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Law firm WilmerHale submitted their official recommendations to the University of Michigan administration at the conclusion of their investigation into sexual misconduct allegations against former Provost Martin Philbert in July 2020. Now, U-M President Mark Schlissel and the U-M administration are seeking guidance from an external investigative consulting firm, Guidepost Solutions, to implement those recommendations.
The University’s Board of Regents and Schlissel assured its beneficiaries in early December that much of their decision to hire Guidepost was due to the organization’s prior work investigating sexual misconduct in higher education.
“Guidepost Solutions has deep experience on many fronts with institutions of higher education – public and private – other public entities and private companies,” University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said in an email to The Michigan Daily. “The Guidepost team will bring that combined experience to the table during its work with U-M.”
According to their contract with the University — which was obtained by The Daily through a Freedom of Information Act request — the University will allocate $400,000 to Guidepost from its 2020-2021 budget. Per the contract, Guidepost will charge the University between $300 and $550 per hour for their consulting, a wage which is discounted from their usual hourly rate.
Consultants for Guidepost will be reporting back to Sally J. Churchill, University vice president and secretary, according to the contract. The consulting process will be headed by Guidepost consultant Asha Muldro, a former assistant U.S. attorney for the Central District of California. Muldro has experience working with and prosecuting cases involving money laundering, human trafficking and sex crimes.
Guidepost’s homepage says its goal is to “help you seize opportunities on the horizon, minimize disruption, or move on from difficulty.” Its About page says Guidepost primarily advises companies and organizations by providing solutions to help “make strategic decisions.” The firm also aids companies in monitoring progress towards a certain goal and finding ways to implement planning structures. They work in a multitude of different areas, including higher education advice, risk and compliance, data privacy and security consulting.
According to their website, the team at Guidepost is composed of experts with years of experience working with and researching Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Under Title IX, discrimination on the basis of sex, which includes sexual harassment, is prohibited. All universities and schools receiving federal funding are required to comply with Title IX.
“Our Title IX experts have more than 40 years of combined experience in Title IX compliance, including policy review and revisions, training, program audits and assessments and serving as external investigators in complex matters concerning sexual misconduct,” Guidepost wrote in a statement provided to The Daily by spokesperson Montieth M. Illingworth.
Illingworth declined to answer further questions on the record about Guidepost’s experience in higher education.
In April 2014, Guidepost was hired by SAC Capital Advisors, a hedge fund investment group owned by billionaire financier Steven Cohen. After being linked to insider trading violations, SAC hired Guidepost as a consultant to monitor procedures at the firm and report back to the U.S. Attorney’s office in the wake of the fraud charges. SAC was soon renamed to Point 72 Asset Management, and was since involved in some controversy surrounding the recent Gamestop short squeeze fiasco.
Guidepost was also involved in the aftermath of the BP oil spill in 2010, in which they “directed investigations on nearly 18,000 compensation claims,” according to the company’s website. The firm investigated potentially fraudulent claims and requests for compensation. Many of these investigations culminated in prosecutions and convictions against fraudulent claimants. Guidepost received acclaim for their work on this matter by the United States Department of Justice, according to their website.
Guidepost has also been enlisted at other institutions like Penn State Universty after a child sex abuse scandal in 2011 involving the PSU athletic department. Their work at Penn State primarily focused on monitoring the implementation of protocol created by the department to intensify child abuse detection and incident reporting. Guidepost worked to evaluate the effectiveness of these new security protocols, according to Guidepost’s website.
Much of the sexual assault investigative work from Guidepost is kept private to protect victims’ privacy. Because of this, The Daily was unable to find more specific examples of Guidepost’s work investigating and implementing changes at other universities that have had sexual misconduct scandals similar to U-M’s.
Guidepost’s Title IX team conducts both in-person and virtual Title IX training courses for their clients. In a press release, Guidepost wrote that their experience helps clients better understand Title IX requirements in complex sexual misconduct scenarios.
“Since May of 2020, members of our team have provided over 80 virtual Title IX Coordinator, Investigator, Decision-Maker (including Appellate Decision-Maker), Informal Resolution Facilitator and Advisor virtual trainings to thousands of higher education and school district administrators across the country,” Guidepost’s statement read.
University officials have emphasized that Guidepost will be taking all voices into account during this process. Since December, spokespeople for the University and Guidepost has said multiple groups of “stakeholders” will play a role in Guidepost’s work. This includes survivors of sexual misconduct at the University and students, according to both groups.
“Throughout this process, everyone involved will be looking for solutions that protect all members of the university community,” Fitzgerald wrote. “That includes the consultants from Guidepost Solutions, university leaders and the many dedicated staff on campus who already are addressing sexual misconduct.”
But Public Policy junior Emma Sandberg, the founder and executive director of the sexual assault prevention organization Roe vs. Rape, told The Daily she is concerned about the extent to which Guidepost and the University are willing to reach to hold themselves accountable.
“I’m always skeptical when an outside firm is hired, because we don’t really know their motivation,” Sandberg said. “Is their job truly to help fix the culture at U of M and fix the systems, or is it to protect the university and the administrators from future liability?”
Sandberg said she hopes and expects that all parties affected by the new policies will be keyed in on the process by Guidepost. Included in this group, Sandberg said, are prominent activist and student voices like hers and other groups. Neither Sandberg nor Roe vs. Rape has been contacted by Guidepost yet.
FOIA Manager Ayse Eldes contributed reporting.
Daily Staff Reporter Christian Juliano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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