and streamlining the policy.

MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon first announced the review in the spring as a result of controversies surrounding ex-MSU and USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, allegations of sexual assault made against three then-MSU football players and other issues of sexual assault on campus.

The review is being conducted by law firm Husch Blackwell. The two-phase review is still underway, but the first phase has been completed and a report has been published.

The first phase focused on policy and procedure compliance with Title IX. After review, Husch Blackwell determined MSU's current policies and procedures reflect a strong commitment to combatting sexual misconduct and creating a safe campus environment. The law firm also noted some parts of MSU's Title IX compliance reflect policies other universities could adopt.

"MSU’s policies and procedures are among the most comprehensive and robust we have seen," according to the report. "They provide detailed guidance to claimants, respondents, investigators, and adjudicators and set forth a fair and equitable process for resolving reports of sexual misconduct. Overall, MSU’s policies and procedures comply with current legal requirements and agency guidance, and in several places, reflect leading-edge policy concepts that other institutions might consider replicating in their own policies."

Husch Blackwell also did identify areas for improvement, including the recommendation that MSU should re-evaluate its mandatory reporting practices.

"We are concerned that MSU’s policy requiring all responsible employees to not only notify the Title IX Coordinator of sexual misconduct of which they become aware, but to also notify law enforcement may be in tension with applicable legal requirements that vest victims with agency concerning whether to notify law enforcement," according to the report.

Mandatory reporting has been a big topic of discussion since last September when allegations of sexual misconduct against Nassar, who is accused of sexually abusing over 140 women and girls under the guise of medical treatment, first came to light.

The report also recommends incorporating some issues that are not clearly stated in policies and procedures into the Title IX policy, not just in the supporting documentation. Husch Blackwell also suggests MSU addresses key issues from the new guidance issued by the Office for Civil Rights last month.

Overall, though, Husch Blackwell has found MSU to be compliant, and suggested the perception that the policies and procedures aren't could be due to media coverage.

"We acknowledge that there continues to be significant media attention around MSU’s Title IX efforts that may suggest its policies and procedures are out of compliance. We disagree with this conclusion," according to the report. "Based on our comprehensive review, MSU’s Title IX policy and procedures provide for a process that meets applicable legal requirements and agency guidance that—with effective implementation—creates a timely, fair and equitable resolution process for sexual misconduct reports, as required by law."

While MSU has been found to be Title IX compliant by Husch Blackwell, an MSU Title IX-related lawsuit filed by MSU alumni in 2015 was given the green light to proceed by a federal judge on Nov. 2. Each plaintiff alleges that during her time at MSU, she was sexually harassed or assaulted by another student and that she reported those actions to MSU. In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs accuse MSU of not following Title IX procedures or Michigan's Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act, and they also allege their constitutional right of due process was violated.

Husch Blackwell's standpoint is further detailed in the full report.

The second phase of the review will examine how effective MSU's broader Title IX program is when it comes to crisis and advocacy support services, prevention and education programs and awareness efforts. The second report is expected to be released late spring semester.

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