Monday, May 20, 2024

Why did it take MSU so long to act on Tucker? Here’s what we know

September 13, 2023
<p>Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker watches the field during the Spartans 31-21 victory against Pitt in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl on Dec. 30, 2021.</p>

Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker watches the field during the Spartans 31-21 victory against Pitt in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl on Dec. 30, 2021.

Michigan State University head football coach Mel Tucker was suspended without pay Sunday after a USA Today article revealed him to be the subject of an ongoing Title IX investigation.

Accusing Tucker of sexual harassment is Brenda Tracy, a rape survivor and advocate who worked with Tucker to educate his team on sexual misconduct. Tracy claimed during a phone call between the two in April of 2022, Tucker masturbated on camera without her consent. 

Interim President Teresa Woodruff and the Board of Trustees were first informed that a report had been made in late December of 2022, Woodruff said in a campus-wide email on Monday. At Sunday’s press conference, Athletic Director Alan Haller confirmed he too knew of the investigation in December. 

So, why wasn’t action against Tucker taken sooner?

The details 

MSU leadership initially wasn’t told details of the investigation, only that the complaint had been filed. 

"The MSU Administration did not provide the Board details of the allegation or the identity of the claimant at any time during the ongoing investigation, following MSU protocol and best practices for (Relationship Violence and Sexual Misconduct)-related cases," Woodruff said in a statement. "Further, the Board was advised that appropriate interim and personnel measures regarding Mel Tucker were put into place at that time." 

Administration learned of Tracy's identity in late July, when the completed preliminary investigative report was submitted to the university. Woodruff claimed the board only found out the details of the case once the USA Today story came out last Sunday.

Tracy released a statement on social media Tuesday evening claiming a leak forced her to come forward with the story.

"I voluntarily shared documents with USA Today so that my story could be written and published after the conclusion of the school process, but also just in case my name leaked - which it did," Tracy said. "I did not want to publish my story in the early morning hours last weekend, but I had no choice because someone outed me to the media."

Kenny Jacoby, the USA Today reporter who broke the story, confirmed this statement on social media.

Who leaked the story, and how they knew details of a closed investigation, remains unknown.

Taking action

When asked what made him take action now, rather than when he first found out, Haller said, "We're always evaluating what interim measures are in place... it's an ongoing process, and we update interim measures as we receive more information."

Woodruff also reassured community members the news was not a sign of “the MSU of old,” boasting a fair and thorough investigation.

“In the MSU of today, when any report comes into the university, it is appropriately and rigorously reviewed,” Woodruff said at the press conference. “In the MSU of today, in all cases, we continually review interim measures to ensure appropriate actions are taken. So, this morning’s news might sound like the MSU of old. It was not.” 

But several survivors of disgraced and convicted ex-MSU doctor Larry Nassar disagree. At last Friday’s board meeting, trustees again refused to release thousands of documents relating to the university’s handling of Nassar, despite emotional pleas for transparency from survivors and advocates. 

“As a Larry Nassar survivor myself, this is still the 'old' MSU, no matter how many times the interim president felt the need to say it isn’t,” wrote Kaylee Lorincz on X earlier today. “Covering up 6,000 documents, and now this cover up. MSU continues to hurt victims over and over again."

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Rachel Denhollander, the first person to publicly accuse Nassar of sexual assault, argued on social media Sunday evening a lack of details shouldn’t have stopped the university from taking “needed action.”

"This does not prevent protocols being in place to suspend or take needed action pending an investigation," she wrote.

When asked by The State News, Board Chair Rema Vassar did not answer if she felt action should have been taken sooner, and instead referenced the board’s official statement on the case, which reads: 

“The MSU Board of Trustees has been briefed by the Administration on the suspension of Mel Tucker and supports this action. We remain committed to a thorough investigation of this matter and to the continued progress needed at MSU for a safer and more supportive university.”

The precedent

It’s not uncommon for accused staff and faculty to be placed under temporary suspension once a Title IX investigation begins.

Such was the case for Charles Hadlock, who sexually harassed students while drunk at MSU’s business school’s end-of-year gala in April 2022. 

About a month after the gala as Title IX investigators began their work, Hadlock received an email from former business school dean Sanjay Gupta asking that “any contact (he) may have with students be done remotely and related only to their academics or their career related matters,” according to a copy obtained by The State News.

MSU took action to protect students from Hadlock about one month after the Title IX investigation into his behavior began. For Tucker, it took eight months. 

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