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Consultants find understaffing, inadequate software prolong MSU Title IX cases

September 5, 2023
<p>Michigan State’s Office of Institutional Equity is located in Olds Hall on campus.</p>

Michigan State’s Office of Institutional Equity is located in Olds Hall on campus.

Photo by Jillian Felton | and Jillian Felton The State News

Michigan State University’s Office of Institutional Equity, or OIE, has engaged in months of outside consulting work in hopes of improving the timeliness of their heavily criticized investigations.

The consulting work — conducted by project management firm Detroit Consulting Group, or DCG, at a cost of $356,000 to MSU — comes after years of audits raising concerns about timeliness issues in the OIE, which is tasked with investigating and disciplining acts of sexual violence and discrimination under the federal Title IX statues.

The audits found that on average, MSU takes about one calendar year to take a case from a report to a final resolution.

In hopes of shortening that timeline, MSU’s Title IX investigators and administrators conducted months of meetings with DCG, brainstorming and ranking potential solutions. Those meetings, DCG’s findings and the firm's recommendations for change are detailed in documents obtained by The State News through public records requests.

The findings paint a stark picture of a mission-driven, “highly dedicated” staff that cares deeply about their work, but is hampered by understaffing, unfilled positions, constant leadership turnover, and an inadequate software system.

Whether MSU adopts the recommended solutions — mainly hiring of additional staff and replacing the software system — remains to be seen.

Laura Rugless, MSU’s new Vice President for civil rights and Title IX education and compliance, declined requests for an interview, but released written statements over email through a spokesperson.

“With nearly two months in this position, I am immersing myself more deeply into the DCG project … As the semester progresses, I intend to work with the RVSM Expert Advisory Workgroup to keep campus updated as these determinations take shape,” Rugless said.

Issues with the Title IX investigatory process have spurred the resignations of MSU’s last two presidents and three MSU deans in the last year. DCG’s review provides new insight into the inner-workings of the heavily scrutinized but largely secretive MSU office tasked with completing those investigations.

Staffing issues

In fall 2022, MSU expanded the Title IX office’s staff by nine positions and raised salaries for investigators and outreach staff to best retain quality staff. DCG’s review finds that even after that expansion, backlogs are being created by understaffing, adding to the overall timeline for cases.

These backlogs are worsened by three “spike zones,” where influxes of new cases during the first weeks of fall semester, home football games and Halloween temporarily overwhelm staff and lead to slower processing of all cases as they scramble to catch up, DCG found.

Rugless declined to respond to questions about the possibility of hiring additional full time staff, or temporary investigators to assist during “spike zones,” as suggested in DCG’s review.

Software issues

The consultants’ work also identified numerous issues and inadequacies with the case management system used by OIE staff to organize case files and evidence. The software — created for MSU by Boston software firm Emerald Compliance Solutions — has “significant weakness ​​hindering the overall efficiency,” DCG found. 

Citing the issues, the consultants recommend that MSU transition to a new software. Rugless declined to say if she would replace Emerald, but did say that “we are making improvements to our case management system.”

Future review

DCG also suggests that MSU assemble a committee of students, staff, and stakeholders to regularly review metrics and statistics detailing how long each step of the process takes. The firm argues that public monitoring would improve the transparency of the Title IX office and ensure timeliness continues to improve, because “what gets measured gets managed.”

Ideally, DCG argues, all metrics associated with the process would be pulled straight from the case management system and posted publicly, so anyone could see how long cases take and what steps take the longest. However, that could only come after changes are made to the office’s software system because of the limitations of Emerald’s system, DCG concludes.

When asked whether she would adopt the recommendation for the publishing and monitoring of metrics, Rugless wrote that “we are implementing a new process to regularly review metrics,” but did not provide specifics.

Leadership turnover

Constant leadership turnover has also affected the effectiveness of the Title IX office, DCG found. MSU has had five presidents, six associate vice presidents and four directors overseeing the work of the Title IX office in the last five years.

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