The U.S. Department of Education announced it will fine Michigan State University (MSU) a record $4.5 million and require the University to make major changes to its Title IX procedures following its "systemic failure to protect students from sexual abuse." The fine and required corrective action come after two separate investigations, one by the office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) and the other by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), as directed by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
"What transpired at Michigan State was abhorrent, inexcusable, and a total and complete failure to follow the law and protect students," said Secretary DeVos. "Michigan State will now pay for its failures and will be required to make meaningful changes to how it handles Title IX cases moving forward. No future student should have to endure what too many did because concerns about Larry Nassar and William Strampel were ignored. I want to thank each of the survivors who came forward and shared their stories. Doing so took an incredible amount of courage. Never again should incidents of sexual misconduct on campuses—or anywhere—be swept under the rug. Students, faculty and staff must all feel empowered to come forward, know that they will be taken seriously, and know that the Department of Education will hold schools accountable. I also want to thank our FSA and OCR investigators who have worked tirelessly to bring justice for students. They followed the facts and ensured today's resolution would drive meaningful change."
In February 2018, Secretary DeVos directed the Office for Civil Rights to launch a systemic investigation into MSU's handling of reports of sexual violence against former employee and adjunct professor, Dr. Larry Nassar. Concurrently, FSA continued its investigation into the University's compliance with the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act (Clery Act).
The Department will require MSU to pay $4.5 million in fines based on four serious findings of Clery Act noncompliance:
- Finding #1: Failure to Properly Classify Reported Incidents and Disclose Crime Statistics
- Finding #2: Failure to Issue Timely Warnings in Accordance with Federal Regulations
- Finding #3: Failure to Identify and Notify Campus Security Authorities and to Establish an Adequate System for Collecting Crimes Statistics from all Required Sources
- Finding #4: Lack of Administrative Capability
As a result of these findings, MSU must take corrective actions that include the following:
- Employ an independent Clery Compliance Officer, who will report to a high-level executive;
- Establish a new Clery Compliance Committee that includes representation from more than 20 offices that play a role in campus safety, crime prevention, fire safety, emergency management, and substance abuse prevention; and
- Create a system of protective measures and expanded reporting to better ensure the safety of its student-athletes in both intercollegiate and recreational athletic programs. Similar steps will be taken to better ensure the safety of minor children who participate in camps or other youth programs that are sponsored by the University or that are held on its properties.
"Students are our focus, and we are committed to their safety on campus," said FSA Chief Operating Officer Mark Brown. "Our findings and the required corrective actions should serve as a reminder to all schools that we take seriously our commitment to vigorously enforce the Clery Act and protect all students. Any school that falls short will be held accountable."
OCR conducted a separate Title IX directed investigation into MSU's handling of reports of sexual violence against Nassar. During its directed investigation, OCR reviewed hundreds of sexual assault reports, interviewed 47 witnesses including survivors, and reviewed tens of thousands of documents. OCR's investigation revealed that MSU failed to adequately respond to reports of sexual misconduct by Nassar and William Strampel (the former dean of MSU's College of Osteopathic Medicine and Nassar's supervisor), failed to take appropriate interim measures to protect its students while complaints against Nassar and Strampel were pending, and failed to take prompt and effective steps to end any harassment, eliminate the hostile environment, and prevent any further harassment from recurring.
As a result of the investigation, MSU signed a resolution agreement to address the Title IX violations, which, among several provisions, requires that the University do the following:
- Make substantial changes to the University's Title IX procedures and ensure that certain officials recuse themselves from Title IX matters;
- Take remedial actions to address the impact of the sexual misconduct by Nassar and Strampel on students, faculty and other staff within the College, the Sports Medicine Clinic, and related facilities, programs and services;
- Provide a process for those victims of Dr. Nassar, who have not otherwise had an opportunity to seek remedy, to come forward and seek remedies to which they might be entitled;
- Review the actions of current and former employees of the University who had notice but who failed to take appropriate action in response to reports of sexual misconduct by Nassar or Strampel and consider appropriate sanctions against those employees;
- Address the campus climate around issues of sexual harassment and sexual violence, strengthen staff training, and assess the need for additional student services; and
- Exercise adequate Title IX oversight of the University's youth programs by notifying Youth Program participants of its Title IX grievance procedure and that the procedures apply to Youth Programs.
"This resolution should demonstrate, beyond any doubt, this administration's commitment to the vigorous enforcement of civil rights," said Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Kenneth L. Marcus. "There should be no question that we will hold colleges and universities accountable if they perpetuate sexual violence by failing to meet their obligations under Title IX."