Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Changes to MSU student rights document make it easier to investigate policy violations, protecting those who report them

February 7, 2024
MSU Interm President Teresa Woodruff, center left, speaks during a MSU Board of Trustee's meeting in East Lansing, Mich., Feb. 2, 2024. The Board of Trustees fielded comments from the public, including the divestment of the university's assets from Israel.
MSU Interm President Teresa Woodruff, center left, speaks during a MSU Board of Trustee's meeting in East Lansing, Mich., Feb. 2, 2024. The Board of Trustees fielded comments from the public, including the divestment of the university's assets from Israel.

Michigan State University has made it easier to investigate a variety of policy violations and protect those who report them, thanks to a newly updated portion of The Spartan Life Handbook and Resource Guide.

The board approved changes to the Student Rights and Responsibilities, or SRR, document at its Friday meeting, marking the first time the document has seen major revisions in over half a century.

The SRR provides guidelines for a wide variety of student conduct, like hazing, gambling and academic misconduct. 

According to the board resolution, it will be combined with the General Student Regulations document "to create a more comprehensive, universal, and accessible student rights document." 

"It's going to be a lot more readable, so students are better able to understand what the rules and regulations are," Kat Cooper, the communications director for Student Life & Engagement, said.

Moving to an investigatory method

When the changes go into effect in fall 2024, the Office of Student Support & Accountability, or OSSA, will be allowed to investigate alleged policy violations without having a formal complainant on file. 

While anyone can file a complaint alleging a violation of the SRR, being a complainant is more than just filing a report, Cooper said. 

"A complainant is someone who is bringing the complaint and will 'present' the case if needed in a hearing," Cooper said. "It's a more active role, and because that's a bigger burden than just filing a report, there wasn't always someone willing to take that on."

With the new changes, OSSA will have the jurisdiction to investigate reported conduct without a complainant behind it.

The change puts MSU in line with the majority of Big Ten schools, which have been using this "investigatory model" for years, Assistant Vice President for Student Development and Leadership Allyn Shaw said.

"It makes it easier for OSSA to be able to move forward with an investigation," Shaw said.

Hearings 

Investigations may result in hearings, where both parties are given the opportunity to present their cases to a hearing board. 

According to the current policy, both parties — the claimant and the respondent — are allowed to bring an advisor with them to "advise, support, and/or consult with during the resolution process." That advisor cannot have a voice during the hearing.

The approved changes now allow that advisor to be an attorney. In the past, attorneys were only allowed in criminal cases, Shaw said. 

Under the new policy, if one party chooses an attorney as their advisor, MSU is not responsible for paying for an attorney for the other party. 

Shaw said that while this expands who students are allowed to have as their advisors, it doesn’t mean the university has to provide funding for them to get one.

"We're not providing funding for any advisor," Shaw said. "We just wanted to let the students have the ability to bring whomever they would want."

Retaliation

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Retaliating against someone for filing or participating in sexual misconduct investigations can trigger separate investigations and discipline. 

Until now, similar protections haven't existed for those reporting violations of the SRR. 

"We just want to make sure that, for lack of a better term, a whistleblower or somebody comes forward, they're not concerned about having something happen to them," Shaw said. "We're just wanting to make sure that they feel comfortable being able to report alleged violations."

Retaliatory actions include threats, violence, ridicule, intimidation, bullying and ostracism, according to the policy.

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