MSU suspends business dept. leader after sexual harassment complaint
Updated September 12 at 9:30 am: Michigan State University placed Tomas Hult, a marketing professor and director of the MSU International Business Center, on administrative suspension following complaints of sexual harassment.
A Title IX investigation cleared Hult, saying his sexual comments and inappropriate behavior didn’t violate the school’s harassment policy.
"I was the subject of an [Office of Institutional Equity, MSU's Title IX office] investigation wherein they found, at all stages, that any allegations against me were not found to have violated the policies of the University," Hult said in an email Wednesday.
"I know that I did not do what I am accused of and am pleased the OIE found as it did. I hope that this issue is allowed to be put to rest. I will continue to work to be a positive force for the Center, Department, College, and University."
But on Friday, Sarah Singer, the woman who filed the complaint against Hult made a public, impassioned plea to the Board of Trustees to fix the system the says allowed Hult's inappropriate behavior on campus.
Singer, who is the Director of Education Abroad at the business school, told trustees the official investigation found that Hult:
“...[R]egularly hugged employees, even after repeated requests to stop. That the respondent [Hult] commented on whether my bra or breasts could conceal a fitbit device. Similarly, that the respondent told another employee her breasts did not change in size when she lost weight,” Singer told the board.
“Investigators corroborated misogynistic comments made by the respondent at a workshop in Wisconsin … [and] found credible my account of the respondent touching my upper thigh at a gala dinner in Atlanta, and making a comment about the type of ‘date’ I would be if he ‘couldn’t get me drunk.’ Investigators concluded that the respondent likely rubbed or patted my stomach, noting such behavior was consistent with a previous ... report.”
Witnesses also told investigators that “when he saw attractive women, it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for him to comment on these women physically, even to their faces,” Singer said.
Still, the school’s investigation found that these behaviors didn’t violate MSU's sexual harassment policy, which states that the accused’s conduct has to be “of a sexual nature so severe, persistent, or pervasive that a reasonable person would find it unreasonably interfered with an indidvidual’s work, thus creating a hostile or abusive work environment.”
"Seriously," Singer asked?
“[Do] you believe this behavior has any place on MSU’s campus?” Singer asked the trustees. “Why should the onus be on the employee ... to state that they don’t want to be touched, on the head or the back or the thigh, in the course of the day’s work? Should we not expect better?”
Singer appealed the investigation’s initial findings, but they were upheld in July.
Emily Guerrant, a spokeswoman for Michigan State University, says Hult was told of his suspension on September 5, before Singer made her comments to the board.
“Tomas Hult was notified via letters...that he was being suspended as director of the International Business Center; AND that he would disciplined in his role as a faculty member (although not suspended). “Those disciplines as a faculty member include no merit increase this year (which would traditionally happen Oct. 1) and required training regarding sexual harassment prior to Dec. 31, 2019. His suspension from the International Business Center is for 12 weeks, starting Oct. 1. He is currently NOT teaching a class, but is slated to next semester at this point.”
Singer says while she’s “gratified” by Hult’s suspension from his administrative role, the bigger problem with MSU’s Title IX process still exists.
“...I continue to harbor deep concerns about the [Office of Institutional Equity] process – remember, there was a finding of no...violation in this case, and the incidents in this case spanned a decade. Improving policies around what constitutes persistent and pervasive behavior is critical, to say nothing of working to improve the culture and climate on campus. “Not all claimants – and likely very few claimants – are in a position to advocate and appeal as I have done. No one should need to stand before the Board for MSU to find this conduct egregious.”
A federal Department of Education investigation released last week fined MSU a record $4.5 million for mishandling sexual assault and harassment on campus.