After a series of public incidents, U of M makes dramatic changes to its sexual misconduct policies
The University of Michigan is taking big steps to address sexual misconduct and institutional problems, hiring consultant Guidepost Solutions after a law firm uncovered sexual misconduct by then-Provost Martin Philbert.
"Let me say today and always to those who may have suffered harm, that we believe you. We value you. And want you to come forward with trust and confidence in our systems, and without fear of retaliation," U of M President Mark Schlissel said during Thursday's meeting.
Here are some of the changes:
- The university's Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity will be replaced with the new Equity, Civil Rights, and Title IX Office. It will be "led with a focus on care, support, education and prevention," according to the presentation. This office will report directly to the university president and will add 12 new positions to assist community members, improve investigative practices, do follow-ups, and provide oversight of sanctionable resolutions.
- There will be the creation of the Prevention, Education Assistance, and Resources Department within the new ECRT office which "will build on our leadership in the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center and provide similarly high quality and comprehensive prevention education and support for faculty and staff," according to a university email. This team will be made up of campus outreach employees, Michigan Medicine employees, and climate assessment employees.
- The creation of a Title IX advisory committee made up of student, faculty and staff to give input.
- A new policy that prohibits "supervisors from initiating or attempting to initiate an intimate relationship with a supervisee or those over which they have authority to influence the career or employment status."
- U of M Regents will be able to "revoke emeritus and emerita status when new and compelling facts and circumstances become known and evaluated after a faculty member retires."
- The creation of a new reporting page.
- Conducting a climate survey.
- The university is awaiting guidance from the federal government so it can develop "a final "umbrella" policy regarding sexual and gender-based misconduct."
Schlissel recommended OIE director Tamiko "Tami" Strickman as the head of the new office. There are two lawsuits against several University of Nebraska-Lincoln employees, including Strickman from her time as an employee there.
Schlissel told independent student newspaper The Michigan Daily Thursday morning that "the university has looked into the lawsuits carefully and believes Strickman will 'be cleared of wrongdoing.'"
"Today's announcements are just our latest steps to enhance prevention, education, support and facilitate a culture change at U of M, and address the harms caused by the late Doctor Robert Anderson and more recent cases," Schlissel said during the Regents meeting. "The Regents' leadership team and I are committed to getting this right."
Incidents at U of M come to light
While these changes come after accusations against former Provost Martin Philbert, the university has had several different allegations related to university faculty and staff go public within the last two years.
An independent investigation found that Dr. Robert Anderson committed sexual misconduct on “countless occasions” during his nearly four decades at the university. Survivors alleged that some adminstrators and U of M figures, like famed coach Bo Schembechler, knew. Several people spoke about their experiences with the late doctor during public comments.
Mike Smith said he was a former student football player who had been abused by Anderson. He said it had deeply affected his future and family life after Michigan.
"He stole my trust. My love for the game. He also stole my self-worth," he said. "My growth then became stunted, which led to poor decision making."
Shandra Montgomery said she had an exam with the doctor when she was a student and "felt completely violated."
"I have also avoided almost all doctors since then," she said. "I have never gotten routine physical exams."
She said she suffered a heart attack last week as a consequence of this.
And in the Computer Science and Engineering Department, well-known assistant professor Walter Lasecki is resigning August 30 after four people alleged sexual misconduct. The Verge published an investigation into Jason Mars, an assistant professor and Ann Arbor start-up CEO, sparking demands for him to take a leave of absence.
Recently, an Ann Arbor judge found probable cause existed to believe Peter Chen, a U of M computer science professor and former interim department head, committed the crime of first degree criminal sexual conduct of a child under 13. Washtenaw County Prosecuting Attorney Victoria Burton-Harris confirmed to Michigan Radio the case is headed to the Circuit Court.
University spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald also confirmed Chen remains on paid administrative leave, and is not scheduled to teach in the fall term.
"The university will continue to closely monitor this case as it proceeds through the criminal justice system," Fitzgerald wrote in an email.
Chen also was a robotics coach volunteer for Ann Arbor Christian School. In a statement sent to Michigan Radio, Ann Arbor Christian School said Chen did not volunteer during the last school year.
"We have not been provided many details but are aware of allegations from 2017 when Peter was acting as a volunteer leader of the school’s robotics team. The allegation relates to activities held off-site and outside of school hours."
We fully support law enforcement and the judicial process to follow its due course to determine the truth of the situation. As a school that emphasizes and affirms the well-being of children, we are fully cooperating with the investigation. Head of School Wayne Sit shares, “What is happening is devastating and affecting the lives of real people in heartbreaking and unspeakable ways. We will do everything we can to help truth and justice prevail.”
Chen is represented by Smith Blythe. His attorneys did not reply to a request for comment, but released the statement below to Michigan Radio in January:
"On January 26, 2021 Mr. Chen was made aware of the criminal sexual conduct allegations that had been made against him. He completely denies the allegations and has cooperated fully with the Ann Arbor Police Department to assist them in their investigation. Mr. Chen is confident that the truth will prevail and that he will be fully exonerated. Mr. Chen thanks the numerous people who have reached out in support of him over the last few days.”
Editor's note: The University of Michigan holds Michigan Radio's license.