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University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel and Tamiko Strickman, director of the new Equity, Civil Rights, and Title IX Office, sat down with The Michigan Daily on Thursday to discuss controversies surrounding former Professor Walter Lasecki, the now-rebranded Office of Institutional Equity and a lawsuit against Strickman stemming from her time at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. For part two of the interview discussing the new improvements made to the ECRT, click here. This article has been condensed and edited for clarity.
The Michigan Daily: A recent Michigan Daily investigation uncovered that OIE and the Association for Computing Machinery found drastically different results with regards to sexual harassment allegations against former Computer Science Professor Walter Lasecki. Can you explain why these two reports led to such different outcomes, and has your department done any internal analysis of their policies in light of this public reporting?
Tamiko Strickman: What I can say is I don’t have any knowledge or familiarity with that other agency and the investigation that they conducted. The investigations that we conduct remain private. Only limited people have access to our investigation and our outcome, and I don’t know what this other agency did to investigate or how they investigated. I am very confident in the thoroughness of our investigation and the conclusions that resulted from that, but I can’t speak to others’ investigations.
TMD: How do you evaluate decisions about how to deal with campus community members who have been credibly accused of sexual misconduct but are still under investigation and afforded due process? For example, how do you decide who is alerted to the allegations or whether defendants continue having interactions with students during an investigation?
TS: Those are always very tough decisions, and those are decisions that we have to really call upon particular stakeholders to help make … We certainly want to ensure that the campus community is safe at all times — that’s our number one priority. We certainly, as you pointed out, want to ensure that we are affording individuals due process and following all of our applicable laws, policies and procedures. So again, that’s a case-by-case basis in terms of making sure that we are imposing the least restrictive means while still making sure that safety and the health of our students, faculty and staff is number one.
Mark Schlissel: And we do work closely with the complainants to try to come up with temporary measures while a case is being investigated that give the complainant a degree of security and comfort without violating the due process rights of the respondent.
TMD: What is the University’s policy on reviewing separate allegations versus examining an individual’s complete alleged behavior?
TS: So it’s really case-by-case-specific in terms of what information is brought forth, and that is something that the Title IX coordinator sifts through and really looks closely at the various allegations, looks at similarities, areas where the allegations differ to determine whether or not it’s appropriate to consolidate them into one (investigation) or to handle them separately. There is going to be, in the coming months, the announcement of the (permanent) umbrella policy that we have been tweaking for quite some time. There will be some discussion and some provisions in that policy about when we consider past behavior, how we consider it and all of the parameters around that as well, but it is really that specific.
TMD: For Ms. Strickman specifically — you and others from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s office are named defendants in lawsuits on behalf of 10 total women for allegedly mishandling sexual misconduct and civil rights cases in recent years. What do you say to members of the campus community who lack confidence in you to lead ECRT given the contents of those lawsuits?
TS: I would just say I am here at the University of Michigan now. I’m really excited about the plans and the trajectory (of) the ECRT that we’re on. I would welcome anybody to come and talk about the ECRT — any suggestions that they have, any recommendations. I’m eager for feedback — we’ll be getting it along the way, and I really invite people to share in this exciting time and this path forward.
MS: The landscape of work that’s done by people like Tami is incredibly fraught. Both respondents and complainants often end up partly satisfied or significantly dissatisfied. And often the people involved in these issues end up parties to lawsuits. As you could imagine, this was known to us and we were made aware of this by Tami early in the process here. We did our own extensive due diligence, and we were satisfied that she was the best person in the country to come and do this job, and her performance since she’s been here reinforces that idea. We’re not making light of it — obviously we have to pay attention to court cases and their outcomes — but I just wanted to contextualize that a little bit.
TMD: The lawsuits allege that you were terminated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in December 2019. Both the University of Michigan and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln have denied this claim. Can you explain how you left the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for the University of Michigan, and why the lawsuits allege you were fired?
TS: I can’t comment. I don’t know why the lawsuits allege what they allege — lawsuits allege lots of different things. This was a great opportunity for me. I am near Chicago, which is where I lived for most of my adult life, and I was eager to get back to this part of the country. I was also extremely excited about the opportunities here at the University of Michigan even before the ECRT, and now it’s just become even better with some of the changes that we’ve made. But I was really thrilled to come and lead the OIE office here — it’s a bigger office than what I had built in Nebraska, and so it was just a great opportunity at a perfect time.
TMD: What is your new school year resolution for ECRT and your work generally at the University?
MS: I’m such a boring guy that my resolutions rarely change. I want to be the leader of an organization where no matter what you come here to do, you can do so in an environment where you can thrive, supported by outstanding people functioning at the highest level, and that you have an experience in Michigan that’s as good as anywhere in the country or anywhere in the world. And that holds for students, and it holds for faculty that we attract and it holds for staff.
TS: I would say my resolution is just having fun during this next year and working really hard. We finally have some opportunity — hopefully it will last — to be out and about with our family and our friends and enjoying the things that we couldn’t for a really long time. My other resolution is to learn my way around the campus because I had just gotten here and then the pandemic hit, so I never fully made my way around.
MS: Those are much better than mine, Tami.
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