Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse.
On Wednesday, Michigan State University released a scathing investigation conducted by the U.S. Department of Education. Bottom line, the report says the university repeatedly violated a federal law known as the Clery Act, which requires schools to inform the public about safety issues on campus.
Here are some of the... highlights.
A coach ignores his training, and an athletic director fails to report Nassar
There’s the strength and conditioning coach who got a call from a former Michigan State University athlete in 2016, telling him that then-MSU sports doctor Larry Nassar “had touched her inappropriately.” The coach told federal investigators he’d recently been trained about how to report these incidents, but “he ignored that training” and brought it to an associate athletic director instead.
“In turn, the Associate Director of Athletics told the coach to call [the survivor] and explain to her that he had to report the incident. The coach then called the athlete back, advising her that, ‘it would be a big investigation and she will be contacted.’”
But that, apparently, never happened. Because neither the coach nor the associate athletic director ever reported the woman’s call to the police, the university’s Title IX office, “or any other office or official.”
“In an interview with the review team, the coach stated that he was aware he failed to follow his mandatory reporting training, but had no intention at any time of correcting his mistake,” according to the federal report.
We already knew several women and girls had reported Nassar’s sexual abuse, as far back as 1997. But this federal investigation also uncovers new instances of survivors going to MSU employees with concerns, only to have their abuse go unreported. In all, the report lists 11 women and girls who reported Nassar in 1997, 1999, 2000, 2003, 2004, 2007, 2008, 2015 and 2016. None of those reports were ever included in the University’s campus crime statistics.
“A multitude of crimes” going unreported from the Sexual Assault Program
Then there’s the school’s Sexual Assault Program, whose employees and 100-plus volunteers mistakenly believed they were exempt from federal reporting requirements. That means the “multitude of crimes reported to the SAP” were never included in campus crime statistics, even as staff were seeing “an increase in reporting that proved to be so high as to be overwhelming” in 2016 when the Nassar scandal broke.
In fact, the Sexual Assault Program couldn’t give federal investigators any documentation at all about the crimes reported to them, because “the University stated that the SAP office did not maintain such records.”
Mandatory reporter training is basically: take this quiz, please
Michigan State University has more than a thousand “campus security authorities,” which is a federal term for any university employee with “significant responsibilities for student life or activities.” Those campus security authorities are legally required to report any serious crimes that happen to students or on school property.
But this federal investigation finds that until 2014, MSU didn’t even know how to identify who was a campus security authority, and mistakenly believed there were only about 50 of them on campus. Today, the school says it has closer to 1,500.
Yet the only training that goes out to all campus security authorities is an emailed memo, telling them they are, in fact, a CSA, and that they’re required to participate in training. That training consists of an attached Powerpoint, “which includes a quiz at the end.” MSU, however, “has no way of knowing whether the CSAs complete the training and quiz, and thus, no assurances that the CSAs are capable of performing their assigned duties.”
So now what?
Federal investigators note that Michigan State University is a massive, complex institution that serves some 50,000 students. That requires a lot of coordination, staffing and resources to get this right. And it’s not just Clery Act requirements. There’s a complicated tangle of ever-changing federal and state regulations involving Title IX requirements and mandatory reporting.
Yet fundamentally, the report finds MSU didn’t have a “minimally adequate” campus-wide system for reporting violent crimes. Some of those failures were flagrant and allowed a serial sexual predator to flourish for decades. Others can be chalked up to confusion, bad policies, and administrators who didn’t understand federal regulations. Ultimately, the feds concluded that “the result of these breakdowns was a general failure to keep students, employees, other stakeholders, and the larger campus community fully informed of crimes and other threats to their safety…”
But the scariest words for MSU in this report are “lack of administrative capability.” That means a school that “lacks the ability or willingness to comply with federal regulations.” And that’s a big deal for MSU, which gets some $423 million dollars in federal funding each year. While the Department of Education has never stripped an institution of anything close to full funding, it could levy hefty fines against the school. Penn State got a record $2.4 million dollar fine for the Jerry Sandusky scandal in 2016.
In a statement released Wednesday, MSU says it has already taken “proactive” steps to make the campus safer. “The safety and well-being of our campus community is our top priority,” according to a written statement attributed to MSU Acting President Satish Udpa. “The Nassar crimes caused so much pain to so many people, and we have more work to do to address those issues and support the survivors and our community. We welcome the opportunity to work with experts to review and strengthen areas as we renew our commitment to improve.”
This is a developing story. You can hear the discussion on NPR's Morning Edition here.