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Role of Title IX in Stanley’s departure is starkly different than past leaders' downfalls

October 17, 2022
MSU president designee Samuel L. Stanley Jr. stands for applause during the MSU Board of Trustees meeting at the Hannah Administration Building on May 28, 2019.
MSU president designee Samuel L. Stanley Jr. stands for applause during the MSU Board of Trustees meeting at the Hannah Administration Building on May 28, 2019.

President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. is the third consecutive MSU president to resign amidst controversies relating to Title IX and Relationship Violence and Sexual Misconduct, or RVSM, on campus — though Stanley’s resignation is for starkly different reasons than those of his predecessors. 

Stanley gave the Board of Trustees a 90-day notice of resignation on Oct. 13. Stanley’s resignation followed the month-long controversy which shrouded the board and president regarding the resignation of former Dean of the Broad School of Business Sanjay Gupta after his failure to report sexual misconduct and MSU’s failure to properly certify Title IX reports. 

Past presidents and Title IX

Former President Lou Anna Simon resigned in 2018 following victim impact statements during the criminal sentencing of ex-MSU doctor Larry Nassar. Throughout investigations into Nassar’s sexual misconduct, failures in the university’s reporting system were revealed. A 2019 investigation by the Office of Civil Rights, or OCR, identified multiple instances in which the university had erred and two violations of Title IX. 

Following Simon, MSU appointed former Gov. John Engler to be interim president. His presidency was short-lived, as he was forced to resign following his comments stating that Nassar survivors were enjoying the spotlight and recognition. 

So when Stanley was appointed in 2019, he entered the university at a defining moment for how MSU would handle Title IX and RVSM moving forward. 

Stanley’s work on Title IX

In a message from September 2019, Stanley addressed the OCR investigation's findings, stating the university would “review current and former employees who had received complaints and failed to take appropriate steps,” which would be followed by necessary actions. 

“In our effort to build a safe and caring campus, we must have a culture of accountability,” Stanley said in the message.

Stanley announced a new committee to assist that effort and a dashboard that would give regular updates on the progress. Since Stanley’s arrival, MSU’s RVSM program and Title IX practices have undergone significant changes on cultural, policy-related, and institutional levels. 

With regards to Title IX, in 2020, Stanley announced all reports of RVSM, including Title IX reports, would be forwarded to the Office of Institutional Equity, or OIE. MSU has increased OCR and OIE staffing every year since 2019. 

The university also updated its Title IX policies to be consistent with new federal guidance. As required by the OCR resolution, in 2019, MSU commissioned an independent third-party consultant to review MSU’s Title IX process and policies. The university hired the Cozen O’Connor law firm, which has been giving the university feedback regarding its handling of Title IX cases. 

In its 2022 report, the firm stated the university had “dedicated significant resources to the effective implementation of Title IX and related compliance areas.” Specifically, the firm noted “improvements in recordkeeping and case management protocols, expanded resources to ensure the provision of supportive measures, and significant investments to meet new legal requirements.” 

The report also stated that “the majority of the cases files were complete and that the documentation reflected that the matters were addressed effectively.” The firm said that they “found that initial outreach was sent in a timely manner and communications were professional, sensitive, and balanced in tone” and they “found investigative reports to be well written, comprehensive, appropriately neutral, and reflective of a fair, impartial, and thorough fact-gathering.”

The Cozen O’Connor firm also said issues of timeliness, while still occurring, affected a smaller percentage of cases than in previous years. As stated by Presidential Advisor Dr. Rebecca Campbell in a presentation to the faculty senate on Oct. 11, 2022, the OIE struggles with organizational structure, role delineation, high turnover rates and case flow. 

During the time since Stanley took office, MSU has faced a high-profile Title IX case regarding the October of 2020 decision to discontinue the swim and dive programs

Despite efforts to improve Title IX policies at MSU, certain events have caused controversy and Stanley’s eventual resignation. 

How does Title IX relate to Stanley’s resignation?

The lead-up to Stanley’s resignation revolves around two things: the resignation of the Dean of the Broad School of Business and the failure to correctly certify MSU’s 2021 Title IX records

Gupta’s Aug. 12 resignation was implemented by Provost Teresa Woodruff after concerns arose regarding Gupta’s failure to comply with the university’s mandatory reporting policy. Later, the Board of Trustees retained outside counsel to review the administration's decision. 

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On Sept. 11, a report from the Detroit Free Press alleged that the board would give Stanley until Sept. 13 to resign, which was seemingly related to some trustees' belief that Gupta was not given due process, despite the OIE investigation being completed. Later that day, university spokesperson Emily Guerrant stated “the board and the president are evaluating his contract.” However, conflicting statements from the trustees caused confusion. 

Thus began the outcry from the public as they demanded transparency from the board. Two days following the news, the faculty senate held an emergency meeting to discuss the reports where Stanley made his first public comments addressing the reports he evaluate in his first few weeks at MSU.

“The summary stated that the fundamental failure of the institution and its most senior leadership had been failure to report and failure to act on reports of (RVSM),” Stanley said at the meeting. “The report identified individuals who had failed to report and called upon me to take action. And I did.”

Stanley said he was not surprised that Gupta’s resignation was controversial but was surprised that the board hired outside legal counsel. He thanked the faculty senate for holding the board accountable by ensuring that Title IX-related decisions and Title IX processes and outcomes would not be subject to board appeals.

Additionally, Stanley acknowledged the failure to correctly certify MSU’s 2021 Title IX records, defending his compliance. Stanley said he signed off on the certification document under the impression that the board had fulfilled its duty, but later, he learned the board fell short of its responsibilities.

The board had assigned and divided reports, which resulted in some reports not being reviewed. MSU hired external consultants to help improve the process and keep MSU in compliance and the Board of Trustees reviewed the 2021 Title IX reports, which were recertified and resubmitted by Stanley this year.

The week leading up to the resignation

After a month of unanswered questions and conflicting statements from the board, the Associated Students of Michigan State University passed a vote of no confidence in the Board of Trustees. The bill for the vote stated the board violated its code of conduct and ethics when it hired legal counsel to investigate Gupta’s removal. Less than a week later, the faculty senate also passed a vote of no confidence in the Board of Trustees. 

Two days later, Stanley sent a video announcement of his 90-day notice of resignation to students, faculty and staff, stating he was following in ASMSU and the faculty senate’s footsteps. 

“I have lost confidence in the current Board of Trustees, and I cannot in good conscience continue to serve this board as constituted,” Stanley said. 

Editor's Note: A previous version of this article improperly attributed a leak given to the Detroit Free Press to a trustee, but this has not been confirmed.


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