- Erin Kirkland/Daily
Brendan Gibbons, the Michigan football team’s starting kicker for the past three seasons, was permanently separated from the University of Michigan last month for violating the University’s Student Sexual Misconduct Policy, according to documents reviewed by The Michigan Daily.
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“You will be permanently separated from the University of Michigan effective December 20, 2013,” reads a Dec. 19, 2013 letter addressed to Gibbons at his Florida residence from the University’s Office of Student Conflict Resolution, which facilitates disciplinary proceedings against students. The Michigan Daily did not obtain these documents from the University.
The permanent separation of Gibbons, who was a graduate student in the School of Social Work after graduating with a general studies degree, stems from an incident that was reported to have occurred on Nov. 22, 2009, according to documents. This corresponds with previous media reports that a sexual assault involving a Michigan football player occurred in the early morning hours of that day. Gibbons was a freshman and a member of the football team at the time that the conduct was alleged to have occurred.
In the Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities as well as the Student Sexual Misconduct Policy, the University uses the phrase “permanent separation” to refer to the expulsion of a student. The letter to Gibbons, signed by Stacy Vander Velde, associate director of OSCR, stated that he would be prohibited from taking any further courses at the University and that his student privileges would be revoked.
An additional OSCR document signed by Vander Velde and dated Nov. 20, 2013, stated that it was determined by the University that a preponderance of evidence supports “a finding that the Respondent engaged in unwanted or unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature, committed without valid consent, and that conduct was so severe as to create a hostile, offensive, or abusive environment.” The Daily has been told that the respondent referred to in this letter is Gibbons. Complainants in this case are not identified in the documents reviewed by the Daily.
Dave Ablauf, an associate athletic director and spokesman for the Athletic Department, declined to comment, noting that it was the first time it had been suggested to him that Gibbons was permanently separated.
“We can’t comment on anything that involves private student matters in terms of student academic standings or University standing,” Ablauf said.
University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said he could not comment on Gibbons' academic record because of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
Gibbons could not be immediately reached for comment.
Permanent separation is a very rare sanction in OSCR proceedings. In the latest OSCR data from the 2011-2012 academic year, there were zero permanent separations. The Statement of Students Rights and Responsibilities states that “some behavior is so harmful to the University community or so deleterious to the educational process” that it may result in expulsion, among other possible sanctions.
The Daily is not aware of any criminal charges pending against Gibbons. OSCR operates independently of the criminal justice system.
Investigators in the University’s Office of Institutional Equity, which reviews internal complaints of sexual assault, work with a lower standard of evidence than that of criminal prosecutors, who must prove that a defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. OIE may presume that a respondent engaged in alleged conduct if there is a “preponderance of evidence” against the individual. This standard states that a respondent is responsible if there is enough evidence to suggest a complaint is more likely true than not.
If OIE investigators find a respondent to be responsible for alleged conduct, OSCR officials determine what sanctions, if any, will be leveled against the respondent. According to Vander Velde’s letter to him, Gibbons met with OSCR officials on Dec. 4, 2013, to discuss OIE’s findings.
It’s unclear why sanctions were not decided in this matter until recently. Revised University policies regarding sexual misconduct may have forced officials to internally review or re-review the allegations. The updated policies, which have been in effect since 2011, state that any allegation of sexual misconduct received by the University must be investigated.
Reports made to officials other than those at the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center, Counseling and Psychological Services and the Office of Ombuds are not considered confidential and are expected to be investigated by OIE. The participation of survivors in sexual misconduct cases is not required for the disciplinary process to take place. Other individuals or University officials may report allegations.
A permanent separation would render an athlete ineligible to participate in any NCAA event. Michigan coach Brady Hoke said at a Dec. 23 press conference that Gibbons didn’t travel to Tempe, Ariz., for the Dec. 28 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl because he was dealing with a family matter at home.
Ablauf, the Athletic Department spokesman, said he is unable to comment as to whether Hoke was referring to the permanent separation.
Earlier, on Nov. 30, 2013, Gibbons sat out the football team’s regular-season finale against Ohio State after team officials said he suffered an undisclosed muscle injury in the week leading up to the game.
“He’s a little iffy,” Hoke said on Dec. 16. “He’s kicking a little bit. But I don’t want to over-kick him. I’ve never been a kicker, so I can’t imagine that (muscle) problem. So he’s a little iffy.”
Hoke assumed the position of head coach in 2011, after the incident is alleged to have occurred.
Though it’s not clear what Gibbons’ career plans are, Vander Velde’s letter noted that he might be obligated to inform future schools or employers of the sexual misconduct case in order to comply with those organizations’ respective policies. The letter advises Gibbons to “make this disclosure in the future as appropriate and in a manner that authentically represents the behavior for which you have been found responsible.”
Gibbons is fourth in made field goals in Michigan history and owns the program record for consecutive successful extra points with 141.
The University offers many resources for counseling and reporting for survivors of Sexual Assault. A listing of available services can be found here. In addition, the University's Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center staffs a 24/7 crisis line at (734) 936-3333.
Slovin, the former Managing Editor, can be reached on Twitter at @MattSlovin. Rubenfire, the former Managing News Editor, can be reached on Twitter at @arubenfire.