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University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel announced Thursday that the University will create a new unit — the Equity, Civil Rights and Title IX Office (ECRT) — to replace the Office of Institutional Equity (OIE), effective Aug. 1. The move to replace OIE, which currently handles Title IX, harassment and discrimination cases, comes as the University faces scrutiny for its high-profile mishandling of sexual misconduct cases in recent years.

ECRT will handle the same allegations and cases as OIE, while refocusing to provide more “support and prevention” measures, Schlissel said. The office will be led by current Associate Vice President and Director of OIE Tamiko Strickman, who will report to Schlissel.UM-Dearborn and UM-Flint will have ECRT offices that will report to the chancellors of their respective campuses. 

Strickman served as an associate to the chancellor for institutional equity and compliance, as well as a Title IX coordinator at University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) prior to joining U-M OIE as director in 2020. Ten current and former UNL students have filed two lawsuits against Strickman for allegedly mishandling multiple student reports and cases of sexual assault and racial discrimination during her tenure UNL. The first lawsuit against her was filed in July 2020, while the second was filed in March 2021.

Schlissel told The Michigan Daily in an interview Thursday that the University has looked into the lawsuits carefully and believes Strickman will “be cleared of wrongdoing.” 

ECRT’s designated Title IX coordinator, a support coordinator, a Civil Rights Director and an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) coordinator will transfer from OIE. New to ECRT, aDeputy Title IX Coordinator and Prevention Program Manager will solely oversee Michigan Medicine.

ECRT will assign to each case an “equity specialist” who will directly correspond with complainants and respondents and make first contact with them. Currently, the OIE investigator handles communications with members of investigations; the equity specialist will now act as a support resource for those corresponding with the office. This will allow investigators to solely handle investigations, and create someone independent of the investigator to act as a resource for complainants and other members of investigations. The equity specialist will report to the support coordinator, creating an entire wing of the office dedicated to support communications. 

ECRT will also oversee the new department of Prevention, Education Assistance and Resources (PEAR) to work specifically with faculty and staff. PEAR will coordinate with the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center (SAPAC)  to develop educational materials and training to encourage prevention and support. PEAR will also create a liaison program that will designate a member of each department to be a point of contact for any information or resources regarding sexual misconduct and discrimination. The liaison will also correspond with PEAR and SAPAC for their respective department or division. According to the University Record,PEAR will “set up a continuous learning loop that leverages U-M research on sexual and gender-based misconduct prevention, education and support strategies and approaches.”

ECRT also adds a resolutions officer who will keep track of the results of all investigations and coordinate follow-up communications, reporting to the Title IX Director. The resolutions officer will also ensure compliance with sanctions handed down by University units and monitor for appropriate sanctions where there is a policy violation to establish accountability. The officer will aggregate results of investigations to develop a plan to transparently share them when necessary or possible.

The creation of ECRT will come with as many as a dozen new positions, which will be posted in the near future. The additions will add about a million dollars to OIE’s salary base, Schlissel estimated.

In the University Record, Fitzgerald said ECRT will help the University make a transformation.

“The office will encompass the full breadth and depth of the work necessary to transform the university’s approach to misconduct to one of care, support, education and prevention while continuing to conduct investigations,” Fitzgerald wrote.

OIE’s investigative process itself has been subject to continued criticism in recent years. Some complainants say their investigators were sloppy or favored respondents from the outset, and others, including Schlissel, have said investigations and adjudication take too long..

Fitzgerald wrote that the transition to ECRT will help the office focus on support and prevention while optimizing efficiency.

“Investigations will continue to be handled within the unit,” Fitzgerald wrote. “With the additional positions working alongside the investigators, the process should get more efficient over time as investigators are able to remain focused on that work.”

Schlissel said he credits the creation of ECRT to many groups and communities on campus, as well as to the ongoing work with consulting firm Guidepost Solutions, which is assisting the University in the implementation of recommendations given by the law firm WilmerHale. 

“The sweeping changes and actions we are announcing today are informed by the input of hundreds of people within our community and national best practices,” Schlissel said. “This includes faculty and staff who have been engaged in these issues for years, students who have shared their experiences and committed members of our faculty governance groups.”

WilmerHale found in July 2020 that former U-M Provost Martin Philbert repeatedly sexually harassed coworkers and subordinates over the span of two decades at the University. He was promoted to the second-highest rank in the University despite widespread knowledge of the allegations among administrators, according to the WilmerHale report.

With the University shifting its focus to include more support resources during investigations, Strickman told the Record ECRT has to change the culture on campus and provide community members with a new prevention resource.

“With a focus being one of support, we want people to really feel comfortable reaching out to us as a resource and feeling comfortable throughout the process,” Strickman said.
Summer Managing News Editor Christian Juliano can be reached at julianoc@umich.edu.